The Golden Age of Teachers

Kids spend as much time with their teachers as they do their parents on the weekdays, but the parents of Marion County have nothing to fear with so many incredible educators in the area. For the last 25 years, the Public Education Foundation of Marion County has honored a Teacher of the Year and Rookie Teacher of the Year with a Golden Apple Award, recognizing their dedication and achievement in the classroom. The winner for 2015 won’t be announced until the Golden Apple Gala on February 20, but where are the last 24 titleholders now and what have they learned along the way?

David Allsopp ‘91

Fort King Middle School, 6th-8th grade students with learning related disabilities*

Where are you now?

“Since completing my doctoral degree in special education at the University of Florida, I have been a faculty member at two universities, James Madison University and the University of South Florida where I am currently a full professor. As a professor in special education, I have focused my teaching on preparing pre-service teachers to effectively teach students with disabilities and on preparing teacher leaders to effectively develop and implement effective teacher preparation/education.”

What’s one thing every teacher should know?

“In my 30 years as an educator, something that has always rung true for me is that being an effective teacher starts with building positive and caring relationships with students. When students see that you are trying to meet them where they are rather than where you think they should be, they will want to learn with you rather than for you. This is the “sweet spot” we all need to shoot for as educators. I may not reach it with all students I teach, but when I do, it makes all of the difference”

Nancy Atkinson ‘92

Madison Street School of Basics Plus, Music for K-2, International Choir and Orchestra

Where are you now?

“In 1995, I moved back to teaching high school, which I had done in the mid ‘70s in South Florida. I was hired at Belleview High School to teach guitar, chorus and orchestra. Eventually, I began working with Laurie Reeder to teach musical theater and soon added AP music theory to my schedule while releasing the guitar classes. I also taught critical thinking through the AICE academy. After I left Belleview, I moved to West Port High School where I teach presently. My classes include orchestra, chorus and early college music appreciation as well as vocals for musical theater.”

What’s one thing every teacher should know?

“Love what you do. Get enough sleep. Sorry, that’s two things.”

Katie McGrath ‘93

Shady Hill Elementary, 5th grade

Upon being honored as a Golden Apple Teacher, Katie described herself as a risk-taker.

“Teachers need to be risk takers, and should encourage students to be the same. Teachers need to create unique learning environments in their classrooms. I believe in setting high standards for students. My students and their parents are often amazed by the things the children are capable of, but it is not a surprise to me.”

Her outstanding teaching was recognized again in 2003, during her time teaching fifth grade at Saddlewood Elementary, when she was inducted into the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame. Katie is currently teaching fourth grade at Madison Street Academy.

She could not be reached for interview.


Laurie Reeder ‘94

Dunnellon High School, English, 9th grade

Where are you now?

“After I was Teacher of the Year, I went to Belleview and started developing the theater program there and then came to West Port High School. Now I’m the coordinator for the Marion County Center for the Arts, a magnet program here at West Port High School. I teach three sections of effective speaking in our early college program at WPHS.”

How have you been influenced by your mentors?

“My parents as well as my sister and husband are all teachers, so I know much of what I do I assimilated from them. If I were going to pick a mentor other than family, I would select my contemporary literature instructor, Ms. Annette Grant, from Crestview High School. Although at the time I was not considering a teaching career, I will never forget how she mesmerized us with the many layers of meaning in The Great Gatsby. I remember thinking it would be an exciting challenge if I could somehow help students embrace the powerful stories of literature as well as the stories that are the essence of the students’ own lives. I have actually had the opportunity to teach that novel quite a few times, so I hope I make Ms. Grant proud.”

Gina Evers ‘95

Anthony Elementary, 4th grade

Where are you now?

“I was the co-founder and director of Marion County’s first charter school, Marion Charter School, which opened in August 2000. I was the director at Marion Charter until my retirement in September 2013. In retirement, I am the education director of Sheltering Hands, an animal rescue group. I volunteer at the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center and do other volunteer work for environmental causes and animal rescue. When not volunteering, I travel, garden, read and grow, bake, cook and can lots of my own food.”

What’s your best advice for new teachers?

“There is only one crucial mission inside every classroom: Embrace the beauty and uniqueness that is each individual child and help them see themselves as worthy, capable and lovable. Be the mirror that helps each child see the best in themselves. Let your classroom be a life raft to future possibilities, not an anchor to past mistakes, societal expectations or self-doubt.”

Linda Maxwell ‘96

Anthony Elementary, 3rd grade

Where are you now?

