Polk County Public Schools celebrated its top educators and employees during an awards ceremony at The Lakeland Center on January 18. Two overall winners, along with 12 finalists, received cash awards and other prizes from event sponsors.

Lois Horn-Diaz, a gifted teacher at R. Bruce Wagner Elementary in Lakeland, was announced as the 2017 Polk County Teacher of the Year and Maureen English, a guidance secretary at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, is the district’s 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year. Ms. Horn-Diaz and Ms. English were chosen from more than 200 candidates who were nominated by individual schools throughout the Polk County School District.

Judges included community members from local organizations and businesses, as well as past winners and finalists. Judges reviewed the applications without knowledge of applicant names or schools. Criteria included 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 winners will move on to compete for the state titles.

Polk County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Jessica Solano, is the current Florida Teacher of the Year.

Previous Teacher of the Year Award Winners »

Previous School-Related Employee of the Year Award Winners »

2017 Winners

Lois Horn-Diaz - 2017 Teacher of the YearLois Horn-Diaz -- 2017 Polk County Teacher of the Year:

Ms. Horn-Diaz found her calling as a teacher after a 24-year career as a school psychologist. She has spent the past six years teaching gifted students in subjects including language arts, humanities and technology enrichment.

When students enter Ms. Horn-Diaz’s class, they are asked to imagine themselves traveling back in time on a hot air balloon ride -- visiting Ancient Egypt, the Industrial Revolution and Middle Ages. In each historic period, they study and perform classic texts from great authors such as Shakespeare and Dickens.

One of the annual highlights in Ms. Horn-Diaz’s classroom is when students create and publish their own books based on the history they’ve learned. The books are proudly displayed in the media center at R. Bruce Wagner Elementary, making them available for an audience of readers.

As a multi-faceted educator, Ms. Horn-Diaz enriches her lessons with technology. Her students are instructed in the use of various software programs, and learn how to film and edit video commercials and music videos. Ms. Horn-Diaz says that technology is an important tool, providing students with alternative ways to communicate and express their creativity.


Maureen English - 2016 School-Related Employee of the YearMaureen “Muffy” English – 2017 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year:

A highly organized multi-tasker, Ms. English balances an extensive list of responsibilities at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy. She serves as an advocate for her school by partnering with parents, businesses, churches and elected officials to promote school events. Ms. English maintains a rapport with students by helping them complete assignments and keep their grades up. She even makes costumes for the drama department and repairs student uniforms.

Somehow, Ms. English also finds time to take on leadership roles in her community. She is a member of Sheriff Grady Judd’s Advisory Committee, and directs youth and children’s Sunday school classes. Ms. English’s colleagues say they are inspired every day by her dedication and attention to detail.

2017 Finalists

Teacher of the Year Finalists:

  • Jennifer Burnett, Walter Caldwell Elementary, first grade teacher
  • Robert S. Erb, Winter Haven High, biology teacher
  • Martina Giordano, Laurel Elementary, kindergarten teacher
  • Ashley Highley, Spook Hill Elementary, third grade teacher
  • Adam Hippeli, Spessard L. Holland Elementary, mathematics teacher
  • Diane Lokey, Lincoln Avenue Academy, third grade teacher

School-Related Employee of the Year Finalists:

  • Samuel Berrien, Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary, ESE paraeducator
  • Andre Casseus, Inwood Elementary, media paraeducator
  • Lisa Jackson, Combee Elementary, school nurse
  • Jami Liska, Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary, ESE paraeducator
  • Chuck Loveless, Frostproof Middle-Senior High, ESE paraeducator and athletic director
  • Jean Singletary, Highlands Grove Elementary, school nurse

2017 Honorees

Honoree Videos:

View video tributes to each of this year's honorees. Videos are compiled by district and can viewed in the 2017 Teacher & School Related Employee of the Year YouTube Playlist.

(A list of nominees is available in each video's decription.)

Beginning Monday, January 16, PCSBtv will feature one of our seven disctricts' school-related employees at 7:00 pm followed by its teachers at 7:30 pm. Visit the PCSBtv weekly schedule for details.


