Heather Erickson Named 2014 Teacher of the Year

Heather Erickson, a kindergarten teacher at Elliott Point, was named the Okaloosa County School District’s 2014 Teacher of the Year last Thursday night at the annual Teacher of the Year Banquet. 

Erickson has been living and teaching in Florida for the last eight years.  She was born and raised in Elmira, New York and graduated from William Smith College in 2005. She moved to Florida that summer for a teaching position in Navarre.  In 2011, Erickson came to Elliott Point Elementary School excited and eager to see what her future held.

“While teaching at Elliott Point, I have grown tremendously as a teacher,” said Erickson. “Being surrounded by excellence has inspired me to hold myself and my students to a higher standard than ever before.”

This year Erickson took on the role of a Data Team leader.  As a leader, she has inspired her colleagues to set expectations higher, push students harder, and teach smarter.

“The best part of my job is watching my students’ faces when they learn something new and being able to watch them grow as learners as they are inspired throughout the year,” said Erickson.

Erickson truly believes she is the best teacher she has ever been due to the support of her colleagues and the incredible students at Elliott Point.

“Standing up here on this stage, I am full of honor and excitement as I look out at all of you and feel truly humbled to be in this position,” said Erickson.  “While teaching at Elliott Point, I have been inspired by my colleagues to push myself and my students harder.  I have become part of a family – a family that is supportive, respectful, motivating, and that has set the bar high for students and teachers alike.”

Erickson went on to say that being nominated to represent Elliott Point as the Teacher of the Year is a huge honor.

“To the team of kindergarten teachers that I work with, you are truly amazing," said Erickson.  "I would not be up here tonight if it were not for you.  I hope that I can return the feeling of inspiration and motivation that you have given to me.  I thank my wonderful, exciting, inspiring students for coming to school each day eager to learn and for those moments when their love for learning shines through and I am reminded of why I am a teacher.  In the challenging times we are living and facing right now in education, our students are who we need to keep in the forefront of our minds.  We are their support, we are their inspiration, and they are the reason we are all here tonight.”

Along with Erickson, runners-up Frank “Gator” Heath, Meigs Middle School, and Christine Sadler, Wright Elementary School, were recognized as one of the top three finalists for this prestigious award and given the opportunity to address the audience.

Frank “Gator” Heath, Meigs Middle School

Born and raised in Florida, Heath joined the Air Force to see the world after high school. Through twenty-seven years on active duty he experienced many different cultures and environments.

“This multitude of life-experiences is one of the most valuable resources that I can bring to the classroom,” said Heath.  “Relating these experiences to the material being presented brings math alive.  Making math real to every one of my students is a huge motivator for me.”

With his passion for coaching, Heath challenges his students to push themselves when the problems get tough, building their confidence as they conquer those problems. Whether on the football field or in the classroom, he demands the best from his students and athletes, working with them each step of the way as they grow.  Helping young people explore and grow in their faith, Heath sponsors the Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle at Meigs.

“I was asked how my military experience affects my teaching,” said Heath.  “I know the survival training that I took to learn how to survive in a hostile environment definitely pays off in a middle school classroom.  In the military our mission was clear – protect our freedom.  Anything else was secondary to that.  In education, our mission is to develop the future. Developing the future by transitioning young people from students to successful citizens by training and empowering them to think on their own and solve problems.  Taking what they learn in the classroom and applying it in to the world.”

Christine Sadler, Wright Elementary School

Christine Sadler was born in Alabama but grew up in Fort Walton Beach.  Her educational career started and is still going strong right here in Okaloosa County. Sadler graduated from Oakland Heights Elementary School, Max Bruner Jr. Junior High School, Fort Walton Beach High School, and the University of West Florida.

“My first and only career choice has been Elementary Education,” said Sadler.  “I have served my entire twenty-one year teaching career at Wright Elementary School teaching kindergarten -second grade, with the majority of that time spent as a kindergarten math teacher.  I have seen and loved thousands of innocent and inquiring faces at Wright Elementary, including those of my own two children, Annie and Christopher Sadler.”

As a teacher, Sadler is doing what she was meant to do.  She adores children and has a love for learning.

