Keyword for this page: Awards


The Polk County School Board has many events and programs celebrating the accomplishments and hard work of our staff, community partners and students from both the present and the past. The following recognition events are coordinated by the Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships.

Hall of Fame

The Polk County Schools Hall of Fame was created in 1985 to recognize former students of Polk County Public Schools who have gone on to distinguish themselves in their careers or communities. Since its inception, the Hall of Fame has inducted over 100 former students. Hall of Fame members are from the arts, business, clergy, education, entertainment, government, law, military, medicine, sports or other fields.

2014 Inductees

Congratulations to Barbara Harrison, Brigadier General Robert N. Polumbo, and Major General H.D. Polumbo Jr.!

Barbara HarrisonBarbara Harrison retired from Lakeland Regional Health Systems in 2007 after 42 years of service. A walking testament to lifelong learning, she began her career as an LPN before becoming a registered nurse, and later received a higher education degree and certifications in nursing administration. Identified as a leader early on, Mrs. Harrison climbed the ranks in healthcare, being named patient care coordinator of the urology unit only one year after becoming a registered nurse. She was later appointed head nurse before stepping up to manage the M5 surgical services unit. In 1995, Mrs. Harrison reached another high point in her career. She became the first black vice president of Lakeland Regional Medical Center and among the first black vice presidents of major health systems in Florida. Throughout her career, she was involved in many healthcare initiatives and was instrumental in the development of several community outreach programs. One of her most notable achievements was her role in the development of the Lakeland Regional Cancer Center. The award-winning center is renowned for its excellent patient care, outstanding physicians, staff and research. In addition to her professional contributions, Mrs. Harrison has been recognized for her achievements by community organizations. In 1991, she received the “She Knows Where She’s Going” award from Girls Inc.; and in 1992, was honored by the Florida Nurses Association with the Mary Cash Award for outstanding contributions to cultural diversity in nursing. Polk Community College (currently Polk State College), presented Mrs. Harrison with their Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1996, making her the first nurse to receive this honor and only the second African American. Her recent accomplishments include being appointed to the CEO Advisory Board at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, serving as the local program ambassador for the American Diabetes Association and being recognized as one of the top five most influential African Americans in Polk County. She is a graduate of Leadership Lakeland Class XVI, has served and continues to serve on many community boards. Mrs. Harrison received her nursing degree from Polk Community College and a master’s in health-care administration from Central Michigan University. She is a graduate of Rochelle High (currently Rochelle School of the Arts).

Brigadier General Robert N. PolumboBrigadier General Robert N. Polumbo is the Mobilization Assistant to the Commander, 12th Air Force, Air Combat Command, and Commander, Air Forces Southern, U.S. Southern Command, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. Twelfth Air Force ensures the readiness of 10 active duty wings and one direct reporting unit for contingency operations, and oversees 17 gained Air Reserve Component units totaling more than 800 aircraft and 65,000 Airmen. As the air and space component to U.S. Southern Command, Air Forces Southern conducts security cooperation and provides air, space and cyberspace capabilities throughout the 31 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. General Polumbo was a distinguished graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1984. During his 14 years of active duty, he served as an instructor pilot, flight examiner, weapons officer, operations officer and commander. Additionally, he served as the aide-de-camp to the Air Force Chief of Staff. He transitioned to the Air Force Reserve Command in 1997 and joined the 482nd Fighter Wing as an Air Reserve Technician. After being hired by a major airline in 1999, he served as a traditional Reservist with the 93rd Fighter Squadron as the assistant operations officer and later as commander of the unit. He also served as the 482nd Fighter Wing Vice Commander. He previously served as the mobilization assistant to the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, the Headquarters Air Combat Command director of air and space operations, and the 7th Air Force commander. General Polumbo is a command pilot with more than 4,300 hours, including 100 hours of combat time. In his civilian capacity he flies as first officer on B-757/767 aircraft for a major airline. In addition to his bachelor of science, General Polumbo has a master’s in aviation science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is a graduate of Winter Haven High.