Teachers of the Year Poster (PDF)

School-Related Employees of the Year Poster (PDF)

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


Alturas Elementary: Tracy Snell; Jacqueline Benitez


Auburndale Central Elementary: Sara Stoquert; Renard Thomas
Auburndale High: Hannah Haugen; Cindy Casey
Clarence Boswell Elementary: Lisa Baker; Nona Dye
East Area Adult: Pamela Seely; Clarissa Smith
Jere L. Stambaugh Middle: Angela Rausch; Pamela Harris
Lena Vista Elementary: James Sebastian; Darlene Herbert
Walter Caldwell Elementary: Jennifer Burnett; Misouri Othoson


Bartow Elementary Academy: Jennifer Barnett; Catherine Coconato
Bartow High/IB/Summerlin Academy: Rosalind Chan; Cecelia Greear
Bartow Middle: Laura Knowles; Shenika Vargas
Floral Avenue Elementary: Heather Bartos; Angela Foley
Gause Academy of Leadership: Sherri Mahar; Chandra Pottinger
Gibbons Street Elementary: Traci Maier; Lawrence Glogowski
James E. Stephens Elementary: Lillian Narvaez; Victor Estronza
Jean O’Dell Learning Center: Alyssa Lehmkuhle; Eleanor Hall
Spessard L. Holland Elementary: Adam Hippeli; Tiffany Beasley
Union Academy: Sandra Neal; Claudia Munoz


Davenport School of the Arts: Kendra Barnes-Hazen; Cecilia Enhelder
Horizons Elementary: Diane Boczkowski; Vannette Williams
Loughman Oaks Elementary: Amy Dunkel; Shannon DeGraaf
Ridge Community High: Steve Haun, Marsha Evans


Donald E. Woods Opportunity Center: Bessie Holmes; Lisa Ann Henry
Dundee Elementary Academy: Danielle Hippeli; Kristin King
Dundee Ridge Middle Academy: Delvinal Johnson; Maureen English

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake Elementary: Sarah Musick; Tracy Walling
Lake Region High: Brian Marti; Leza Breckinridge
Pinewood Elementary: Meghan Starling; Gayle Conley

Fort Meade

Fort Meade Middle-Senior: Angie Story; Sara Hudnell
Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary: Viviana Torres; Samuel Berrien
Lewis Elementary: Tamara Opalek; Lettie (Loretta) Smith


Ben Hill Griffin Jr. Elementary: Katherine Landress; Lucinda Grant
Frostproof Elementary: March Goolsby; Roch Potrykus
Frostproof Middle-Senior: Julie Spires; Chuck Loveless

Haines City

Alta Vista Elementary: Sandra Hester; Cesar Garcia
Bethune Academy: Michele Bobo; Cynthia Cutrupi
Daniel Jenkins Academy of Technology: Thomas McCullough; Debbie Ann Rivera Morales
Eastside Elementary: Zachira Cordero Miranda; Jorge Torres
Haines City High/IB: Amanda Maggs; Brenda H. Ryan
Sandhill Elementary: Frances Malfa; Hector Rentas
Shelley S. Boone Middle: Geanne Williams; Ruby McCray

Highland City

Highland City Elementary: Kathleen Blackwelder; Victoria Naples

Lake Alfred

Karen M. Siegel Academy: Cheryl Scanlan; Jeanette Hughes
Lake Alfred Elementary: Erica Smith; Judy Palmer
Lake Alfred-Addair Middle: Jonathan Pierre; Dawn Cuyler-Hollis

Lake Wales

McLaughlin Middle & Fine Arts Academy: Tara Boucher; Connie Nottage
Roosevelt Academy: Kathryn Kerner; Robert Markham
Spook Hill Elementary: Ashley Highley; Heather Palmer


