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Local teacher is state finalist

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Juan 'Diego' Fuentes of Hillcrest School

Like any other school day, Mr. Fuentes and his students were focused on their lessons for the day. He had no idea that Friday was different and that he was about to receive the surprise of a lifetime! From a group of 73 teachers, Juan “Diego” Fuentes from Hillcrest School in Marion County was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Award!

For the past 29 years, Macy’s, along with the Florida Department of Education, has honored the most exceptional educators in Florida who make magic in and out of their classrooms every day. The Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors the contributions of outstanding classroom teachers who have demonstrated a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.

At 12:30 p.m., Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, along with Bobbi Chelminski, Macy’s vice president, were on hand to make the big surprise announcement. The exceptional education music teacher was instructing his class when the commissioner made the surprise visit and told him that he had been chosen as one of five finalists for the prestigious honor.

“Juan Diego Fuentes is a great teacher who challenges and inspires his students to believe and achieve a better tomorrow. Macy’s congratulates Mr. Fuentes for his commitment to help his students reach their full potential,” said Dennis Witte, Macy’s executive vice president and regional director of stores.

Fuentes was presented with a $5,000 check from the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s, and a $500 Macy’s gift card. A $1,000 check, funded by Macy’s, was presented to Hillcrest School.

“Teachers are some of THE most important people in our children’s lives,” continued Witte. “To be a teacher is to be a mentor, a friend, a coach and a constant in the lives of their students. Teachers are life changers and this is what happens each day in Mr. Fuente’s classroom. Throughout Macy’s sponsorship of this program, we continue to be humbled and proud to support the best educators in the Florida.”

“Mr. Fuentes is a terrific example of an educator who goes above and beyond to meet the individual needs of his students, and it is evident that he believes all students have the ability to achieve,” said Stewart. “As an exceptional education teacher, Mr. Fuentes’ students have varying, yet specific, goals, and above all, he focuses on their happiness and classroom engagement. He shares the gift of music with his students, helping to ensure all of his students have a way to express their creativity, and I am delighted to recognize him as a 2018 Teacher of the Year finalist.”

The winner of the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award will be announced during a ceremony on Thursday, July 13. The event will be held at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios CityWalk.

In addition to a $5,000 award funded by Macy’s and the Department of Education, the Teacher of the Year will receive awards from Macy’s including an all-expense paid trip for four to New York City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The winner will also serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges in the Sunshine State. To date, Macy’s has contributed $3 million to teachers throughout the state.

This year’s five finalists were chosen from more than 195,744 public school teachers throughout the state by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee representing teachers, principals, parents and the business community. Each finalist is selected on the basis of outstanding ability to teach and communicate knowledge of the subject taught, professional development, philosophy of teaching, and outstanding school and community service.