This annual awards program honors approximately 240 outstanding employees from across the district. Along with 12 finalists, the winners receive cash awards and other prizes from event sponsors.

Judges include community members from local organizations and businesses, as well as past winners and finalists. Judges review the applications without knowledge of applicant names or schools. Judging criteria includes leadership and professional development activities, community and school involvement, and teaching style.

Each year, the Florida Department of Education names a Florida Teacher of the Year, choosing an educator who has “demonstrated a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.” The Florida School-Related Employee of the Year award recognizes outstanding education support personnel for contributions to their schools and communities. Both of Polk’s winners move on to compete for the state titles.

2023-2024 District Winners

Elizabeth Ashmore — 2023-2024 Polk County Teacher of the Year

Elizabeth Ashmore used to count her degrees and certifications among her most significant accomplishments. But as a PCPS educator, she takes even more pride in how she uses that knowledge to benefit her students and school. Ashmore has deep connections to Padgett Elementary: Her mother and sister both served there as teachers. It’s no surprise that she contributes so much to the school.

Ashmore serves as a teacher ambassador, providing support and mentorship to new educators at Padgett. In addition, administrators say she takes special care to consider the unique needs of each student, and celebrate their progress. About eight years ago she created a program called Level Up that helps encourage positive behavior, and ease testing pressure. Ashmore also helps organize parent nights and other events at Padgett. When it comes to doing the little things that make a big difference, that’s where she excels.


Richard Reich — 2023-2024 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year

Richard Reich was once a GED student himself, so he understands the importance of adult education and helping people succeed in life. As the registrar at East Area Adult School, he enjoys being part of a team that keeps the campus running smoothly. He played an essential role during COVID of assisting students with the transition to online learning. He also has spent time doing research and making improvements to services for East Area students.

Administrators say Reich is part of the reason why East Area’s enrollment has increased. They also can rely on him for his technology and data expertise. Perhaps best of all, Reich is known around campus as an empathetic friend and colleague who is always willing to offer his knowledge and support. Whether it’s fellow employees or East Area students, he just wants to see other people flourish.

2023 - 2024 District Finalists

Congratulations to the PCPS finalists for Teacher of the Year: Christina Wainwright (Medulla Elementary), Sherrie Blackwood (Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy), Kelly Larrow (Mulberry Middle), Robert Brown (Winter Haven High) Kara Holt (Sleepy Hill Middle), and Kelsea Matthews (Pinewood Elementary).

And congratulations to our district’s finalists for School-Related Employee of the Year: Teri Whitehead-Richardson (Lakeland High), Alberto L. Cosme (Boone Middle), Angela Love (Fort Meade-Middle Senior), Debra Glisson (Griffin Elementary), Matthew Brojanowski (Roosevelt Academy), and Laura Kovachy (Lake Gibson Middle).

2023-2024 Honorees

Teachers of the Year are listed first followed by
School-Related Employees of the Year


Alturas Elementary - TOY: Kelly Defazio; SRE: Senia Winn


Auburndale Central Elementary - TOY: Carole Ellen Leidi; SRE: Kelly Calderon
Auburndale Senior High - TOY: Robin P. Davis; SRE: George Parrish
Clarence Boswell Elementary - TOY: Phyllis Conover; SRE: Charles Turner
East Area Adult School - TOY: Luzeneida Vega; SRE: Richard Reich
Jere L. Stambaugh Middle - TOY: Brian Morrisey; SRE: Max Whyte
Lena Vista Elementary - TOY: Jamie Gatlin; SRE: Sarita Boyd
Walter Caldwell Elementary - TOY: Joely Atchison; SRE: Lindsey Letchworth


Bartow Elementary Academy - TOY: Angela Lord; SRE: Shannan Hall
Bartow Middle - TOY: Dawn Hardy; SRE: Evette Petithomme
Bartow High/IB/Summerlin - TOY: Jason Rogers; SRE: Cynthia Hall
Floral Avenue Elementary - TOY: Dale Macarthur; SRE: Tamy Forrister
Gause Academy of Leadership - TOY: Danisha Henderson; SRE: Leana Todd
James E. Stephens Academy - TOY: Lee Breiter; SRE: Andrea Rhoden
Jean O'Dell Learning Center - TOY: Keren Romero Velez; SRE: Avis Knight
Spessard L. Holland Elementary - TOY: Lee Ann Duncan; SRE: Sherry Nichols
Union Academy - TOY: Dee A. Davis; SRE: Opal Armstrong


Bella Citta - TOY: Brenda Liz Bernier; SRE: Karina Sandoval
Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy - TOY: Sherrie Blackwood; SRE: Magaly Lopez-Torres
Davenport Elementary - TOY: Nirma Torres; SRE: Marisol Repollet
Davenport High School - TOY: Leah Tribble; SRE: Cherlynn Garcia
Davenport School of the Arts - TOY: Alice Rodriguez; SRE: Lourdes Rodriguez
Horizons Elementary - TOY: Angel Colon; SRE: Lisa K. Holley
Loughman Oaks Elementary - TOY: Jeannene Mari Baumbach; SRE: Edith Anderson