“This is a wonderful night that we are all here to celebrate with our family and friends the profession of teaching.  This profession of teaching is so worthy of this kind of recognition and celebration because you will not find a kinder, more caring professional than a school teacher.  We are a foundational building block for society through what we do with our students and parents.  We contribute not only to our local community but to communities around the world.”  

Superintendent of Schools, Mary Beth Jackson, shared the following with the audience, “When I was in the classroom, it was the hardest job I ever loved.  It was a hard job – it was very hard.  But when you are a teacher, and you are a true teacher, a teacher of the heart, every day is a good day.  I want to tell you how proud I am from the depths of my heart to represent you when I go places.  You are indeed a special group of people. I can say without reservation, I work in the best county in the State of Florida and I work with the best teachers.”

The District’s Teacher of the Year banquet was held at the Emerald Coast Conference Center on Thursday, February 21, 2013.  L-3 STRATIS, was the event’s Platinum Sponsor.  Gold sponsors were Round the Bay Relay NWFTC, Okaloosa County Education Association, Beavers, Inc. DBA Arby’s, Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation, Bo and Bobbie Jo Burns Vacation Rental, Jetty East Condominium Association, and Fred and Nancy Leopold Vacation Rental.  The following businesses were Silver sponsors and provided donations to the Teacher of the Year Finalists gift bags: Camille’s at Crystal Beach, Tradewinds, Showbiz Tan, Chick-fil-A, Lenny’s Subs, TGI Fridays, Logan’s Roadhouse, Panera Bread, Nail and Hair Studio, Elite Nails and Spa, Fantastic Sams, Dunkin Donuts, Time Saver Oil and Lube Center, U Scrub a Pup, Beautiful Nails, Bippy’s Frozen Yogurt, Hurricane Lanes, Red Brick Pizza, The Track, and Kakes’n Konfections.

Teacher of the Year Selection committee included Tavia Marez, Chair, 2008 Teacher of the Year, Fort Walton Beach High School, Cathy Thigpen, Okaloosa County School Board Member, Dale Chavers, Shoal River Middle School, Linda Evanchyk, Choctawhatchee High School, and Cynthia Tuznik, Edge Elementary School.

A special thank you was also given to the Banquet Committee - Karen Ott and Missie Sykes; Donation Committee - Susan Newton, Alison Dunne, and Katherine Stephens; Duscha Ross, Slideshow Presentation; and Alison Dunne, Program Design..

Visit our Facebook page to view a gallery of pictures from the Teacher of the Year Banquet.

Congratulations to all of the School Teachers of the Year:

Debra Walker

Antioch Elementary School

Lisa Maradick

Baker School

Christal Pruitt

Ballet Academie

Teresa Miller

Bluewater Elementary School

Peggy Murray

Bob Sikes Elementary School

Scott LaBorde

Bruner Middle School

Joyce Gruber

Choctawhatchee High School

Glen Arne

CHOICE High School

Laurel Breaux

Crestview High School

Frances Holland

Davidson Middle School

Crystal Scott

Department of Juvenile Justice

Tamela Cusamano

Destin Elementary School

Ronda Pridgen

Destin Middle School

Debbie Griffith


Cathy Boswell

Edge Elementary School

Teresa Irani

Edwins Elementary School

Pam Taylor

Eglin Elementary School

Heather Erickson

Elliott Point Elementary School

Tabitha Johnson

Florosa Elementary School

Barbara Britt

Fort Walton Beach High School

Gaye Parnell

Kenwood Elementary School

Deborah Welsh

Laurel Hill School

Susan Bivens

Lewis School

Michelle Hongyee

Longwood Elementary School

Tom Ballasch

Mary Esther Elementary School

Frank "Gator" Heath

Meigs Middle School

Cameron Venuti

Niceville High School

Glenda Edwards

Northwood Elementary School

Mildred Avellanet

Plew Elementary School

Hank Phillips

Pryor Middle School

Anita Dunn

Richbourg School

Betsy Cunningham

Riverside Elementary School

Scarlett Brock

Ruckel Middle School

Brenda Jones

Shalimar Elementary School

Tulsa Moore

Shoal River Middle School

Ashley Frost

Silver Sands School

Pamela Junger

Southside Center

Molly Perkins

STEMM Academy

Kim Medlock

Walker Elementary School

Christine Sadler

Wright Elementary School