Teacher of the Year Victor Fernandez almost didn't get to interview by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County to even be considered as a finalist.
The music teacher's wife Heather Fernandez went into labor that day and he had to rush to get his picture taken and talk to a selection committee. Thankfully for both of them, he made it, and the contractions were just a false alarm.
They were all smiles Thursday night when Victor Fernandez won the award, presented in part by Sarasota County Schools, and climbed into a Chevrolet Cruze provided by that he and his wife will get to use for a year.
"I'm just so proud," Heather Fernandez said. "We couldn't be prouder. We have all these wonderful things happening — we just had a baby — now he's teacher of the year."
The best part about the car is that it's big enough to fit a car seat in the back to carry their daughter Liliana Marie Fernandez, she said.
Victor Fernandez will represent at the state Department of Education contest, Macy's Teacher of the Year Gala in July. The state winner receives $10,000 and a state finalist receives $5,000, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Born and raised in Cuba, Victor Fernandez moved to Miami in 1995 then after receiving his bachelor’s and masters degrees from Florida State University, he taught in Tallahassee before coming to Booker Middle to teach music and orchestra. He now lives in Sarasota.
He also spends time volunteering to teach music to students at nearby Gocio Elementary, too.
Victor Fernandez's philosophy on teaching is helping achieve greatness in each child.
"There's nothing more rewarding in teaching than seeing each of our students blossom into happy, successful, joyful, adults that can reach the greets potential in life for them all," he said in his acceptance speech.
With that great challenge comes great responsibility, he said.
"We have to stand tall like beacons of light for all the children that we teach. Only this way can they find the greatness that lies within them all," he said.
Booker Middle School Interim Principal LaShawn Houston said Victor Fernandez is an inspiration
“Victor inspires students with a sense of purpose as he helps them build the skills, attitudes, habits and the behaviors they need to be successful,” Houston said. “He takes students on a journey that allows them to experience music on a deeper level, teaching music by using reading, writing and math in the classroom.”
Victor Fernandez won out of a total field of 42 teachers, and two other finalists — Jessica Gardner of and Danielle Fisher Tanaka of Venice High School.
He also won $750 cash from Macy's as well as an all-expense paid trip to the Excellence in Teaching Conference at the University of Notre Dame.
The elementary and high school finalists didn't go away empty handed. Each finalist receives a cash award from the foundation, a gift basket, a professional portrait by Prestige Portaits by Lifetouch and scholarships from Nova Southeastern University and the Notre Dame Club of Greater Sarasota.
How will Victor Fernandez do at the state competition?
"I think he has a good shot," Heather Fernandez said. "I'm his biggest supporter."