“I left Anthony and the classroom in 1996 and was the elementary curriculum coordinator at Sunrise Elementary for five years. I have been working at the district office since 2001. First in staff development as a teacher on assignment and then as a program specialist. This is my third year as a program specialist for K-12 Academic Services. I currently work with reading and language arts for grades K-5.”

What’s one thing every teacher should know?

“How powerful it can be to teach from the heart. When you teach from the heart, you build relationships with students and make connections that help them see your passion for learning.”

Jim Warford ‘97

Vanguard High School, TV Production and The Theory of Knowledge in the IB Program

Where are you now?

“I’m an independent education consultant living outside Portland, Oregon. I advise schools on increasing student engagement and using technology.”

What is one thing every teacher should know?

“’One way the world hasn’t changed: Teaching is still the most important job of the human race.’ -George Lucas”

Lisa Fontaine -Dorsey ‘98

Romeo Elementary, 2nd grade loop class

Where are you now?

“I had my own children and started to be a stay-at-home mom with them. My daughter is 14, and my son is 11. Now, I substitute sometimes, and currently, I’m helping someone home school her kids. I also evaluate home school students and volunteer often.”

What is your advice for other teachers?

“I think our society is in a much more desperate situation as far as family units, and kids are coming to school without being prepared with the necessary tools. But I think every teacher should believe every child who walks in their door can succeed; you just have to get them hooked into learning. Every child has value.”

Bonnie Moreno ‘99

Belleview High School, Spanish grades 9-12, mixed grade classes of Spanish 1, 2 and 3

Where are you now?

“I retired in 2008. I am still traveling to Spain with my husband every summer as he takes CF students to study abroad. We continue to enjoy traveling both in the United States and through Europe. I’m also very involved in Optimist International, both in the Ocala Club and currently as district registrar. Being an active member and serving for the past five years as a vice president of Alpha Rho Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society, a professional organization for women teachers, keeps me in touch with education in Marion County.”

What is your best study tip for students?

“Take a few minutes regularly after studying and especially before taking a test to relax, close your eyes, breathe deeply. While taking a test or quiz, try to stay calm and see yourself as capable of doing well. Positive visualization, preparation and avoiding those who panic or are negative before an assessment will help you be more able to focus calmly and recall more clearly what you know.”

Mercie Dee Hagins ‘00

Dunnellon Elementary School, 1st grade

Where are you now?

“I’m retired, and sometimes I substitute teach at Dunnellon Elementary. I was there for 31 years, and then I taught at Romeo Elementary for six.”

What is your advice for parents of elementary students?

“Things are so different from when I was teaching. The teachers really need the parents’ support. When I was teaching, parents would come out and help me in the classroom, and I noticed we don’t have a whole lot of parents that really come to school anymore. We need more parental support in the classroom.”

Mary Lee Graham ‘01

Belleview Middle School, 7th and 8th grade Math and Algebra

Where are you now?

“I was an adjunct for CF for about five years teaching in the math department there. Now I’m extremely busy; I own my own math tutoring school, and I have two granddaughters I can’t get enough of.”

What’s something students’ parents should know?

“One thing I love for parents to know is how important it is to be organized in the morning so that the child goes off to school already on a positive note. Often they come hungry and already mad at mom, and then when they get here, it’s crazy to have to undo that before I can do something productive.”

Gene Hotaling ‘02

Belleview Middle School, Graphic Arts, grades 6-8

Where are you now?

“In 2003, I moved to Forest High School where I taught television production until 2011. In 2011, I transferred to West Port High School where I currently teach drawing and painting.”

What is your best study tip for students, and what is your favorite tip from a mentor?

“For students, use a planner and carefully organize your assignments. Best advice from a mentor: ‘Work. The rest will take care of itself.’”

Dean Marino ‘03

Emerald Shores Elementary, Music, grades K-5

Where are you now?

“I stayed at Emerald Shores until 2009. Since then, I’ve been teaching at West Port High School. At West Port, I teach four levels of piano and rock band/studio music ensemble. In both 2013 and 2014, I was nominated for the Grammy Music Educator Award, reaching the quarter finals. I also maintain a full private teaching studio where I teach voice, piano, music composition and music production.

What is a great piece of advice you’ve gotten from a mentor?

“In college I had my favorite teacher of all time. His name was Dick Grove. He was an amazing musician and teacher who changed my life and many, many others. He would always say ‘make a decision and get on with your life!’ Those were some of the best words I’ve ever heard spoken.”