Bill Duncan Opportunity Center: Larry Herbert Jr.; Paul Berthold
Carlton Palmore Elementary: Kimberly Rivera; Darlene Czerwinski
Cleveland Court Elementary: Marilyn Dailey; Nancy Ellis
Combee Elementary: Emily Cantler; Lisa Jackson
Crystal Lake Elementary: Maurice Cowan; Heather Conley
Crystal Lake Middle: Angela Dee Blevins; Pamela Cornelia
Dixieland Elementary: Ashley Wickersham; Rolando Rivera
Doris A. Sanders Learning Center: David Szumlanski; Predette Kennedy
Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary: Pam Champion; Jami Liska
Edgar L. Padgett Elementary: Doris Rios; Deanna Sisolak
George W. Jenkins High: Lauren Barbato; Kristi Strouse
Griffin Elementary: Shandra Hardee; Kristi Lampp
Highlands Grove Elementary: Meagan Franklin; Jean Singletary
James W. Sikes Elementary: Erica Marcano; Deborah Kolodziej
Jesse Keen Elementary: Leslie Murrell; Lisa Gill
Kathleen Elementary: Kimberly Black-Yurdin; Tara Browning
Kathleen High: Al Thompson; Elaine McLeish
Kathleen Middle: Kevin Taylor; Elana Tedrick
Lake Gibson High: Greg Burdick; Edna Elliott
Lake Gibson Middle: Joanna Stover; Cherlynn Garcia Goitia
Lakeland High: Jennifer Goleno; TJ Ali
Lakeland Highlands Middle: Simone Paolercio; Lonnie Flowies
Lawton Chiles Middle Academy: Pamela Grimes; Carol Busby
Lincoln Avenue Academy: Diane Lokey; Heather Shamoun
Lois Cowles Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts: Rebekah Haubry; Kimberly Punausuia
Maynard A. Traviss Technical College: Bonnie Gaynair; Sharon Erb
Medulla Elementary: Tracey Spear; Candie Hess
North Lakeland Elementary: Heather Patrias; Gladys Rivera
Oscar J. Pope Elementary: Tiffany Ricco; Cindy Cusmano
Philip O’Brien Elementary: Stephanie Roberts; Kristin Peick
Polk Virtual: Renee Vaughn; Diana Gunkel
R. Bruce Wagner Elementary: Lois Horn-Diaz; Jennifer Doty
R. Clem Churchwell Elementary: Lindsey Laughon; Ezequiel Morales
REAL Academy: Shayla Lewis
Rochelle School of the Arts: Kimberly Nolen; Sharron Halman
Rosabelle W. Blake Academy: Maude Graham; Jacquelyn Sheetz
Scott Lake Elementary: Jacqueline Thomas; Ana Fernandez
Sleepy Hill Elementary: Maria Andreina Prince; Nohelia Selles
Sleepy Hill Middle: Tiffany Jacobs-King; Holly Turner
Socrum Elementary: Robin Ramos; Leslie “Gene” Jackson
Southwest Elementary: Donna Adams; Brittney King
Southwest Middle: Shannon Mooney; Elvira Abreu
Tenoroc High: Amy Glenn; Betty Tucker
Valleyview Elementary: Caitlin Ivol; Patricia Dunlap
Wendell Watson Elementary: Kathryn Holmes; Audrey Crapo
West Area Adult: Cheryl Case; Sherry Bigelow
Winston Academy of Engineering: Ashlee Pridemore; Luz Sarmiento


Kingsford Elementary: Carmen Croy; Maria Muniz
Mulberry High: Kris Kondolf; Patricia Morgan
Mulberry Middle: Cintia Ally; Lori Chilcott
Purcell Elementary: Elizabeth Ferguson; Doris Pennini


Lake Marion Creek Middle: Arlene Alverio; Elys Figueroa
Laurel Elementary: Martina Giordano; Marie Possible
Palmetto Elementary: Amy Worthington; Ella O’Neill

Polk City

Polk City Elementary: Rae-Anne Baird; Sarah Fletcher

Winter Haven

Chain of Lakes Elementary: Brandie Gogel; Tiffany Alvarez
Denison Middle: Clarence Hawkins; Vera Osbourne
Elbert Elementary: Shanon Stephens; Ana Nicholson
Frank E. Brigham Academy: Shandra Blocker; Thomas Johnson
Fred G. Garner Elementary: Mandy Bowman; Mariangelie Jorge-Montes
Garden Grove Elementary: Michelle Dix; Audrey Brown
Inwood Elementary: Roberto A. Robles-Bidot; Andre Casseus
Jewett Middle Academy Magnet: Alicia Donald; Kassia Harris
Jewett School of the Arts: Dennis Dill; Pamela Musgrove Smith
John Snively Elementary: Johnna Bryant; Valerie Quackenbush
Lake Shipp Elementary: Yeisa Merly-Rivera; Eva Martinez
Ridge Technical College: Brenda W. Smith; Clarence Upshaw
Wahneta Elementary: Nina Prentice; Spring Warren
Westwood Middle: Patricia Blakeney; Vicmarie Torres
Winter Haven High: Robert S. Erb; Vanessa Gathers

2017 Sponsors

banner recognizing Regal Automotive Group as car sponsor

Platinum Sponsors:

  • Ledger Media Group
  • MIDFLORIDA Credit Union
  • Regal Automotive

Gold Sponsors:

  • Boswell & Dunlap LLP
  • Citizens Bank & Trust
  • Florida Blue
  • Mosaic
  • Publix Super Markets Charities
  • TECO

Silver Sponsors:

  • Achieve 3000
  • Ben Hill Griffin Inc.
  • Duke Energy
  • Florida Southern College
  • Horace Mann Insurance
  • Huntington Learning Center
  • Lakeland Electric
  • Polk Education Association
  • Polk State College
  • Southeastern University
  • WellDyne


2016 Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year

Congratulations to Jessica Solano of Highlands Grove Elementary and Maria Gomez of Bartow HIgh, 2016 Polk County Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year.

More information about 2016 Honorees »