Victoria Hurley, Baker School, Named Okaloosa County School District Teacher of the Year

UPDATED: View photo gallery of Teacher of the Year Banquet by clicking here.

Victoria Hurley, Baker School, was named the Okaloosa County School District’s Teacher of the Year last Thursday night at the Teacher of the Year Banquet.  Along with all of the School Teacher of the Year winners, Ulaunda Nunn, Bob Sikes Elementary School, and Jacque Whittle, Walker Elementary School, were recognized as one of the top three finalists for this prestigious award.

(Pictured above from left to right: Jacque Whittle, Walker ES, Victoria Hurley, Baker School, Ulaunda Nunn,
Bob Sikes Elementary School, Superintendent of Schools, Mary Beth Jackson.)

“Tonight we honor you and your achievements, celebrate our profession, and announce one outstanding teacher to represent our district at the next level,” said Elaine Crump, OCEA President, as she welcomed everyone to the Awards Banquet. “Thanks to all of you who are here to support your colleagues, your friends, your parents, and your teachers - the Okaloosa County Teachers of the Year.

Crump thanked the following sponsors for their generous donations to the Teacher of the Year Finalists’ gift bags: Round the Bay Relay, MFTC; Okaloosa County Education Association; Beavers Inc. dba Arby’s; Okaloosa Public School Foundation; and Jetty East Condominium.

“It is indeed an honor, a privilege, and my pleasure to be here with you tonight, to be among those of you who I admire so much for what you do every day,” said Superintendent of Schools, Mary Beth Jackson.  “My admiration for each of you is genuine and it is real.  I walk into your classrooms and I see what you are doing, you are working your hearts out.  It just makes me so proud. Tonight for those of you who have been nominated by your colleagues, there is no honor greater than being recognized by those who you see every day.  Day in, day out, good days, bad days, and ugly days.  And they still hold you in such high esteem. I am so proud of you.”

School Board member Melissa Thrush said in the invocation, “The strength of any organization is its people.  We gather this evening to celebrate the dedication, the commitment, the expertise of all of our teachers, and especially tonight’s honorees.  We are united in gratitude for each of your contributions to our school community.  The diverse talent present in this room creates an environment which enables each student to achieve his or her potential.  Tonight we give thanks for the preparation of our gathering and we are grateful for the support and encouragement of our families, friends, and co-workers.  We remember of former teachers who mentored and inspired us.  We live in a country where public education is offered to all regardless of gender, color, or creed, thanks to the perseverance and sacrifice of those before us.  May our mutual commitment to excellence guide us as we continue our partnership to provide the best educational opportunities to all of our students.  Let our thankfulness and our excitement tonight grow into a recommitment to enlighten and empower students to make discoveries about themselves and our world.”

Heather Vaughn, Elliott Point - 2014 Teacher of the Year

“When I reflect back on this last year, I can say it was my best year ever,” said Heather Vaughn, last year’s Teacher of the Year, Elliott Point Elementary School.  “After being named Teacher of the Year, I got married to my wonderful husband Jeff, I met Governor Rick Scott in Tallahassee, I attended the Roundtable and the State Teacher of the Year Gala where I met with teachers from across the county and state and discussed important issues like Common Core, standardized testing, and technology in education.  I welcomed 18 eager students into my kindergarten classroom and taught them more than how to read and write but about being a good citizen, being kind, and how to use our words to work our differences.  The most exciting part of my year were nine weeks ago, on December 19th, while many of you were surviving that last day before winter break, when I gave birth to my amazing son, Levi.  As I embark on a new year and new experiences, I would like to leave you with this, except challenges that come your way and challenge those around you; smile and laugh with your students daily; never lose sight of way you are really here; and set aside time for yourself and your family every day.  To all of our current Teachers of the Year, take this opportunity to be an advocate for your school and for our county.  Network with the teachers around you; share your wealth of knowledge and education with your students, parents, and colleagues; be a leader and don’t be afraid to ask for help or support along the way; let the honor of being named Teacher of the Year, be just the beginning and go forward and make 2014 your best year ever.”

Victoria Hurley, Baker School - 2015 Teacher of the Year

“Faith, Family, and Gators.  This is more than just a spirit shirt when the Friday night lights are running; it’s the ideal on which our community is based upon,” said the Okaloosa County Teacher of the Year, Victoria Hurley.  “Faith.  Our little community is faith savvy.  There are eight churches in the immediate town of Baker.  My Christian faith is my foundation and the source of my strength.  My family helped instill these ideals in me when I was very young.  Family.  Being raised in a blue collar working family instilled a work ethic in my sister and I that is more valuable than our combined formal education.  I cannot dedicate the time and energy I have invested in my classroom if it was not for my family.  I so love teaching that it inspired my husband, Drew, to give it a try.  After a year, with middle schoolers, he decided there had to be an easier way to earn a living.  He however has never forgotten what it takes to be a teacher.  My husband and children sacrifice a lot so that I can do a job that I love and I owe them a big thank you and maybe a home cooked meal!  Gators.  My grandfather, a Baker graduate, played on Baker’s very first football team in 1947.  My parents and their five siblings were all Baker graduates.  My sister and I are Baker graduates and we both teach at Baker school.  And all of our children attend Baker School.  As an 8th grader sitting in room 305 as a student of Ms. Tammy Forehand Black, I never dreamed that one day my name would be on that classroom door.  My teachers invested in me.  I am a product of the Okaloosa County School District. This is a county where teachers change lives every day.  My teachers held my feet to the fire, they demanding my best, they loved me when I did not deserve it, and they taught me a lot - not only academics, but life lessons.  I have always had the love and support of my family but I am able to stand here today because of my teachers.  This can be evident by looking at my small graduating class.  Six of my fellow graduates became teachers and four of us are currently working at Baker School.  I would like to give a long overdue thank you to our teachers for giving us roots and wings.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to come home and give back to my community and school.  I am honored to be a finalist for the Okaloosa County School District’s Teacher of the Year.  I am blessed to be Baker School’s Teacher of the Year.  No matter where life’s roads take me, I will always be proud to call myself a Baker Gator.”

