Her friends, family and coworkers claim it wasn’t too much of a surprise, but Penny Ellis was shocked to the point of speechlessness when it was announced on May 16 that she was the winner of “Live! With Regis and Kelly’s” second annual Top Teacher contest.
Ellis, a special-education teacher who was nominated for the competition by her friend and aide, Mary Bores, was one of five finalists chosen by the show’s viewers, who took part in a nationwide online vote. She was featured on the show on May 9 as part of “Top Teacher Week.” There was a second vote on May 13 to determine the winner.
A camera crew showed up at Oceanside High School on May 16. No one knew who the winner would be, and crews were sent to all of the finalists’ schools. When it was announced live that Ellis was the winner, one of the show’s producers drove her prize, a new 2012 Ford Focus, up to the front of the school, where Ellis, her students and coworkers were gathered.
“Everyone around me was telling me I was going to win, but I’m sure everyone around all of the other nominees were telling them, also,” said Ellis. “I didn’t vote for myself because I thought they were all wonderful nominees.” She made signs congratulating all of the other nominees, to cover every eventuality.
“I think it’s well deserved,” said Mark Secaur, OHS principal. “I couldn’t be prouder for her, and I speak for everyone here. She’s had a transformative impact on the students and, frankly, the staff around her with her work. The expression ‘labor of love’ is probably overused, but it’s so clear that she loves every aspect of what she does.”
When she appeared on the show on May 9, Ellis found out that, as a finalist, she had won a trip to Tuscany. She also won five sets of Mobi mobile interactive whiteboards for the school. She brought some students with her to the studio, and they sat backstage in the Green Room during her interview. “They were in the Green Room, and then Regis and Kelly came to say hello and take pictures with them,” Ellis said.
As the “Top Teacher,” Ellis won not only the new car for herself, but $20,000 for Oceanside High.
“In this current economic climate, anything that we can receive that’s not at taxpayer expense is very well received,” Secaur said. “We’re very excited to utilize the technology. The Mobi pads and things of that nature have an application for her students, and obviously she’ll get first crack at that.” Secaur said that there had been no discussion yet about what the money would be used for, or where the Mobi boards would go.
Since her win, Ellis has received flowers and gift baskets and congratulations. Her classroom was filling with fruit and flowers, and her email inbox was overflowing. “The most heartfelt congratulations are all the teachers and all my colleagues and peers here in Oceanside,” she said. “I must have gotten more than 200 emails. That brings tears to my eyes, because I love them as much as they love me.”
“She has the respect of everybody in the school district,” said Dr. Herb Brown, school superintendent. “I think she has made a major difference in whatever school she’s been in … she’s made an impact in the high school really by affecting the lives of other kids and other teachers in the building by how she runs her program, how she carries herself, what she does and how passionate she is about what she does.”