Garry Gawrych has spent his life teaching kids, first as a science teacher, then in physical education.
He spent 17 years with Hillsborough County, 25 years total as an educator.
But this school year, at Rodgers Middle School, Gawrych was given a new task: teaching ESE students (Exceptional Student Education) in his physical education classes.
He was assigned ESE students in his 4th period class.
"I'm not certified. But I took it and they showed faith in me, and I was going to do a good job with it. And that's how it came about," he said.
But pretty early on, Gawrych said some of the teacher's aides were not helping him.
"It was very nerve-wracking having an ESE class that I wasn't certified in. You had kids that tended to move a lot. The attention wasn't there from the aides. So, kids would move into other areas and no one would pick up on it," Gawrych said.
Gawrych says he went to the assistant principal, Shawn Livingston, three to four times, to ask for help.
"I spoke to him a couple of times and I told him, ‘I need you to speak to the aides because they're not paying attention.' "
Livingston, though, told the district and the media yesterday that those discussions never happened.
And that bothers Gawrych.
"It hurts a lot. I was trying to do the best job I could with those kids. I loved those kids. He saw that, he knew that," he said.
Gawrych says he thinks of 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero everyday. She wandered away from the school one day last October, and drowned in a nearby pond.
"I wake up every morning and the first thing I think of is Jenny. And every night I go to bed, I think of Jenny," he says.
It is not easy for him to talk about her.
"I really loved Jenny. She was spunky and she was fun," he recalled.
Gawrych is speaking out in hopes of protecting other students. He is glad the district is now mandating training, and he says the district needs to focus on finding ESE educators and aides that know how to care for the children.
Gawrych says Jenny had walked away a few times before. And says it was he who chased after her and always found her.
On October 22nd, the last time Jenny wandered away, Garry first found her under the bleachers and says he directed aides to watch her while he turned his attention back to the wheelchair-bound kids.
Minutes later, he says an aide yelled that Jenny was gone.
"All I knew to do was run after her. And I ran after her. It happened before, and I had gotten to her. I felt like I was right behind her and I think I was for...a time," he says.
That still haunts him. He decided to retire from the district partially to pursue his dream to be a pastor. But also because of the frustrations.
"You go through and you work hard and I put a lot of years and a lot of great kids. And I did my best. And when you feel like you're not being heard or you're put into situation you shouldn't be, that gets very frustrating," he said.
Gawrych feels he did everything he could the day that Caballero drowned -- but is heartbroken it wasn't enough.
"I think I did...I don't know what more I could have done. I was right behind her, I thought I had her. I just feel for the family, I can't imagine," he said.
His attorney, Ty Tison, says this issue goes beyond firing a few aides and demoting the administrators. Tison says the district needs to review why people without any training were told to teach ESE students. He also wonders how it went unnoticed that Jenny's new school, Rodgers Middle School, did not get a report on her from her former school, Corr Elementary. At Corr, it was noted Jenny hid from aides and was known to wander away.
Tison also says legislators need to look deeply at more funding for ESE programs.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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