Stephanie Callaway‘04

Fort McCoy School, 5th grade

Where are you now?

“I served as assistant principal of both elementary and middle grades at Fort McCoy School and then, in 2010, became principal of Emerald Shores Elementary where I stayed for three years. In the summer of 2013, I became principal of Lake Weir Middle School, and this is my current position in our system. I’m currently working on a Ph.D. in learning, instruction and innovation.”

What is your best advice for parents?

“A tip for parents: Be involved in your child’s education, no matter what. Make the time, don’t be afraid to ask questions, visit the school, meet with your child’s teachers and show your support through participation at school events. Educators alone cannot compensate for lack of parent involvement. Please support our schools.”

Suzette Parker ‘05

West Port High School, Honors Chemistry, Honors Physics, AP Chemistry

Where are you now?

“I moved out of the classroom in 2006 in an effort to work more closely with teachers. Most recently, I was the assistant principal at Osceola Middle School until September when I was invited to participate in a grant position at School Development & Evaluation for the remainder of this school year. I hope to continue working closely with students, teachers and school administrators in the years to come.”

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from a mentor?

“The best piece of advice that I have ever gotten from a mentor was ‘be a duck.’ This translates to being calm on the surface and kicking underneath no matter what happens.”

Aura Plair ‘06

Osceola Middle School, 8th grade math

Where are you now?

“Since 2013, I’ve served as director of instruction at Florida Virtual School (FLVS). I currently oversee our Blended Learning Program where 30,000-plus students complete a course online with FLVS during the school day while attending their neighborhood-zoned school. I also oversee our Global School, which is a tuition-based school for students outside of Florida. Since Golden Apple, I have gotten married and had two wonderful children: Cooper who is now 3 and Aubri who is 18 months! This year, I have been honored to participate in the DOE Commission of Education’s Leadership Academy.”

What is your philosophy on education?

“‘Keep the student at the center of every decision you make. This is our motto at FLVS, and it truly is a framework for every educator to ensure we are maintaining a student-centered approach even when overwhelmed with legislation, new standards, shrinking budgets and an ever-growing list of professional responsibilities.”

Lori Kolb ‘07

College Park Elementary, Physical Education

Where are you now?

“In 2010, I left PE by choice to teach third grade (which I am currently teaching, still at College Park). It was a hard decision, but I made the transition because I have aspirations to be administration in the near future. I have become closer to God and my family. My older daughter, Jenna, is finishing the IB Magnet program at Howard Middle. My younger daughter, Sara, is finishing fifth grade at Madison Street Academy and has become an amazing dancer. I’ve finished my masters at FSU, completed National Board and have started taekwondo.”

What’s one thing every teacher should know?

“Students will learn so much if they come to school and feel loved. I have seen so many students grow, learn and mature because they learn to feel confident in themselves and feel safe all day long. When a child feels loved, they will do almost anything for you and for themselves!”

Jen Greco ‘08

Hillcrest School, teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities in grades 6-12

Where are you now?

“My goal was always to have my students invested in their own education and to help them become as productive and independent as possible. After teaching at Hillcrest School, I taught for a short time at Ocala Springs Elementary before becoming Assistant Principal at Maplewood Elementary. For the last 2 years, I have been a coordinator with the Exceptional Student Education department for Marion County Public Schools. This position has provided me with an opportunity to collaborate with all levels of staff that work every day to improve the education and lives of Marion County students with special needs.”

What have you learned from your mentors?

“In my career as an educator in Marion County, there have been two individuals who influenced me greatly. The first is Bonnie Peters. Bonnie’s dedication and passion for instructing students with disabilities was contagious and led me to pursue a future teaching students with special needs. Most recently, I have been inspired by my mentor, Barbara Dobbins. I worked with her at Maplewood Elementary and in the Exceptional Student Education department. She has instilled in me that our actions and decisions should always focus on one idea­—do what’s best for kids.”

Frank Evans ‘09

Forest High School, Honors Chemistry, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics

Where are you now?

“I was, and still am, teaching honors chemistry, Advanced Placement chemistry, and Advanced Placement physics. I am still doing the same things and will keep on doing them until I retire in the summer of 2018.”

What is your teaching philosophy?

