ELYRIA – Stacie Starr’s reaction Tuesday to winning the LIVE with Kelly and Michael Top Teacher Search was that of an ultimate teacher.
With cameras trained on her for the live money shot, Starr forgot about the millions of eyes fixed on her and turned to the more than a dozen students flanking her with congratulatory signs in hand.
“We won,” she screamed.
The students – mostly alumni of her boys mentoring group from when she taught at Northwood Middle School – swarmed their favorite teacher. The excitement and screams from Starr and the students nearly drowned out the horn honk from Chuck Sturgill, general manager of Nick Abraham Elyria Ford, as he drove Starr’s 2014 Ford Escape through the parking lot.
That was the capstone gift that originated from a nomination letter from a grateful parent to the LIVE with Kelly and Michael show.
After she was chosen to be in the pool of candidates for top teacher, Starr received a trip to New York City to appear on the nationally syndicated show. Then, while there, she was gifted with an all-expense paid trip to the Bahamas and ElyriaSchools was given a new $20,000 digital, wireless scoreboard for Ely Stadium.
Tuesday’s win – a brand-new car she said she will request in Elyria red – making Starr the 2014 Top Teacher, was the icing on the cake.
“And, all I really wanted was the gold apple,” Starr said referring to the apple trophy the show’s Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan said would go to each of the five finalists.
It was a long time of honking the horn in her new car – between the show and Ford Motor Co., Starr will have zero out-of-pocket cost – posing for pictures with multiple students and fielding phone calls from family and friends who watched Starr win on national television before Starr was able to pause and actually savor the fact that she won.
“For once, I’m really speechless,” she said. “Beyond words – it really hasn’t set in at all that they picked me.”
The show said it will not disclose how many submissions were received since early March when the 2014 contest started. “Live’s” producers selected 12 semi-finalists and online voting by viewers narrowed the field to five finalists and then the chosen top educator.
Maryann Verlotti said she could never imagine everything that has transpired in recent weeks for Starr when she penned a personal and passionate letter to the show about how she credits Starr with saving her son.
“I honestly just thought they were going to read the letter on TV and I would be like ‘Oh, Stacie, look what I wrote for you,’” she said. “But she deserves it. She got herself that stuff. I didn’t. She did all the work.”
Starr has been with Elyria Schools for 14 years and works as an intervention specialist. She spent multiple years at Northwood Middle School, where she also ran a mentoring program for boys as well as coached boys’ basketball.
One of those boys was Verlotti's son, Dominic Zullo, now 16. The teen has Asperger's syndrome, and Starr took him under her wing, getting him introduced to basketball and encouraging him to speak up to his peers.
“From the day I hired her, I knew she was going to be a super star,” said Elyria High Principal Tom Jama, who was once the Northwood principal. “When she came to me and wanted to start the boy’s group, I knew she would be the right kind of person for the job. She has a belief that all kids can be successful when given love, help and motivation. The group has benefited so many kids throughout the years.”
Deanyon Groves, 19, doesn’t go to Elyria High anymore. But he couldn’t think of any other place he wanted to be Tuesday. He brought Starr flowers and had just four words for her.
“You deserve all this,” he said.
The two share a special bond. Groves joined Starr’s boys group in middle school, but by his senior year in high school had forgotten many of the lessons he had learned. Because of grades and behavior, he was kicked out of school and faced expulsion.
Starr went to bat for Groves.
“When I graduated last year, I dedicated my graduation to her and she handed me my diploma,” he said. “Ms. Starr means everything to me.’’
Trenell Oliver, 18, a senior, said he has known Starr since the seventh grade. She was the one who taught him to follow his dreams and never give up.
“She just wants everyone to work hard to be everything they can be,” he said.