Arts Teacher of the Year Program
Celebrates Outstanding Educators
by Lisa Turano Wojcik
The goal of teaching the creative arts is to have a profound, multi-faceted influence on the development of the whole individual. The 2013 Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year Program honored five outstanding educators who achieved that goal.
The Broward Cultural Division and its partner, Business for the Arts of Broward, presented their 28th annual awards in November at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The program highlights the excellence of arts educators, the critical nature of artistic disciplines in schools and their impact on developing young minds. This was the first year the program presented Honor of Excellence awards in five separate categories: visual arts, music, theater, dance and teaching artist. It was also the first year private schools were eligible.
The 2013 winner for visual arts is Keri Porter from Wingate Oaks Center in Lauderhill. Porter specializes in teaching special needs students. She has a bachelor of fine arts from Florida Atlantic University, is National Board-certified and is pursuing a master's degree in special education focusing on autism. Among numerous awards, Porter has been honored as the BAEA Art Teacher of the Year for Exceptional Needs Students and Wingate Oaks Teacher of the Year. She is passionate about her students. "Art is for everyone!" she says. "For 16 years I have worked with the county's most needy and medically fragile students. It's truly my honor and privilege to work with them daily." She adds, "Art is much deeper than just the pleasure it brings. It can heal wounds, help children learn and help people communicate and express hidden emotions." Porter's greatest contributions are teaching educators to adapt methodologies to be accessible to anyone with any disability and giving her students opportunities to express themselves through art providing experiences they might not otherwise have.
John Nista from Ramblewood Middle School in Coral Springs was the winner for music. A 33-year teaching veteran, Nista has spent the past 18 years as band director at Ramblewood. He holds degrees from Youngstown State and Nova Southeastern University. He received the Oliver Hobbs Award from the Florida Bandmasters Association and has directed all-state middle school bands. John was listed as one of the Fifty Directors Who Make a Difference and received Teacher of the Year three times at Ramblewood. Nista believes that the arts inspire, stimulate and develop students' imaginations and can help every student with development in school toward academic success. Humbled and honored by this latest award, he says, "Through music, I try to relay the importance of teaching life skills and building self-confidence. I treat each student as if they were my own child and hope to make their lives a little more fulfilled."
The winner for theater was Jason Zembuch from South Plantation High School in Plantation. Zembuch has taught for 17 years, 10 of those as director of South Plantation's theater program. He incorporates deaf and hard-of-hearing students through his Theater for the Deaf. His nationally recognized program is one of the only theater venues in South Florida accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. Zembuch's stage productions have won National CAPPIES Program Best Play or Musical awards and were showcased at the Florida State Thespian Festival. He is guest artist at the Center for Hearing and Communication and also volunteers with Kids in Distress. He holds a master's degree in directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Zembuch believes it's important to instill in his kids that "no" and "can't" don't exist. "When faced with obstacles," he says, "we must figure out how to overcome them, not if we can overcome them." In creating an environment where students can take risks and discover the craft, he helps them discover who they are as people.
Toranika Washington from University School at Nova Southeastern University in Davie was the winner for dance. Washington is the University School's dance director, sponsor for the National Honor Society for Dance and founding director of Innovations Dance Theater. She received her master's degree in teaching and; learning from NSU and is pursuing her MFA in choreography from Jacksonville University. An award-winning choreographer, she has performed for Universal Studios, taught master classes and lectured at conferences. She assisted in writing the Sunshine State Standards for dance programs used in all Florida schools. She was one of eight dance educators chosen for the national Surdna Foundation Arts Teacher Fellowship Award. The talented Washington keeps herself aware of innovative explorations by attending workshops and conferences and staying connected to the global dance community. She helps her students to be involved in many workshops that offer opportunities to train with master dance specialists. "These experiences," Washington says, "enhance my students' mental and physical awareness of the dance world, and enrich their personal growth and development."
The winner for the newest category, teaching artist, is Dr. Timothy Leistner, Ed.D. For more than 10 years, Leistner has made a significant impact on the arts in Broward County as an artist, writer and educator. He founded the Art Intended for All art education program for special needs adults and also worked with the YMCA to provide art programs for special needs children. He is the owner of the Artist's Eye Fine Art Gallery in Dania Beach and was named the "Best Visual Artist - Broward/Palm Beach" by New Times Magazine. He was also received Artist of the Year for Community Impact and Individual Art Leadership both from ArtServe Encore Awards. Dr. Leistner believes it is most important to inspire students to be personally creative and express themselves individually. "A zest for learning will lead them to build confidence in their abilities," he says. "Teaching the arts is not only vital to developing a wholeness of one's education, but is also a joy."
"The arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem-solvers who are confident and able to think creatively," says Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. The Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year Program proudly celebrates teachers who excel in developing these confident, creative thinkers.
About Arts Teacher of the Year
For more than two decades, the Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year Program has celebrated and showcased the artistic excellence of students and faculty of Broward County schools. Through a partnership among Broward Cultural Division, the School Board of Broward County, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Business for the Arts of Broward and sponsorship from Title Sponsor Florida Power & Light, AutoNation; BBX Capital; Broward College; Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust; Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Keechl; Publix Supermarket Charities; and Cruise Voyant; the Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year Program highlights the outstanding arts teacher in Broward County; and provides an opportunity for arts students to gain valuable experience performing in a high quality, professional, performing arts institution, on the evening of the award ceremony.
Visit the Broward Cultural Division website for online application and guidelines for the 2014 Arts Teacher of the Year.