Donald E. Woods Opportunity Center - TOY: Dr. Guerline Jasmin; SRE: Maria Garcia
Dundee Elementary Academy - TOY: Claire Straughn; SRE: Amanda Slone
Dundee Ridge Middle Academy - TOY: Scott Hughes; SRE: Elsa Lara

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake Elementary - TOY: Mary Beth Gray; SRE: Terri Holly
Lake Region High - TOY: Donald Bush Jr.; SRE: Lyannibel Arizmendi Primero
Pinewood Elementary - TOY: Kelsea Matthews; SRE: Gina Wampler

Fort Meade

Fort Meade Middle/Senior High - TOY: Christine Rodriguez Perez; SRE: Angela Love
Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary - TOY: Kristen Rice; SRE: Jaime Tucker


Frostproof Ben Hill Griffin Jr. Elementary - TOY: Renay Copeland; SRE: Maggie Elyard
Frostproof Middle/Senior High - TOY: Nya Seaser; SRE: Kay Gravley

Haines City

Alta Vista Elementary - TOY: Graciela Kathleen Nieves; SRE: Chris Coffelt
Bethune Academy - TOY: Cynthia Hanson; SRE: Alexis Veal
Daniel Jenkins Academy of Technology - TOY: Kayla Isom; SRE: Stephanie Summers, RN
Eastside Elementary - TOY: Rouse A. Diaz Orengo; SRE: Janisse Francisco
Haines City Senior/IB - TOY: Kristen Bowne; SRE: Devika Chandra Mastapha
Ridge Community High - TOY: Chirag Patel; SRE: Josephine Bragg
Sandhill Elementary - TOY: Michele Leon Guerrero Hunter; SRE: Suzette Smothers
Shelley S. Boone Middle - TOY: Jama Hood; SRE: Alberto L. Cosme

Highland City

Highland City Elementary - TOY: Erica Whatley; SRE: Carolina Gonzalez

Lake Alfred

Karen M. Siegel Academy - TOY: David Riley; SRE: Sheena Gourley
Lake Alfred Elementary - TOY: Michele Santos; SRE: Darly Perez
Lake Alfred Polytech Academy - TOY: Kasey Rakes; SRE: Aracely Carbajal

Lake Wales

McLaughlin Academy of Excellence - TOY: Arnelyn T. Rendon; SRE: Rita Slone
Roosevelt Academy - TOY: Daniel Sharpless; SRE: Matthew Brojanowski
Spook Hill Elementary - TOY: Ashley L. Smith; SRE: Brian Long


Bill Duncan Opportunity Center - TOY: Charlotte Gardner; SRE: Kellie Beckett
Carlton Palmore Elementary - TOY: Sara Padgett; SRE: Aslynn Myers
Cleveland Court Elementary - TOY: Sabrina Alia; SRE: Sarah Stafford
Combee Academy of Design and Engineering - TOY: Alyson Hooker; SRE: Brenda Varney
Crystal Lake Elementary - TOY: Angelica Perez; SRE: Edgar Diaz Reyes
Crystal Lake Middle - TOY: Susanna Rogers; SRE: Diana Llewellyn
Dixieland Elementary - TOY: Cheris Michelle Williams; SRE: Randy C. Duncan
Doris A. Sanders Learning Center - TOY: Gino Hernandez; SRE: Predette McCoy
Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary - TOY: Lauryn Jones; SRE: Daniel Mahaffey
Edgar L. Padgett Elementary - TOY: Elizabeth Ashmore; SRE: Marisol Rodriguez
George W. Jenkins Senior High - TOY: Lea Bickerton; SRE: Lisa Morris
Griffin Elementary - TOY: Cynthia Salas; SRE: Debra Glisson
Harrison School for the Arts - TOY: Shelley Bourgeois; SRE: Kayla Nixon
Highlands Grove Elementary - TOY: Sharon Nance; SRE: Angela Waterfield
James W. Sikes Elementary - TOY: Shelli Horak; SRE: Milena De La Torre Aguirre
Jesse Keen Elementary - TOY: Myrtle Gilliam; SRE: Leonel Navarrete
Kathleen Elementary - TOY: John Jones III; SRE: Vikie W. Triplett
Kathleen Middle - TOY: Yolanda Webster; SRE: Kimberly Dees
Kathleen Senior High - TOY: Jason Roberts; SRE: Carol Baker
Lake Gibson Middle - TOY: Marissa Estridge; SRE: Laura Kovachy
Lake Gibson Senior High - TOY: Dawn Anspaugh; SRE: Terry Salerno
Lakeland Highlands Middle - TOY: Jennifer Harness Wilkinson; SRE: Travon Sampson
Lakeland Senior High - TOY: Casey Askey; SRE: Teri Whitehead-Richardson
Lawton Chiles Middle Academy - TOY: Victoria Hall; SRE: Jose Castillo
Lincoln Avenue Academy - TOY: Annie Spickard; SRE: Cindy Peralta
Medulla Elementary - TOY: Christina Wainwright; SRE: Olivia Rodriguez
North Lakeland Elementary - TOY: Carla Flournoy; SRE: Gil Cruz
Oscar J. Pope Elementary - TOY: Caitlin Higdon; SRE: Brenda Batista
Philip O'Brien Elementary - TOY: Tyra Sanders; SRE: Shlon Anette Thompson
Polk GRAD Academy - TOY: N. India Rhem; SRE: Timinisha Conti
R. Bruce Wagner Elementary - TOY: Nicole Ross; SRE: Jane Maskelony
R. Clem Churchwell Elementary - TOY: Lindsey Laughon; SRE: Yunayka Martinez
R.E.A.L. Academy - TOY: Sean Hogarty; SRE: Juan Garcia
Rochelle School Of The Arts - TOY: Stephanie Hicks; SRE: Mary Mcafee
Rosabelle W. Blake Academy - TOY: Geneva Starcher; SRE: Adriana Hawkins
Scott Lake Elementary - TOY: Shelby Husted; SRE: Fernanda Sanches
Sleepy Hill Elementary - TOY: Christina Edmiston; SRE: Tamara Dionne
Sleepy Hill Middle - TOY: Kara Holt; SRE: Elizabeth Saez Boscana
Socrum Elementary - TOY: Ahlia Moore; SRE: John Bridges Jr.
Southwest Elementary - TOY: Jennifer Cayer; SRE: Robin Heath
Southwest Middle - TOY: Christopher Martinez-Masso; SRE: Barbie Green
Tenoroc High - TOY: Bryan Johnson; SRE: Lorraine Sleyzak
Traviss Technical College - TOY: Raymond Finder; SRE: Loretta Stewart
Valleyview Elementary - TOY: Stacy Weaver; SRE: Carlos Miguez
Wendell Watson Elementary - TOY: Nicole Martin; SRE: Brian Palso
West Area Adult School - TOY: Adriana Marroquin; SRE: Shirley Mcginnis Carrasquillo
Winston Academy of Engineering - TOY: Donielle Lynch; SRE: Frances Brown