Major General H.D. Polumbo Jr.Major General H.D. Polumbo Jr. is Commander, Ninth Air Force, Air Combat Command, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Ninth Air Force comprises eight active-duty wings and three direct reporting units in the Southeastern United States with more than 400 aircraft and 29,000 active-duty and civilian personnel. Ninth Air Force is also responsible for the operational readiness of 16 Air Reserve Component wings. General Polumbo entered active duty in 1981 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He later obtained a master of science in aeronautical science technology from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He has commanded at the squadron, group and three times at the wing level, including a year-long deployment as Commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. In this capacity he also led planning and deployment of the first U.S. Army Patriot Battalion on his base in the area of responsibility. General Polumbo also served in joint positions with Headquarters Allied Air Forces Northwestern Europe, NATO, and as the Assistant Deputy Director for Global Operations on the Joint Staff. He recently served as the Commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan; Deputy Commander-Air, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan; and Deputy Chief of Staff-Air, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command where he oversaw three air expeditionary air wings and three expeditionary groups consisting of more than 4,500 Airmen directly engaged in combat operations for Operation Enduring Freedom missions. The general is a command pilot with 4,000 flying hours in all blocks of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, including combat sorties in Operation Northern Watch. He holds the distinction as the first Air Force general officer to fly the U-2S in combat and completed 21 operational U-2 missions in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The General also flew combat missions in the MC-12W weapon system during Operation Enduring Freedom. He is a graduate of Winter Haven High.


Complete list of inductees »

The 2014 Hall of Fame sponsors are: AT&T, Polk Education Foundation and Publix Super Markets Charities.Enduring Freedom. He is a graduate of Winter Haven High.

Polk County Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year Awards Program

Congratulations to Adam J. Smith of Frank E. Brigham Academy and Jason Leatherwood of Horizons Elementary, 2015 Polk County Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year.

2015 Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year Sponsors

Platinum Sponsors:

  • Ledger Media Group
  • MIDFLORIDA Credit Union
  • Regal Automotive

Gold Sponsors:

  • Achieve3000
  • Boswell & Dunlap LLP
  • Bright House Networks
  • Florida Blue
  • The Mosaic Company
  • Pearson
  • Publix Super Markets Charities
  • Southeastern University
  • TECO
  •  WellDyneRX

Silver Sponsor:


Bronze Sponsors:

  • Agile Mind
  • Annett Bus Lines
  • Ben Hill Griffin Inc.
  • Citizens Bank & Trust
  • Duke Energy
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Horace Mann Insurance
  • Huntington Learning Center
  • Lakeland Electric
  • Polk Education Association
  • Polk State College
  • SunTrust Foundation
  • Warner University

    banner recognizing Regal Automotive Group as car sponsor

Click here for more information on this year's Polk County Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year.

About Face Awards

The About Face Award recognizes secondary students who have made a significant turn around in their behavior, academic achievement and attendance in school. One student from each middle and high school in the district receive the award annually at the Awards Program. Students are nominated by their school and receive a medallion for their success.

This event is made possible through the sponsorship of TECO Energy.

To view a list of this year's About Face winners click here.

For more information, contact the Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships

Master Key Awards

2014 Master Key Recipients

The Master Key Award winners were recently recognized during a Polk County School Board meeting.

The Master Key Award winners were recently recognized during a Polk County School Board meeting.
From left to right: Cindy Price (Community Affairs Manager at TECO Energy), Karina Zellner (Wendall Watson Elementary), Marie Robertson (James E. Stephens Elementary), Laura Blanchette (Southwest Middle), Derek Hall (Elbert Elementary) and Lori Cunningham (Polk County School Board, District 2) are pictured above.   

Derek Hall
Derek Hall, an educator at Elbert Elementary is a dedicated and highly effective teacher of students with special needs. He assists 3rd, 4th and 5th grade General Education Teachers with students who need help meeting grade level requirements in reading, mathematics and writing. When Elbert Elementary Principal William Dawson speaks of Mr. Hall he says, “He can relate to students and empathize with their struggles. Mr. Hall provides a warm trusting environment for students and defuses problems in a non-confrontational way when needed. He always completes his IEP’s [Individualized Education Program] and as Grade Chair he helps other teachers in need. Most importantly students show remarkable learning gains in academics with Mr. Hall. He truly cares about his students.”

Laura Blanchette
Laura Blanchette, an ESE teacher at Southwest Middle, has worked in education for more than two decades. Her experience and mastery of her subject area, effective instructional strategies, and ESE policies and procedures clearly shine through each day. But it is her knowledge of her students and the ability to relate to them that makes her an exceptional educator. As Southwest Middle Principal John Wilson points out, “The quality though, that makes Mrs. Blanchette stand out as a teacher, is her ability to connect with and get the best out of students of all levels, backgrounds and abilities. As I visit her classroom through the year, I routinely see some of the most challenging students one might find anywhere at their desks and engaged in work. Mrs. Blanchette moves around the room from desk to desk working individually with students and continuously offering up words of encouragement and praise. The students seem to intuitively know that she is genuinely there for them. It is a quality I would like to be able to bottle and sell.”

