The School District of Lee County is proud to announce that the 11 Principals who opened their schools as public shelters during Hurricane Irma are the News-Press’ People of the Year.

Nominated collectively as The Lee County Principals, the group is being honored for their efforts to house about 24,000 people and 1,000 pets during Hurricane Irma. “The strong have a duty to assist where assistance is needed,” Principal Linda Maere said in accepting the honor for the group, “I, and my fellow principals are proud to have served the community through this Hurricane.”

During and after the storm the Principals and many of their staff spent days working to ensure the evacuees were cared for and well fed.  They stayed to clean up afterwards so their schools would be ready for students to return.  Many left their own damaged homes untended to during this time.  As the News-Press put it, “The principals' work and that of their staffs was extraordinary, not only for pulling together a plan when there wasn’t one, but because their efforts were unprecedented.”

The Principals honored as the News-Press’ 2017 People of the Year are:

Ed Mathews, South Fort Myers High School Sue Zellers, East Lee County High  Kristen Bueno, Island Coast High  Nathan Shaker, Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School 

(left to right) Ed Mathews, South Fort Myers High; Sue Zellers, East Lee County High; Kristin Bueno; Island Coast High; Nathan Shaker, Paul Laurence Dunbar

 Linda Maere, Harns Marsh Middle  Jennifer Sneddon, Oak Hammock Middle  Matt Mederios, Varsity Lakes Middle  Tracey Zenoniani, Harns Marsh Elementary  

(left to right) Linda Maere, Harms Marsh Middle; Jennifer Sneddon, Oak Hammock Middle; Matt Mederios, Varsity Lakes Middle; Tracey Zenoniani, Harms Marsh Elementary

Rob Cooper, Mirror Lakes Elementary  Dottie Whittaker, Ray V. Pottorf Elementary  Tom Millins, North Fort Myers Academy

(left to right) Rob Cooper, Mirror Lakes Elementary; Dottie Whitaker, Ray V. Pottorf Elementary; Tom Millins, North Fort Myers Academy

Since Hurricane Irma Dottie Whitaker has retired from Pottorf Elementary and the new Principal, Brandy Macchia was there to accept the honor on her behalf.  Sue Zellers is now the Director of High School Curriculum at the District Offices.

Speaking for the Principals, Linda Maere says the hurricane was one of the hardest and best experiences of her life.  The threat was new to them all and they served without hesitation.  “Know that if we ever find ourselves in a situation like this again, the School District of Lee County will be there for our community.”