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Peers Select Wakulla County 2018 School-Level Teachers of the Year


December 5, 2017



Superintendent Bobby Pearce recently announced the 2018 Wakulla County School-Level Teachers of the Year.  Surprising the teachers with flowers, candy, and balloons, students cheered as he entered each classroom to present the honor to their teacher.


The eight Teachers of the Year for 2018 are:  LeNita Winkler for Wakulla Pre-Kindergarten; Kimberly Bartnick for Crawfordville Elementary; Cary Gerrell for Medart Elementary; Cassandra Burnham for Riversink Elementary; Kerry Adams for Shadeville Elementary; Jennifer Thaxton for Riversprings Middle; Nicole Dissmore for Wakulla Middle; and Kristi Keith for Wakulla High School.


Nominations from each school’s faculty began the process in September, then nominees submitted professional and biographical information forms for their faculties to read. Faculties then voted for their school’s Teacher of the Year.  Selected teachers’ names were concealed until Superintendent Pearce visited each school.


LeNita Winkler has been an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher at Wakulla Education Center’s Pre-Kindergarten for 10 years.  She holds both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Child Development.


To serve her young students well, Winkler continues to attend new trainings such as the Wakulla County ESE Institute; Project Learning Tree; and the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Families with Mental Illness course. 


In addition, Winkler holds Guardian ad Litem certification so she can be appointed by the Court to ensure that the interest of a minor is represented in a legal issue. 


Winkler believes, “Education through experiences is the most memorable.  By allowing students self-discovery of their own interests, I can teach and allow for growth through these interests.  Most important is to have fun while learning.”


Leadership roles Winkler has held include Positive Behavior Support Chair for 3 years; Peer Mentor for 3 years; and School Improvement Committee Chair for 6 years.


Kimberly Bartnick currently teaches 2nd grade at Crawfordville Elementary School. Now in her 18th year in education, she taught 3rd grade for her first 17 years.


Bartnick holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, earned the Reading Endorsement, and has National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification.


Not only does Bartnick mentor new teachers, she also educates other teachers to do so as a Mentor Teacher Trainer.  She has taken Clinical Educator Training in order to supervise interns and practicum students. Also, she has attended Kagan Training; Renaissance Learning Training; and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Methods and Cross Cultural Communication Training, among others.


Bartnick states, “The heartbeat of a teacher is to help others.  Teaching is more than a job, it is a commitment to do your very best every day because students are depending on someone to teach and lead them.  Effective teaching requires a positive outlook from the teacher; that is evidenced in students who know their teacher believes in them.”


Leadership roles she has held include Writing Committee Chair and spearheading the CES Creative Writing Bowl; 2005 CES Teacher of the Year; and member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for female educators.


Bartnick also has written and been awarded many grants over the years in such areas as Teaching Tolerance; Community Classroom Consortium; Florida Farm Bureau; St. Marks Wildlife Butterfly Garden; and four Wakulla County School Board Service-Learning mini-grants.


Cary Gerrell of Medart Elementary has a bachelor’s degree in Education, is certified in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 6, and earned the ESOL Endorsement. Currently she teaches 3rd Grade and has been teaching for 10 years, including her first two years teaching Pre-K at Wakulla Education Center.


Gerrell completed training to work with new teachers as a Mentor Teacher.  She also has completed training in Renaissance Accelerated Math; Vertical Teaming; and Kagan Strategies.


“I want my students to show social-emotional growth as well as to reach their full academic potential,” says Gerrell.  “An effective teacher not only teaches by example, but also provides opportunities for every child to find something they excel at and to learn in a safe and secure environment.”


Gerrell has held several leadership positions such as Grade Level Chair from 2014 until the present, and Kagan Strategies Coach.


She helps sponsor Medart Elementary’s Green Team, which is an after school 4-H Club, and she has sponsored the Technology Leaders Club. In addition, she has worked with Florida State University to bring the “Science on the Move” program to her grade level.


Cassandra Burnham teaches 4th grade at Riversink Elementary School and has been in education for 20 years.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Development and a master’s degree in Elementary Education.  In addition, she earned the Reading Endorsement and is a National Board Certified teacher.


To hone her teaching skills, Burnham has attended many trainings, including the Phil Mickelson Exxon Mobil Academy for Science and Math; the Matter and Energy Florida PROMISE Institute; plus Micro GX Flight and NASA activities.


Burnham also participated in the SCiii PAEC (Panhandle Area Educational Consortium) Project, attending numerous science workshops and working with scientists in the field for 15 days.

She is also a mentor for the FSU Teach Program which allows college math and science freshmen to explore careers in education by working with students.


She notes, “An effective teacher is one that aims to get students intrigued and curious about the subject they are learning. They are able to lead the students’ understanding in developmental steps, reviewing and moving forward as they teach by being able to break down concepts into understandable chunks and then bring it all together.”


Leadership roles she has taken include Lead Teacher for Summer Reading Camp; Team Leader; Reading Coach; and current member and past President of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for female educators. 


Kerry Adams represents Shadeville Elementary as their Teacher of the Year.  She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and holds the ESOL endorsement. Currently she teaches math in 5th grade inclusion classes, and has taught all subjects in her 11 years of working with fifth graders.