Ulaunda Nunn, Bob Sikes Elementary School - Teacher of the Year Finalist

“I was never going to be a teacher, not realizing that my entire life had conditioned me to be a teacher,” said Ulaunda Nunn, one of the top three finalists.  “My grandmother taught for 42 years.  My cousin, Pam, whom I looked up to, became a teacher.  But not me, I had other plans.  Thankfully, there was no money in being a probation officer, so I became a teacher.  Since joining the Okaloosa County School District, I have been a part of many experiences.  I am part of Intermediate Enrichment as an ELA, Social Studies, and STEMM teacher.  Currently, I am in my fourth year of coaching an FLL Robotics Team at Bob Sikes.  So the girl, who unequivocally was not going to be a teacher, became a teacher.  As Helen Keller said, ‘The best and most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or touched.  They must be felt with the heart.’  Teaching is a true testament to this and a work of my heart.”

Jacque Whittle, Walker Elementary School - Teacher of the Year Finalist

“As I began teaching, I looked back at my favorite teachers and adopted their best practices: build a classroom around trust, enjoyment, and humor; then the learning would fall into place,” said Jacque Whittle, one of the top three finalists.  “Fifteen years into my teaching career, it seems to be working out pretty good so far.  Being able to see students gain self-confidence and self-esteem is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.  Having worked at only Title I schools, Longwood and Walker, I have seen the compassion and caring that teachers exhibit for children in need on a daily basis.  Knowing that professionalism and compassion go hand-in-hand for teachers has encouraged me to find a special place in my heart for all of my ‘kids’ over the years, especially those kids that some find ‘hard to love.’  I believe that teaching is not a job but rather an adventure that changes each day you walk into the classroom.” 

Teacher of the Year Selection Process

The selection of the Teacher of the Year actually began in the fall of 2013 when each school announced its honoree.  In December, each school’s Teacher of the year submitted a portfolio that included a detailed resume, responses to questions about their teaching philosophy and practice, and comments about the teaching profession.  Finalists were announced by the selection committee in January 2014, and committee members visited their classroom to observe them in action before selecting the winner that was announced at the Teacher of the Year Banquet.

Okaloosa County’s Teacher of the Year will compete with teachers from 71 public school districts and other institutions in Florida for the state’s top honor.  As our district’s winner, Victoria Hurley will participate in the Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Roundtable and the Macy’s Gala Awards Ceremony in July when the state winner will be announced.

Tavia Marez, Fort Walton Beach High School, Teacher of the Year Chair and 2008 Teacher of the Year, thanked this year’s selection committee: Cathy Thigpen, Okaloosa County School Board Member; Pauline Buis, Shoal River Middle School; Alyson Lofe, Bluewater Elementary School; and Karen Osborn, Kenwood Elementary School.

Special thanks also go to Karen Ott and Missie Sykes, Banquet Committee; Eric Mitchell and Duscha Ross, Slideshow Presentation; and Pat Mixon, Program Design.

Congratulations to all of the School Teachers of the Year:

Antioch ES – Elizabeth Richards
Baker School – Victoria Hurley
Bluewater ES – Michelle Strickland
Bob Sikes ES – Ulaunda Nunn
Bruner MS – Nancy Allen
Choctawhatchee HS – Kim Cassulo
CHOICE HS & Technical Center – Rhonda Larson
Crestview HS – Janice Waitman
Davidson MS – Amy Kelsey
Destin ES – Hillary Ray
Destin MS – Jill McNamara
Edge ES – Angelle Rosenbleeth
Edwins ES – Shari Harkins
Eglin ES – Carol Kotulan
Elliott Point ES – Patti Crosslin
ECCI/Best Chance – Greer Graumlich
Florosa ES – Beth Harr
FWBHS – Jim Ryan
Kenwood ES – Beth Baker

Laurel Hill School – Jen Franklin

Lewis School – Eva Ratley
Longwood ES – Kim Thompson

Mary Esther ES – Calvin Jasper

Meigs MS – Steve McCarthy
Niceville HS – Amy Meyer
Northwest Florida Ballet Academie – Mistie Rich

Northwood ES – Steven Delpozo
Okaloosa STEMM Center – Michele Allard

Plew ES – Sonja Leighton
Pryor MS – Tina Arceneaux (Not Pictured)

Richbourg School – Karen Lusk
Riverside ES – Amber Johns
Ruckel MS – Bill Breitenbeck
Shalimar ES – Amanda Piburn
Shoal River MS – Felton Barnes
Silver Sands School – Allison Abernathy
Southside Center – Shannon Cratch
Walker ES – Jacque Whittle
Wright ES – Lisa Owenby