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.

32nd Annual Hall of FameHall 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 have made significant professional contributions in the arts, business, clergy, education, entertainment, government, law, military, medicine, sports or other fields.

2015 Inductees

Congratulations to Otis Birdsong, Hollis Hooks, Deric Milligan and Benjamin Stevenson!

2015 Hall of Fame Inductees

The 2015 Hall of Fame sponsors were: AT&T, Polk Education Foundation and Publix Super Markets Charities.

Complete list of inductees with biographies »

Teacher and School-Related Employee of the YearTeacher and School-Related Employee of the Year

Jessica Solano, a third grade teacher at Highlands Grove Elementary, and Maria Gomez, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) paraprofessional at Bartow Senior High, took home the top prize during Polk County Public Schools’ 2016 Teacher of the Year, and School-Related Employee of the Year event.

The ceremony was held at The Lakeland Center. The winners, along with 12 finalists, received cash awards and other prizes from event sponsors.

Solano and Gomez were chosen from over 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. Judging criteria included leadership and professional development activities, community and school involvement, and teaching style.

Both winners will move on to compete for the state Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year titles.

Since the Teacher of the Year program began in 1968, Polk is proud to have twelve teachers become finalists for Florida's Teacher of the Year. Three of them won the title and one became a U.S. finalist.

Learn more and view 2016 honorees »


Volunteer of the Year Awards LogoOutstanding School Volunteer of the Year Program

The gift of time is precious, and volunteers are truly generous when it comes to investing this valuable resource in our schools and with our students.

This award ceremony acknowledges the crucial role school volunteers play in students’ lives and how they enrich our schools with their selfless dedication.

This event is made possible through the sponsorship of The Ledger and MIDFLORIDA Credit Union.

Learn more and view 2015 honorees »


About-Face Awards LogoAbout-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.

Learn more and view 2016 honorees »

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 Partnership