Hillsborough Education Foundation Names 2022 Excellence in Education Awards Winners

Back in person this year, friends, family, school staff and community leaders from Tampa Bay came decked in their best and brightest neon to “Glow Crazy” for our nominees, finalists and three newly crowned Hillsborough County Public Schools Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, Instructional Support Employee of the Year and Teacher of the Year.

Thanks to glow sticks dispersed throughout the crowd and a laser light show that danced across Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, teachers and support staff not only felt but saw the love.

A big congratulations to this year’s shining stars:

  • 2022 Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year

Benigno Lopez, Shields Middle School Success Coach

  • 2022 Instructional Support Employee of the Year

Faith Smith, Temple Terrace Elementary Parent Liaison Aide

  • 2022 Teacher of the Year

Laura Widerberg, Armwood High School Biology Teacher

Hillsborough Education Foundation, in partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools, announced the three winners at the annual Excellence in Education Awards on January 20th. The winners received this top honor out of 675 nominees chosen by their peers from schools across the district.

Every day, more than 24,000 teachers and staff in Hillsborough County Public Schools make a difference in students’ lives. “We are incredibly proud to recognize our educators and support staff and the impactful work they’ve been able to accomplish, especially this year while facing many pandemic-related challenges, to ensure all students have the support they need to succeed academically and personally,” said Hillsborough Education Foundation CEO Kim Jowell.



   Benigno Lopez, Shields Middle Success Coach

Ben Lopez has served as an educator with HCPS for 18 years, 27 years total in Florida. His motivation to excel is found in his passion to serve his community by advocating for resources for underserved students. He has developed free sports programs, outreach and mentoring initiatives through his nonprofit, Life Coach 180. He is a graduate of Southeastern University and Nova Southeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in General Science and Secondary Biology and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership. He has been honored as his school’s 2000 and 2011 Teacher of the Year and 2016 Diversity Educator of the Year. Ben is grateful to have the opportunity to invest in the lives of others through education.


   Faith Smith, Temple Terrace Elementary Parent Liaison Aide

Faith was born in Leicester, England and went to Groby Community College. In 1991, she moved to the U.S. and worked as an au pair for a New Jersey family. She also spent seven years at JPMorgan Chase in New York. Faith has been married for 27 years and has three children. She has volunteered for 12 years as Chapter President of the Pajama Program, coordinating new pajamas for dozens of community partners, and received an award for her contributions from the Department of Children and Families in 2012. This is her second year working for HCPS. In her role, Faith created a Parent Resource Center and is committed to working with students, families, staff and community members to help students’ overall achievement.


   Laura Widerberg, Armwood High School Biology Teacher

Laura Widerberg graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.S. in Secondary Science Education, specializing in Biology and The University of Scranton where she earned her M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction. She started teaching at Brandon High in 2000 and moved to Armwood High in 2016 where she is Science Department Chair. She loves watching her students grow into young adults who question the world around them. She has been involved in many programs throughout her career including Amgen Biotech Experience and STEMposium. She has been married to her husband, Bo, for 25 years. Her son, Sam, was a 2010 Brandon High graduate and her twins, Aidan and Ella, will be 2022 graduates of Armwood High!



Thank you to all of our incredible 2022 Excellence in Education Awards sponsors who made the special night memorable for our honorees and everybody who joined us in celebrating them!