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January 18, 2017
Lois Horn-Diaz, a gifted teacher at R. Bruce Wagner Elementary in Lakeland, was announced as the 2017 Polk County Teacher of the Year on Wednesday night.
Maureen English, a guidance secretary at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, is the district’s 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year.
Polk County Public Schools celebrated its top educators and employees during an awards ceremony at The Lakeland Center on Wednesday night. The two overall winners, along with 12 finalists, received cash awards and other prizes from event sponsors.
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.
Both winners will move on to compete for state titles.
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.
Polk County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Jessica Solano, is the current Florida 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.
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.
Below you will find a list of the 2017 finalists:
*Lois Horn-Diaz was chosen as the 2017 Polk County Teacher of the Year among the following teacher 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
*Maureen English was chosen as the 2017 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year among the following 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