“I believe that public education is designed to produce an individual who is prepared to be a satisfied, productive member of society. My primary goal, as a teacher, is to give my students the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and learn the skills that will produce such an individual. These skills include respect, responsibility, hard work, self-satisfaction and the understanding that who they are is reflected in what they do, and it is not predicated upon what other people think. The media I use are chemistry and physics; however, my goal is to impart a sense of responsibility and a thirst for knowledge in my students. I believe that if we teach and, particularly, model a strong moral character, our students have the best opportunity to learn the most important skills they will need to be successful, however one may measure that concept. Reflective of that end, I always keep a copy of The Little Engine That Could on my desk and try to make my students understand that they need to make the most out of their lives and try their very best in everything they do.”

John LeTellier ‘10

Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School, General Music K-5

Where are you now?

“Since leaving Marion County in 2012, a tremendously difficult thing to do, as I had grown to love working for the Marion district and had a strong affinity toward my Stanton-Weirsdale family, I have been the arts education specialist for the Florida Department of Education. My goal in everything that I do professionally is to provide maximum impact upon student achievement in arts education. I am extremely active in our local church, Freedom Church Assembly of God, where I participate in community outreach events with my lovely wife, Katie, and my beautiful daughter, Jaden, regularly play on the worship team and also help with the sound system. In addition, I still write and record contemporary Christian music and play classical piano.”

What is one thing every teacher should know?

“Every teacher should know that they have the power to inspire or dishearten, to maximize or diminish potential, to edify or criticize, and to demonstrate kindness, compassion and concern or to be indifferent. In essence, a teacher has the power to make the flame burn brighter or dimmer or, tragically, in some cases even extinguish it. All of the great teachers that I had the privilege to study under had one thing in common: They cared.”

Todd Carstenn ‘11

Vanguard High School, IB English 4 and The Theory of Knowledge

Where are you now?

“Still teaching what I taught.”

What’s your best advice to students, and do you have any mentors of your own?

“Really hard to have something that every teacher should know because once we shut our classroom doors, our experiences are so different. Teaching can be so isolating, so I’ve surrounded myself with colleagues who are my friends. My one hero in education was the former head of language arts in the county, Shirley Nichols. She passed away several years ago, and I miss her every day, but she always told me to stay out of the teachers’ lounge and to find teachers who love teaching as much as I do. And a side note, my mantra to my kids has always been to work hard now and later will take care of itself. If I can get them to buy in early, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Melissa Bumbach ‘12

Howard Middle School, Chorus, grades 6-8

Where are you now?

“I taught at Howard Middle School for two more years, and then my husband and I moved to Miami to begin doctoral programs at the University of Miami. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in music education. One of my research interests is teacher-student mentoring, which was always very important to me as a teacher.”

What’s one thing every teacher should know?

“Every teacher should remember that the subject matter is very important, but it’s the students that matter the most. Our job is not just to transmit information but to inspire and excite our students about their own potential and the amazing world around them. Every part of a teacher’s life experience can inform his or her teaching and enrich the educational experience for the students. Teachers must feed their own curiosity and continually seek opportunities to learn and grow as a person and a scholar. There is so much uniqueness they can bring to the classroom, and it models a lifelong love of learning. As sad as my students and I were when I told them I was moving, I told them that I hoped it inspired them to pursue their own dreams!”

Timothy Jones ‘13

Howard Middle School, Ancient Civilizations, Civics

Where are you now?

“I’m the dean of Oakcrest Elementary now. I did one more year of teaching and then got hired as a dean.”

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from a mentor?

“My mentor always reminded me to be myself in the classroom. When you show passion and interest in the subject with your teaching, it translates into the kids becoming more engaged with it. Let your personality come through. That’s probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and I believe it to be true.”

David Steffey ‘14

Osceola Middle School, Intensive Reading

Where are you now?

“I’m teaching the same subject, and I’ve been teaching for nine years in Ocala. I’m motivated by the relationships I make with kids because that’s what makes it fun. This is my 21st year of teaching, and for now, my future is about teaching reading.”

What is your best advice for new teachers?

“It’s about relationships. Today they want to make it about numbers and test scores, and all of that gets jumbled up in your mind and you start to believe it. My kids know I have their back. If they make a mistake on campus, I’m usually the first person they come to because they understand that I care. I believe the best advice I could give to any teacher is that relationships, good working relationships with students, are key. My kids would do anything for me because they know if I ask them to do something it’s because I care about them.”

*Positions listed were at time of award.

Want To Go?

25th Annual Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Gala 7-11pm Circle Square Convention Center (352) 671-4167

Want to know who wins the Golden Apple this year? Keep an eye on our Facebook page and we’ll announce the winner! For more information on the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, visit

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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