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Azalea Middle’s Adam Zele is Pinellas Teacher of the Year

Mark Parker

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Dr. Adam Zele, a math teacher at St. Petersburg's Azalea Middle School, celebrates his Teacher of the Year award with students. Photos provided.

Mayor Ken Welch called teachers true heroes whose passion and devotion spark curiosity and foster long-lasting opportunities for students.

Julia Mara, a student at St. Petersburg’s Azalea Middle School, said her math teacher embodies those and many more attributes successful educators typically possess. While she described Dr. Adam Zele as a “math nerd” who ensures learning the subject is bearable and fun, she said his heart sets him apart from other teachers.

“More specifically, his desire to help,” she added. “He goes to school early, stays with students during lunch and stays after school just to help them understand math. If a student has cried, has a bad day or is low in confidence, he is always there to make sure someone is there for them.”

The Pinellas Education Foundation agreed with Julia’s sentiments, as Zele was named Pinellas County Schools (PCS) 2023 Teacher of the Year. The foundation recognized his impact at the district’s annual Evening of Excellence ceremony, held Wednesday night at the Mahaffey Theater.

Zele showed up to Azalea Middle in a limousine Thursday morning as part of his award. He also received a five-night Hawaiian getaway, a $7,500 furniture package, a $5,000 classroom grant, $4,000 in cash, an “outstanding educator” ring and a private suite from the Tampa Bay Rays for Rays Up for Education night at Tropicana Field.

After PCS Superintendent Kevin Hendrick announced that Zele had emerged from 10 finalists – all introduced to attendees earlier in the night by grateful students – Zele said he wanted to “go off the script just a teeny bit.

“Because if I’m a good teacher, it’s because I have had the privilege of having some of the most incredible students,” Zele said.

With that, he invited his students to join him on stage.

Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick (left) with Adam Zele.

In between teaching pre-algebra, algebra and geometry courses, Zele sponsors students through the Take Stock in Children program. He also chairs the school’s math department.

“I love being a teacher,” he said. “Being a teacher is the greatest honor of my life.”

Zele began his career as an entrepreneur, financial consultant, college professor and church pastor. Those roles aligned with his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s in divinity and doctorate in history and religion from Duke University.

However, Zele said he enjoyed every position’s teaching aspect the most. He credited the mentors and instructors in PCS’ Transition to Teaching program for helping him find his calling.

Zele was one of 130 teachers chosen by their respective schools as Teacher of the Year. They became nominees for the county’s top honor, and the Education Foundation then whittled the group down to the 10 finalists.

Hendrick explained how he challenged the district’s educators to elevate the student experience this year and provide “something remarkable” daily. He added that the nominees and finalists exemplified that mission, and the experiences shared through their students’ videos represent classrooms throughout the county.

“This is an incredible shock,” Zele said. “Especially because I know there are so many other incredible teachers in this room.

“Getting to work with people like these three young ladies up here is a privilege beyond words, and I am so honored.”

Adam Zele (third from right) with students from Azalea Middle School following his win.

The nine other finalists include:

  • Rebecca Byrne, a first-grade teacher at Azalea Elementary
  • Jerry Cantrell, a science teacher at Seminole High
  • Amber Holmes, a third-grade teacher at Melrose Elementary
  • Dana Ingebresten, a science teacher at Boca Ciega High
  • Rachel Mita, physical education teacher at Sandy Lane Elementary
  • Jaclyn Reyes, library media technology specialist at Cypress Woods Elementary
  • Shelli Sorensen, a science teacher at Osceola Middle
  • Nicole Szydlowski, English language arts teacher at Seminole Middle
  • Courtney Thompson, ESE teacher at Nina Harris ESE Center

 

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