Lori Pirzer picked up her first trumpet in middle school.
“What I didn’t know was that experience would change my life,” she said.
Pirzer, band director at the Oak View Middle School, was named the 2016 Alachua County Teacher of the Year on Thursday at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville. She was one of 40 teachers recognized for the 2016 Robert W. Hughes Teacher Recognition Program.
She now will go on to represent Alachua County in the state competition, which will decide Florida’s Teacher of the Year for 2017.
When Judy Boles, executive director of The Education Foundation, unsealed the envelope and announced Pirzer’s name, Pirzer’s face fell. She was speechless with one word to describe her feelings: shocked.
“I hope I’m prepared to serve the county in that way,” she said as she stepped up to the podium to accept her bouquet of flowers.
Pirzer was among three finalists, which included Ray Crone, physical education teacher at W.W. Irby Elementary School, and Nate Bisco, band director at Santa Fe High School.
“We’re a very hardworking group,” Pirzer said. “I hope I can do my best to represent music and band programs and the hard work that goes on here.”
One of her former students, Lauren Eisenschenk, introduced Pirzer as the middle school finalist. She said Pirzer’s lessons extend far beyond the reaches of the band room.
“At the time, we thought we were only learning notes and rhythms,” Eisenschenk said, “She inspires us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.”
Pirzer started her career at Oak View 15 years ago after graduating from the University of Florida, where she was a part of the Gator symphonic band.
The Oak View Woodwind Ensemble, directed by Pirzer, played for the audience Thursday night as part of a special performance.
Owen Roberts, superintendent of Alachua County Schools, said that teacher recognition is important.
“This is really what education is about; it’s about celebrating the human spirit and the accomplishment of all these great educators,” he said.
Roberts said, that’s why they walked, figuratively, on the red carpet Thursday night.
“Teachers are the hub of the nation’s directory – present and future,” Roberts said in his speech. “It’s a calling, it is something that people put their whole being in – and that can’t be expressed any better than what we’ve seen.”
"These kids need phys. ed," Ray Crone, 53, said. He said that teachers are there for students every day, to fill the gap with lessons thay may not be taught at home. "I take my job very seriously." Crone plans to retire after 30 years.