Duscha Ross Named Teacher of Year

Duscha Sharlene Ross, Mary Esther Elementary School, 5th grade Reading, Science, and Language Arts Teachers, 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, Richard Dale Chavers, Shoal River Middle School, Construction Technology Teacher, and Jodi Maker, Niceville High School, Advanced Sciences Teacher, were recognized as one of the top three finalists for this prestigious award.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Alexis Tibbetts opened up the evening by saying that, “We have met with a lot of diversity (this year) and I am proud of you – you have hung in there and there is no better time than tonight for us to come together and celebrate. To our finalist, I thank you. You are excellent teachers and you represent all of the amazing teachers in this room that make every profession in America possible. The School Board members and I appreciate everything that you do, every day, and I thank you!”

As the three finalists were ushered on to the stage in anticipation of the announcement of the Teacher of the Year, Selection Committee Chair, Tavia Marez, introduced each of them.

“At Niceville High School, we saw teenagers completely engaged and collaborating with the earth at 7:00 AM,” said Marez. “Their teacher, Jodi Maker, brought real-world relevance to the fore front of their profession through the use of technology and local scientific data when studying Environmental Science.”

“At Shoal River Middle School, we saw students preparing for their future by comparing career aspirations, financial responsibilities, and job skills. Their teacher, Dale Chavers, reinforced the importance of motivation in the classroom as it translates to real world success by exposing them to real world vocational skills,” said Marez.

“At Mary Esther Elementary School, we saw students taking an active role in their own learning by making contribution to the activity and creating an environment which all students wanted to participate,” said Marez. “Their teacher, Duscha Ross, seamlessly differentiated the instruction for all of her students through the use of the daily applied Literacy Program, iPad technology, and various instructional strategies.”

Duscha Sharlene Ross, Mary Esther ES, 5th Grade Reading, Science and Language Arts                         

Duscha Ross, the winner of the Teacher of the Year award, received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University and has taught with the Okaloosa County School District since 2002. She began her teaching career at the Department of Juvenile Justice, where she taught Language Arts and Reading from 2002 – 2005. From there she moved to Northwood Elementary and moved to her current position at Mary Esther Elementary School in 2010.

Ross is a member of the Okaloosa County Education Association and the Florida Education Association and was named Northwood Elementary Teacher of the Year Nominee, 2008, 2009; Mary Esther Elementary Teacher of Month October 2011; and Mary Esther Elementary Teacher of the Year 2011.

“The role of a public education is a promise made to our citizens, and it is integral to the nature of our society,” said Ross. “If we still desire a nation or world where an individual can achieve excellence in their passions, then public education is a mechanism which cannot be removed. To do so, I believe, would lead to social and intellectual malaise, and eventual disenfranchisement in the arts, sciences, mathematics, social studies, and literary pursuits.” 

Ross believes that the cumulative effect of a well-designed and well-implemented system of public education is that “it provides a mélange of 1) activation of the mind of students, 2) inspiration to their hearts, and 3) aspirations to their spirit. We, as teachers, are present, already assured that each student can be successful at reaching their own pinnacle, defining their goals, owning their goals, and then achieving those goals. I believe we are incredibly valuable to our students and community when we help students see that theirs is a voice and a life that is unique, appreciated, and so powerful that it can affect the world around them.”

“I am so humbled by this,” said Ross upon the announcement of her selection. “I look out into the audience and this is your life Okaloosa County. I see so many that I have made this transition with and to each of you I only hope that I can live up to the expectations of the teacher that we are to be…humble, passionate, and a model for our children – and that we expect things out of them that they don’t expect out of themselves and that we never let them forget that they are our best and brightest and most treasured resource. Without our kids, I would not be here.”

Ross closed by saying that she is blessed to be a part of the Mary Esther Elementary family.

Richard Dale Chavers, Shoal River Middle School, Construction Technology

A staunch supporter of the STEM initiative, Richard Dale Chavers received his Bachelor of Science of Occupational Education from Wayland Baptist University in 1984 and is a member of the Okaloosa County Educators Association, Professional Educational Network, Emergency Management Response Coordination Association, and Fire Management Training Association. He has worked for the Okaloosa County School District since 1997.

Chavers was named Teacher of the Year for Shoal River Middle School, 2011-2012, Instructor of the Year for FTD 928, Bitburg Air Base, 1990, and Instructor of the Year for FTD 320, Eglin Air Force Base, 1988.

