Pure Gold

Aura Garcia Diane Jensen Bobbie Knighton Carla Nebesnyk Suzanne Butzer Christine Disanza

Every year, the Public Education Foundation of Marion County begins the search for the best teachers in the area. It’s a grueling process for both the teachers and the selection committee alike. The teachers honored at each school — more than 40 from all parts of the county — must complete a lengthy portfolio and then submit to an interview and several classroom observations as they progress through the successive stages. It’s like an American Idol audition for teachers, just without Simon Cowell! For the selection committee (including yours truly), this process meant reading and scoring every application over the Christmas holidays, interviewing almost a dozen of the top scorers, and then observing the best from that group. Personally, I find the whole process to be awe-inspiring, not to mention that I always know who the winner is long before anyone else!

And now I share those wonderful teachers with you, our readers. Without further adieu, Ocala Style proudly presents:

The 2005-2006 Marion County Golden Apple Teachers of the Year:

By Dean Blinkhorn * Photos By John Jernigan

Aura Garcia
Seventh Grade Math, Osceola Middle School
Golden Apple Teacher of the Year

In the Classroom:
“My students understand that I will work hard to make sure I teach the material in a manner that helps all students achieve success.”

Thoughts on the Profession:
“I love my students, my profession, and my school. It is my hope that all new teachers will echo those feelings. We need to make sure that we are doing everything possible to recruit dedicated, creative, energetic professionals to enlighten and inspire our future generations.”

Goals:
“My philosophy is to plan lessons with the student in mind. I always think about what the kids would like to do or how I can turn my curriculum into something that connects our material to the real world. I think it’s important to help students make sense of what they are learning and why they are learning it.”

Community Involvement:
“My community involvement includes three years of coaching girl’s volleyball at the high school level, two years of working with the United Way, one year as a member of Emerging Leaders of Ocala, and two years of working with the AJS Foundation in fundraising, public relations, and education.”


Suzanne Butzer
First Grade, Saddlewood Elementary
Golden Apple Finalist

In the Classroom:
“I’ve created a safe learning environment that builds self-confidence in students, which translates into higher test scores and a desire to come to school because it’s fun.”

Personal Achievements:
“Professionally, I set goals for my continuous improvement. This year I met my goal of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.”

Goals:
“My philosophy of teaching is to create lifelong learners. From the beginning, students take charge of the classroom — everyone has a classroom job to encourage responsibility.”

Thoughts on the Profession:
“I feel teaching should be the most-revered profession. Everyone — from the President to a street sweeper — has received training from a teacher.”

Community Involvement:
“I’ve taught Vacation Bible School, been a Salvation Army bell ringer, collected funds and supplies for hurricane victims, and been a safe house for battered women.”


Diane Jensen
Third Grade, Sunrise Elementary
Golden Apple Finalist

Personal Achievements:
“I’m very proud of my students and the progress I’ve seen them achieve. It’s a pleasure to have them as part of my classroom family.”

Goals:
“An educator’s philosophy must match the needs of children in a constantly changing society. Every student is capable of succeeding.”

Thoughts on the Profession:
“With the recent problem in recruiting and retaining adequate teaching staffs, it is partially the responsibility of today’s teachers to mentor and assist the teachers of tomorrow. Because of this, I have endeavored to form a friendly, open relationship with new teachers arriving at our school — offering ideas, techniques, and materials until that teacher is able to develop her own. They have also helped me look at what I do and how I could improve my own performance.”

Community Involvement:
“The main focus of my commitment to the Marion County community involves the time I have spent at church in various functions. As a teacher Monday through Friday, it is refreshing to view the educational process from a different perspective.”


Bobbie Knighton
Eighth Grade Math, Fort King Middle School
Golden Apple Finalist

Thoughts on the Profession:
“A teacher is part of a team. Sharing ideas, discussing student needs, and working to make our school the best in the county are activities that make school feel like home.”

Personal Achievements:
“Education has drastically changed since I entered the classroom. Educators embrace these changes and work to keep pace or predict the new directions. I am proud to say I’ve been an integral part in making it more student- and experience-oriented.”

Goals:
“The responsibility of closing the achievement gap does not fall just on the teachers. Students need to look beyond where they have come from and set high, yet attainable goals to achieve their dreams.”

Community Involvement:
“The children of our community are not only mine but my husband’s. In 2003, the Marine Corps League recognized my husband and me for our support for the Toys For Tots program. Last year we raised over $6,000!”


Carla Nebesnyk
ESE, Ward Highlands Elementary
Golden Apple Finalist

Personal Achievements:
“Being a teacher is a 12-month profession, a career that is rapidly changing. It requires me to be involved in many activities to promote my knowledge of these ideas.”

Goals:
“Every child has the ability to learn and it is the responsibility of the teacher to adapt and implement strategies that correspond to the individual needs of each student. Educators must encourage their students to reach their highest potential and to have a positive feeling of self-worth in and out of the classroom.”

In the Classroom:
“I want my students to come to class with a desire to learn and leave knowing they accomplished a goal. Each day holds new and exciting challenges, but with careful planning, preparation, and — best of all — humor, the awesome task of teaching touches the lives of many students.”

Thoughts on the Profession:
“Experts predict that over the next ten years the nation will need 2.2 to 2.4 million teachers. School districts are going to need to offer salary increases beyond just the first couple of years of teaching. Veteran teachers are being overlooked in order to hire beginning teachers.”


Christine DiSanza
Second Grade, Eighth Street Elementary
Rookie Teacher of the Year

Thoughts on the Profession:
“It’s imperative that that all children come to school each day feeling important and successful. I tell my students that learning takes practice.”

In the Classroom:
“Children learn by doing, so I encourage students to work together, ask peers for assistance, tutor each other, and use the room as a tool for success.”

Goals:
“I like to think of my teaching as a compass and my students as the ships. Our ships are always headed in the right direction — some may take longer, but we’ll all eventually reach where we need to be.”

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