Mulberry Middle - TOY: Kelly Larrow; SRE: Juanita Daughtry
Mulberry Senior High - TOY: Maria D. Rivera; SRE: Rena McDowell
Polk Virtual School - TOY: Jennifer Goleno; SRE: Keelie de Loera
Purcell Elementary - TOY: Denise Mclachlan; SRE: Marion Kaye Myers
Willow Oak School - TOY: Jessica Sherotski; SRE: Romauldo Alvarez


Lake Marion Creek Middle - TOY: Richard Echevarria; SRE: Drucilla Fielder
Laurel Elementary - TOY: Kassandra Melendez Rivera; SRE: Jose Nieves
Palmetto Elementary - TOY: Lisethe Lugo; SRE: Yvette Rodriguez

Polk City

Polk City Elementary - TOY: Samantha Boatner; SRE: Amanda Ray

Winter Haven

Chain Of Lakes Elementary - TOY: Ellen L. DuBanevich; SRE: Tyequanta Bradwell
Denison Middle - TOY: Vince Herbst; SRE: Roneiqua Wright-Marshall
Elbert Elementary - TOY: Alisha Frazier; SRE: Gabriel Serrano-Torres
Frank E. Brigham Academy - TOY: Susan Gann; SRE: Donna Langford
Fred G. Garner Academy - TOY: Odile A. Perez; SRE: Neisha Vigo-Lugo
Garden Grove Elementary - TOY: Kathryn Horbett; SRE: Alexandra Eve
Inwood Elementary - TOY: Sandra Rivera; SRE: Serena Dunn
Jewett Middle Academy - TOY: Tia S. Giles; SRE: Sharon Tarver
Jewett School of the Arts - TOY: Robert Clark; SRE: Bristle Ramjit
John Snively Elementary - TOY: Mandy Rimes; SRE: Sara Pewitt
Lake Shipp Elementary - TOY: Jane Jergensen; SRE: Charlotte Marsh
Ridge Technical College - TOY: John Nalley; SRE: Jane Moore
Wahneta Elementary - TOY: Maya Ramdehal; SRE: Andrew Rosales
Westwood Middle - TOY: Keith Edwards-Fleming; SRE: Jerry Kelly
Winter Haven Senior High - TOY: Robert Brown; SRE: Jacqueline Johnson


Visit the 2023-24 Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year photo gallery to see photos of nominees, “prize patrols” and the awards program.

Please share your photos on social media using the hashtag #LovePolkSchools.

Platinum Sponsors:

  • MIDFLORIDA Credit Union
  • Jarrett Gordon Ford

Gold Sponsors:

  • BlueCross BlueShield of Florida
  • Boswell & Dunlap LLP
  • Legoland Florida Resort
  • Mosaic
  • Publix Super Markets Charities
  • TECO

Previous Award Winners