“Coming to the public teaching arena from a military, private industry, and business owner background, I am sorry to say that I see the current path of the public education structure as a set up for failure for the future,” said Chavers. “Having traveled and lived in the Far East and Europe, I have observed their emphasis of teaching students workforce skills versus the American age-old methods of teaching just core curriculum. The stark differences between the Asian and European approaches and the American direction of education give cause for concern. Students who enter the work force today are ill-prepared to enter technically challenging fields. I see students prepared to take a standardized test but who cannot write a technical report or a project proposal. I see students who can perform math functions to pass a test but who cannot use measurement tools or determine which math functions are necessary in a given situation.”

As a teacher, Chavers strives to expose his students to as many practical, real-world skills as time permits.

“I feel it is my job to prepare students for the workforce, for a life outside a classroom, by helping them learn to apply reading, writing, science, math, and problem solving skills in a way that is meaningful, relevant, and lasting,” said Chavers. “Vocational education, which goes hand in hand with the STEM initiative, is helping many of our students get a quality education when they otherwise felt hopeless in the traditional setting.”

Jodi Maker, Niceville High School, Advanced Sciences

Jodi Maker received her Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from the University of North Dakota, her Masters in Educational Leadership and Instructional Development and Educational Specialist, Curriculum and Instruction from the University of West Florida, and has passed the requirements to advance to Educational Doctoral candidacy. 

Named 2011 Teacher of the Year for Niceville High School, Maker was named the University of North Dakota Alumni of the Year, received her National Board Certification in Science/Adolescence and Young Adulthood in 2009, and was selected to Fulbright Memorial Fund Master Teacher Program in 2005. 

A Florida Digital Educator for Niceville High School, Maker also serves on the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, Equitable Duty Committee, and Social Committee.

Maker is currently a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, the Florida Association of Science Teachers, National Science Teachers Association, Florida Educators Association and the Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce Green Taskforce.

“The purpose of education is to prepare students to effectively function in society,” said Maker. “It is the role of educators to provide the necessary opportunities for students to explore, discover, collaborate, and experience the joy of learning and the personal and social benefits of education. Educators must strive to instill all students with a passion and thirst for knowledge. It is not simply the goal to prepare students to be productive members of today’s society, but more importantly to provide educational opportunities which prepare students  for the future; to see beyond what is now and envision what may be.”

According to Maker, accountability is essential at all levels in an educational system.

“Regardless of one’s roles in the educational system – student, teacher, parent, school administrator, county leader, or state leader – all have various responsibilities to ensure the success of the system,” said Maker. “The goal of education regardless of grade level or ability level is to increase student learning. To do this, it is necessary to establish learning targets and use instructional strategies to achieve those targets.”

Maker leads by example, in and out of the classroom.

The District’s Teacher of the Year banquet was held at the Emerald Coast Conference Center and sponsored by L-3 Communications. The following businesses provided donations to the Teacher of the Year Finalists gift bags: Dale E. Peterson, Vacations-DEP Realty; Newman-Dailey Resort Properties; Resort Quest; Beavers, Inc., dba Arby’s; Legendary, Inc. Emerald Grand, Harbor Walk Village; Camille’s at Crystal Beach; and Showbiz Tan.

Teacher of the Year Selection committee included Tavia Marez, Chair, 2008 Teacher of the Year, Fort Walton Beach High School; Melissa Thrush, Okaloosa County School Board Member; Karen Ott, Lewis School; Renee Rogers, Walker Elementary School; and Stephanie Thetford, 2012 Teacher of the Year, Fort Walton Beach High School.

A special thank was also given to the Banquet Committee: Susan Newton, Missie Sykes, and Beth Schladenhauffen; Dolores Noechel for doing the slideshow presentation; and Tami Carty and Alison Dunne for the program design.

Click here to view a gallery from the Teacher of the Year Banquet.

Congratulations to all of the School Teacher’s of the Year:






Antioch Elementary School



Baker School



NW Florida Ballet Academie



Bluewater Elementary School



Bob Sikes  Elementary School



Bruner Middle School



Choctawhatchee High School



Choice High School and Technical Center



Crestview High School



Davidson Middle School



Destin Elementary School



Destin Middle School



Department of Juvenile Justice Schools



Edge Elementary School



Edwins Elementary School



Eglin Elementary School



Elliott Point Elementary School



Florosa Elementary School

Mary Katherine


Fort Walton Beach High School



Kenwood Elementary School



Laurel Hill School



Lewis School



Longwood Elementary School



Mary Esther Elementary School



Meigs Middle School



Niceville High School



Northwood Elementary School



Plew Elementary School



Pryor Middle School



Richbourg School



Riverside Elementary School



Ruckel Middle School



Shalimar Elementary School



Shoal River Middle School



Silver Sands School



Southside Center



Walker Elementary School



Wright Elementary School