Adams also has taught Accelerated Math in professional development workshops for teachers.  In addition, she has attended professional development trainings in Renaissance Reading and Math; Clinical Educator Training to be able to supervise interns; and Data Day.


She notes, “Effective teaching means creating an environment where students feel safe and learning thrives. Teachers and students both play a big part in creating an atmosphere of learning.”


Some of the leadership roles she has taken on include 5th grade Team Leader; Odyssey of the Mind Coach; and Safety Patrol Chair where she organizes and runs this program with the 5th grade students.


Adams’ peers have twice voted her Teacher of the Month in January 2012 and September 2016.


Jennifer Thaxton is the representative for Riversprings Middle School.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in English Education, plus a master’s degree in Library and Information Studies. She is certified in Media grades pre-k through 12; English grades 6 through 12; Middle Grades Integrated; and has both Reading and Gifted Studies Endorsements.  Thaxton also has been a National Board Certified teacher.


In her 21 years as an educator, she has taught a variety of subjects to 8th graders and now serves as the RMS Media Specialist.


Professional Development activities Thaxton has attended include STEM training; Edgenuity training; Renaissance training; ELA (English Language Arts) Vertical Teaming; and AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) Summer Institute.


Trainings she has delivered herself include being a Mentor Teacher Trainer; Co-coordinator of New Teacher Training; Edgenuity Trainer; Data Day at RMS Trainer; and Performance Matters Trainer at RMS.


Stating her philosophy of teaching, Thaxton says, “All students can learn when they are accepted for where they are in their educational odyssey.  Teachers should also learn and reflect each day, and should collaborate with each other to create the best possible learning environment.”


Thaxton has many leadership roles at RMS.  She is the School Improvement Chair; Professional Development Council liaison; AVID Leadership Council member; and a member of FAME (Florida Association of Media Educators).


She also has been the RMS Technology Coordinator, RMS Drama Sponsor, Red Ribbon Coordinator, RMS RtI (Response to Intervention) liaison, Lead Teacher, Summer School teacher, Writing BLAST teacher, and AVID National Demonstration School presentation assistant.


Thaxton also has been elected by her peers as the RMS 2001 Teacher of the Year, and RMS Teacher of the Month in 2001 and 2012.


Nicole Dissmore represents Wakulla Middle School.  With a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, she has been teaching for over 15 years. The majority of her teaching career has been in 5th and 6th grades with a focus on math and science.  Currently she teaches predominantly math plus a science and social studies course to 6TH graders at WMS.


Dissmore has taken many professional development sessions to constantly advance her teaching skills plus share what she has learned with other teachers. She has participated in the Florida Center for Research STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Learn Middle School Math and Science Project; Vertical Teaming Math Grades 6 through 8; Technology Institute; AVID Summer Institute; Standards Approach to Learning Math; Performance Matters Train the Trainer; and PEER Educator Training.


“The majority of students will act and perform at a higher level if they know you care and believe that they are capable of being and doing amazing things,” Dissmore says.  “As an educator, having a sense of the chemistry in your classroom, both statistical and social, enables you to better prepare lessons and activities that fit your students’ needs.” 


Dissmore has shown leadership skills by taking on roles such as Grade Level Chair; PEER Educator; Title I Committee member; Strategic Planning Committee Member; and AVID Site Team Member.  She has also been Assistant Drama Director, Drama Director, and Assistant Student Council Sponsor.


Kristi Keith is Wakulla High School’s Teacher of the Year.  She has been teaching in Florida for 15 years and currently teaches WHS students U.S. History, U.S. History Honors, and Advanced Placement Human Geography.


Graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Keith went on to earn certifications in Social Science, Integrated Science, and ESE.


Keith has taken many courses and trainings over the years to constantly hone her teaching skills.  Some of those include Educational Leadership; Wakulla Educators Leadership Academy; Florida Student Teacher Training; Florida State University Mentoring Program; UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) Coaches Training; and Data Day Training.


She believes, “Enjoy what you’re doing, appreciate those you work with, and lastly, look for ways to care for the students in your classroom every day.”


Keith’s leadership is seen in the many areas of school life she is involved in.  She has supervised interns, mentored new teachers, and writes WHS public relations articles for The Wakulla News.  In addition, she is a Junior Class Sponsor, Student Government Association Sponsor, Junior Varsity Cheerleading Coach, and the WHS contact for SADD/MADD (Students Against Drunk Driving/Mothers Against Drunk Driving).


These eight are now in the running for Wakulla County’s 2018 District Teacher of the Year, who will be announced later in December.  A qualified panel of judges will rate a written packet and an interview from each teacher. The 2018 Wakulla County Teacher of the Year will then compete with the other districts’ Teachers of the Year for the Florida Teacher of the Year award in the spring. 


States Superintendent Pearce, “These eight teachers are great representatives for their schools and for every teacher in the Wakulla County School District. That their peers selected them says a lot about the impact they have had on the students and adults they come in contact with every day.”  In addition, these teachers will serve on several Wakulla School District committees.


All Wakulla County teachers will be honored at the Teacher of the Year Breakfast sponsored by Prime Meridian Bank 8:00 a.m. March 26, 2018 at Wakulla Middle School.