It was an Avon Park sweep at the Summit Awards 2013 with Avon Park High’s Jessica Thayer being named Teacher of the Year and Park Elementary’s James Brown being named the School Related Employee of the Year.
Park Elementary scored a repeat as last year’s School Related Employee of the Year, Joni Gergen, was from Park Elementary.
The awards program, which is sponsored by the Highlands County Education Foundation, Inc., was held at Sebring High School’s Smith Center.
After her win, Thayer said, “I am very humble to be standing amongst such amazing educators. It’s just a fabulous feeling to see all the talent that we have in our community that are loving on our children.”
Brown spread the credit around for his win.
“It was a team effort with a lot of help from the employees,” he said. “We’ve got a real good staff. The office staff is great and my custodial staff, Miss Cook [bookkeeper Barbara Cook] and the principal, everybody pulls together at Park Elementary.”
Park Elementary Principal Brenda Longshore said, “We are so proud of him; he does a wonderful job; he his our right hand, left hand, he just takes care of us.
“We are very thrilled to have him at our school and to represent our district because he certainly deserves it.”
Sebring Middle’s Sandi Whidden was named the Principal of the Year.
Superintendent Wally Cox said Whidden has been the principal of an “A” school in Highlands County for the past 10 years.
Her ability to help teachers enhance their instructional practices and her long-time goal of improving student achievement has earned her the respect of her colleagues, he said. “Miss Whidden is a true servant leader committed to the pursuit of excellence for her school, her teachers and her students,” he said.
This is the first time a Principal of the Year has been named in a number of years, according to district administrative secretary Patricia Kules. Depending on nominations, the administrator recognition is not slated to be awarded each year.
Thayer, a literacy/reading resource teacher, approached her school’s administration with a “bold and aggressive, yet research-based plan” to help low-achieving students with their reading, according to her Teacher of the Year bio.
With the implementation of her plan, students improved their scores on reading assessment tests, including the FCAT, which helped the school’s grade improve from a “D” to a “C.”
Brown has been employed with the district for 33 years, including 16 years as the Park Elementary plant operator.
In Brown’s bio, Director of Community Relations for the Boys & Girls Club of Highlands County Wally Randall said, “He has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to many of our youth. He dedicates time, energy and money to many worthy neighborhood causes.”
Whidden’s bio notes that she is the district’s mentoring coach and contact for secondary schools and has served as mentor to numerous new principals.
Brown received an engraved award and a $2,500 check. Thayer received an engraved award and a $5,000 check.
Brown is the School Related Employee of the Year 2013 while Thayer is the Teacher of the Year 2014, in accordance with the Florida Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year Program.
The school district’s Business Partners of the Year 2013 were recognized at the awards ceremony – Century Link and Florida Hospital Heartland Division.