The stars shone brightly at Vero Beach High School’s Billy Livings Field during the Mardi Gras-themed “Stars of the Year Gala” to crown the School District of Indian River County Teacher and Employee of the Year.
The event unmasked the galaxy of phenomenal educators and support staff members who have taken on the herculean task during the coronavirus pandemic of continuing to educate the children of Indian River County.
At the top of the list were newly crowned Teacher of the Year Caitlin Harris, a social studies teacher at Storm Grove Middle School, and Rebecca O’Donnell, a digital integration specialist at Vero Beach High School, who was named Employee of the Year.
Harris, a sixth-grade World Cultures teacher, will represent the school district in the State of Florida Teacher of the Year competition.
The Citrus Bowl stadium was filled – socially distanced and masked – with family members and peers cheering on teachers and employees representing the more than 20 county schools and operation centers.
A colorful array of Mardi Gras masks, beads and handmade signs added to the evening’s energy.
Communicating the district’s mantra “Stronger Together!” the honorees were treated to the pomp and circumstances due them, including a full escort by members of local law enforcement agencies.
“We’re here to celebrate the investment that educators and support staff make in our school system,” said School Superintendent David Moore. “Despite COVID and the impacts that it had on all of us, we’re still here tonight to take the time to acknowledge the relationships that we form and the impact that we have in the lives of children.”
Before moving forward with the celebration, Moore announced the passing of beloved Oslo Middle School media assistant Sherrie McGary, who had passed away that weekend because of the coronavirus.
After a moment of silence, Moore noted, “If Sherrie were here, she would say, ‘Y’all better celebrate the work each and every single one of us does tonight.’”
Moore praised district employees for their efforts in overcoming one obstacle after another, adding: “We’re here today to celebrate our opportunities to come together and acknowledge the complexities of the new environment.”
Diana O’Connor from Beachland Elementary School, last year’s Teacher of the Year, reflected that the evening was a celebration of the combined efforts of all the teachers and employees in the county.
“We know that we cannot educate students alone,” said O’Connor.
Also recognized were Principal of the Year Kimberly Garcia of Citrus Elementary School, and Assistant Principal of the Year Felice Heppern of Treasure Coast Elementary School, who had been nominated and chosen by their principal and assistant principal peers this past November.
“This year, more than ever, we face unprecedented challenges. Thank you for showing up and inspiring the love of learning to all of our students. And thank you most importantly for not giving up,” said Garcia.
Photos by Kaila Jones