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Purcell Elementary and Churchwell Elementary Take Top Honors at the District’s Annual Teacher, School-Related Employee of the Year Awards

February 12, 2013

Left: Polk County Teacher of the Year Virginia Watkins, Right: Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year Janice Wyatt

From left to right: Polk County Teacher of the Year Virginia Watkins, Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year Janice Wyatt

Virginia Watkins, an educator at Purcell Elementary, and Janice Wyatt, an Exceptional Student Education paraprofessional at Churchwell Elementary took home the top prize Tuesday night during Polk County Public Schools’ 2013 Teacher of the Year, School–Related Employee of the Year event held at the Victory Church in Lakeland. The winners along with 12 award finalists received cash awards and other prizes from event sponsors.

Ms. Watkins and Ms. Wyatt were chosen from a pool of more than 230 applicants submitted for the awards by individual schools throughout the District. Judges were representatives from local businesses and organizations and included former award winners and finalists. Judges reviewed applications and did not know the nominees’ identity or school where they work. 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 state School-Related Employee of the Year honors. Last year, the Florida Department of Education named one of our own the Florida School-Related Employee of the Year. Norma Reyes, an English for Speakers of Other Languages paraeducator at Purcell Elementary, took home the award for her unwavering devotion to the Hispanic students at her school and her tireless dedication to finding and facilitating activities that challenge them to push beyond language barriers and master lessons.

Each year, the Florida Department of Education awards the Florida School-Related Employee of the Year Award in recognition of outstanding education support personnel for their contributions to their schools and communities. The Florida Teacher of the Year Award is given to an educator who inspires a love of learning in students by superiorly teaching and communicating knowledge of the subject taught.

Virginia Watkins-2013 Polk County Teacher of the Year Award Winner profile:

Virginia Watkins is a fourth grade reading, writing, spelling and social studies teacher at Purcell Elementary, with 35 years of experience. She believes, “as teachers we must give [students] wings and watch them soar. We must tap into the individual child and reach within to help them reach their fullest potential.” It’s no surprise, Ms. Watkins walked away with the night’s top honor. Known as the “Writing Guru” she effectively builds a rapport with her students while embracing a variety of techniques to engage her students including rapping, singing, rhymes and dance moves.  Her ability to conduct workshops, converse about strategies and openly share her ideas with her colleagues and embrace the ideas of her fellow teachers makes her an instrumental part of the team at the Mulberry elementary school. To Ms. Watkins, “teaching is not a profession that you can consider just a job or a pastime for earning a steady income. It is a commitment to helping students to reach their fullest potential.”

Janice Wyatt: 2013 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year Winner profile:

Janice Wyatt is an Exceptional Student Education paraprofessional at Churchwell Elementary with 19 years of experience. The “2013 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year” is the first formal award she’s ever won. Prior to receiving this distinction, she always said, “The rewards I receive are within myself. The satisfaction of helping children reach their goals in their education is more than enough reward.” She is now being recognized for her flexibility, compassion, motivation, dedication to excellence and for the integrity she displays each day as she works tirelessly with her students. She is also an invaluable asset as the Fast ForWord program coordinator, whose students have gained on average, a year’s worth of progress in reading. Churchwell Elementary Principal Betty Fitzgerald describes her as “the spark that lights the fire of our students’ curiosity and love for learning!”

Below you will find a list of the 2013 finalists:

Virginia Watkins was chosen the 2013 Polk County Teacher of the Year among the following teacher finalists:

  • Allison Crutchfield, Laurel Elementary, Network Manager
  • Rebecca Hensley, Jewett Middle Academy, Sixth Grade Language Arts and Reading Educator
  • Amanda Condra, Kathleen Middle, Seventh Grade Language Arts Educator
  • Mallory Mannix, Chain of Lakes Elementary, Second Grade Teacher
  • Keri Murphy, Padgett Elementary, Fourth Grade Teacher
  • Gina Brackman, Highlands Grove Elementary, Fourth Grade Teacher

Janice Wyatt was chosen the 2013 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year among the following school-related finalists:

  • Mercedes Haedo-Fitzsimmons, Highlands Grove Elementary, Child Development Associate Teacher
  • Magda Landron, Horizons Elementary, English for Speakers of Other Languages Paraprofessional
  • Helen Manear, Bartow Elementary, Custodian Lead
  • Cheryl Hopkins, Brigham Academy, Physical Education Paraprofessional
  • Leslie Robarts, Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. Elementary, Media Paraprofessional
  • Barbara Smith, Lake Gibson Middle, Exceptional Student Education Paraeducator