Marie Robertson
Marie Robertson, a varying exceptionalities teacher, at James E. Stephens Elementary works closely with general education teachers in order to help students with disabilities master the curriculum. She takes initiative to make sure she is fully prepared to bring out the best in her students. She is resourceful and actively engaged as she works towards making things happen. Her strengths also include her ability to develop strong relationships with parents that result in creating successful students. James E. Stephens Elementary Principal Chandra Hall says, “[Marie] is proactive and thinks outside the box by coming up with plans to fit the needs of her students. She works with the general education teachers to implement the curriculum to diverse learners. She works above and beyond her case load by helping other students who are struggling. Marie works well with the parents of her students. She helps them understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work with them at home.”

Karina Zellner
Karina Zellner, a varying exceptionalities teacher, at Wendell Watson Elementary provides services to students with disabilities during General Education classes. She works closely with her students’ teachers to reinforce skills being taught in the classroom, making sure students receive quality and high level support to gain skills and achieve standards. She also assists other teachers with special challenges and needs, by coordinating school and district staff, coordinating parents’ efforts and collecting and analyzing data that will help students reach academic goals. But it’s her tireless dedication to what she does, that makes her stand out from her peers. Wendell Watson Principal Kathy Riley says, “As a teacher in the inclusion classroom, [Karina] works above and beyond with her assigned students and those students in need of additional help. Students love to work with Mrs. Zellner…. [She] is an invaluable resource to Wendell Watson Elementary, offering her knowledge and skills readily. Her knowledge base and management skills help to ensure the success of students with disabilities at Wendell Watson Elementary. Her compassion for students and dedication to the profession most certainly validate her as a recipient.”

The extraordinary efforts that teachers of exceptional students make to help them achieve their maximum potential. They award the Master Key award to four exceptional education teachers who have demonstrated excellence, perseverance and longevity in their careers.

These awards are made possible through the sponsorship of TECO Energy.

For more information, contact the Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships

2014 Outstanding School Volunteer of the Year Awards Program

2014 Inductees

Cheyenne PrenticeOutstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year
Elementary level
Cheyenne Prentice
Wahneta Elementary

Cheyenne has been a loyal volunteer at Wahneta Elementary this school year, in addition to taking college courses, participating in school activities and maintaining a part-time job. She helps kindergarten teachers with grading papers and organizing classroom space. She also spends time tutoring students and helping with their reading comprehension. Fluent in Spanish, Cheyenne also assists when messages to and from students’ homes need translating. The staff at Wahneta Elementary is very appreciative of Cheyenne’s willingness to serve her community.

Kayleigh MitchellOutstanding Adult Volunteer of the Year
Elementary level
Kayleigh Mitchell
Padgett Elementary

A former Padgett Elementary student, Kayleigh has since returned to serve. Taking on numerous roles at the school, she has assisted teachers in classrooms, tutored students and helped with the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program. Kayleigh looks forward to the times she is called to volunteer and enjoys working with students and contributing to the school. To quote a Padgett Elementary teacher, “It doesn’t matter what it is, if Kayleigh has time to do it, she’ll get it done to perfection.”

Jim VirgilioOutstanding Senior Volunteer of the Year
Elementary level
Jim Virgilio
Lincoln Avenue Academy

Jim Virgilio selflessly volunteers daily on campus at Lincoln Avenue Academy. From greeting families in the car line to carrying a teacher’s bag, he is in tune with the needs of students and staff. Jim primarily supports the efforts of the custodial and grounds crew. His enthusiasm, commitment and contribution is appreciated and valued by the entire Lincoln family. Students, parents and staff members have all commented on his work ethic. Jim goes above and beyond making the school campus shine beautifully.

Susan LynchOutstanding Adult Volunteer of the Year
Secondary level
Susan Lynch
Southwest Middle

Susan never stops thinking of ways to support and improve the band program at Southwest Middle. She is always the first parent to arrive and the last to leave. She has served in almost every position on the parent board including Secretary, Volunteer Coordinator, Vice President and President. She plans the annual awards banquet and oversees building the Christmas parade float each year. Susan is the epitome of an involved parent who cares not only about her own child, but each and every child that she encounters.

Stephen AbneyOutstanding Senior Volunteer of the Year
Secondary level
Stephen Abney
East Area Adult

Upon moving to Polk County from Iowa, Stephen and his wife searched for a place where they could use their educational background to make a difference. East Area Adult School was the perfect fit. Stephen works with struggling students as they prepare to take the GED exam. He builds a rapport, making math concepts come to life so that it is easier for the students to understand. Stephen’s positive attitude and willingness to do anything that is asked of him has made him a great addition to the volunteer pool on campus.

The Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Awards Program is sponsored by The Ledger and MIDFLORIDA Credit Union..

For more information, contact the Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships