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Five Pinellas teachers win Cheers to Public Service Awards

May 14, 2024

Cheers to Public Service Award winners for Pinellas

It’s not every day that teachers are awarded $1,000 for being outstanding. It’s even more rare for award-winning teachers to be told to spend the prize-money on themselves.

But that’s exactly how the Cheers to Public Service Awards work.

On Monday, Irish 31's iCare Foundation celebrated five Pinellas teachers and awarded them each a $1,000 check to spend on themselves.

The teachers won because students, families and community members took the time to nominate and vote for them.

"We asked the public to tell us who the absolute best teachers are in Tampa Bay," said Jay Mize, Irish 31 owner and founder of the iCare Foundation.

"What you guys are doing in your classrooms, it would be impossible to capture all of your legacy," he told them.

Several of the winners were humbled to be selected from thousands of teachers and dozens of extraordinary nominees.

“It was an honor to be recognized among so many great educators,” said Amber Robinson, who teaches at Perkins Elementary School. “It is really nice to see yourself from someone else’s eyes.”

Deanna Russo, who coordinates the Center for Education and Leadership at Seminole High School, was “surprised” she was chosen. Her nominator, senior class president Graci Tubbs, was not.

“She truly changed my life and so many other students’ lives,” said Graci, who joined her teacher at the celebration. “Mrs. Russo is someone everyone can count on.”

Russo summed it up this way, “I love what I do, and I love where I do it.”

Andrea Goode, who has been at Boca Ciega High since the beginning of her teaching career 18 years ago, has a similar perspective.

“It’s just a family,” she said of her Boca Ciega community. “You do whatever you need to do for family.”

Melissa Witeck, who teaches at Disston Academy, said the best part of the honor is that she was nominated by two of her former students.

“It was heartwarming that they still thought about me,” Witeck said.

It’s no wonder they do, since she keeps in touch with students for years after they leave her classroom.

Zayda Janiak, who teaches at Bardmoor Elementary, said it’s nice to be recognized.

“It’s a tough profession, so just being seen is wonderful,” she said.

Her nominator, Lisa Wilkes, called Janiak a “true hero” and “trailblazer.” Somehow, Janiak also finds time to help run the Rags to Riches Animal Rescue while battling major health issues, Wilkes said. 

So how are the winners spending their money?

Several may travel.

Goode plans to visit her brother, a Marine stationed in Japan. She hasn’t seen him in more than six years.

Witeck plans to use her winnings for several things, including part of a trip to Colorado, a birthday present for her daughter, and graduation fees for one of her students. Whatever is left over, she plans to save.

Janiak and Robinson will put the funds toward home expenses.

“Our family has been doing a renovation, and we haven’t lived in our house in almost a year,” Robinson said.  

The $1,000 award will be used to get them back in the house. “It was an absolute blessing,” she said.

Congratulations to all PCS Cheers to Public Service Award winners!

  • Andrea Goode - Boca Ciega High School
  • Zayda Janiak - Bardmoor Elementary School
  • Amber Robinson - Perkins Elementary School
  • Deanna Russo - Seminole High School
  • Melissa Witeck - Disston Academy

Learn more about them at

Andrea Goode - Boca Ciega High SchoolZayda Janiak - Bardmoor Elementary SchoolAmber Robinson - Perkins Elementary SchoolDeanna Russo - Seminole High SchoolMelissa Witeck - Disston Academy