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Sarasota County 2019 Teacher of the Year Finalists Surprised at School

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2019 Teacher of the Year Sarasota High2019 Teacher of the Year Wilkinson2019 Teacher of the Year Oak Park

This news release is from Sarasota County Schools and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County:

Sarasota, Fla. (Nov.13, 2018) – Three Sarasota County teachers were surprised Tuesday, Nov. 13, when they were revealed as finalists for the district’s elementary, middle and high school 2019 Teacher of the Year honors.

The 2019 finalists are: Tessa Healy, Wilkinson Elementary School; Shane Swezey, Oak Park School; Ashlee Middleton, Sarasota High School.

(Note: A detailed summary of the teacher surprise school visits follows.)

One of the three finalists will be named the district’s overall 2019 Teacher of the Year at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County’s Ignite Education Awards Celebration on Dec. 12. The Sarasota County Teacher of the Year will represent Sarasota County Schools at the Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Program and will serve as a spokesperson for and representative of the teaching profession at various events throughout 2019.

The annual Teacher Tribute Tour team travels to each finalist’s school together on a bus. This year’s team included Superintendent Todd Bowden, Sarasota County School Board members, Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne, 2018 Teacher of the Year finalists Es Swihart, Allison Cohen and Bethany Burnett, other representatives of the foundation and school district,  sponsors and special guests. The team congratulated finalists as students, principals and fellow teachers helped celebrate the honorees.

First Stop:

The first stop for the Teacher Tribute Tour bus was Sarasota High School where Superintendent Todd Bowden announced Ashlee Middleton as the High School Teacher of the Year. Principal David Jones told the crowd, “Our staff is full of difference makers like Mrs. Middleton. We are so incredibly proud of you.”

Middleton, who teaches English, journalism and intensive language arts, told the cheering crowd, “It's the students who have worked so hard to help me receive this honor.”

Middleton earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida. She has taught for over seven years, first at Manatee High School before moving to Sarasota High School in 2013. In addition to teaching, she serves in various school and community leadership roles, including as Sarasota High’s professional development coordinator.

Designated a “highly effective teacher” by the Florida Department of Education, Middleton says she develops a positive classroom environment where students become a team and support one another in reaching goals.

Before the assembly ended, one of Middleton’s students ran up to the stage, beaming with pride, and asked, “Can I take a picture with her?” 

Second Stop:

Next, the bus pulled into Wilkinson Elementary School where Principal Susan Nations welcomed the group and Superintendent Bowden announced to an assembly of students and teachers, “This morning, we’re going to let one of your teachers know she’s the Elementary School Teacher of the Year!” Music and cheering erupted as Tessa Healy, fourth grade STEAM teacher, was welcomed to the stage.

Accepting the honor, Healy said, “When I came to Wilkinson, I told my family that I felt like a little fish in a big pond, so I’m excited to represent all of these amazing teachers. I love you guys!”

Healy began her career as an educator in 2012 at Student Leadership Academy in Venice, Fla., and moved to Wilkinson Elementary in 2016. She earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Phoenix and a master’s from St. Leo University.

Healy said she never had imagined being named the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year after having graduated from a Sarasota County dropout prevention program while pregnant at age 17.

“No matter where you start, Sarasota County Schools has programs in place to help you reach your goals–whether you are a student, parent or teacher,” she said. “You just must be brave enough to rise to the challenge.”

Healy enthusiastically shares her passion for reading and technology through various leadership roles, including presenting at local and state conferences and serving as vice president of the Sarasota Reading Council. She plans to enroll in the district’s Leadership Academy next year.

“Developing my instructional practices began by turning inward, determining what excited me and finding professional development opportunities based on those interests, and eventually evolved into seeking out practices that my students can use to be more successful, both now and in the future,” Healy shared.

Third Stop:

The final stop on the tour was Oak Park School. Cheerleaders and marching band members from Booker High School joined a gymnasium full of Oak Park students to help surprise Shane Swezey, Middle School Teacher of the Year.

Oak Park School Principal Jamie Lowicz welcomed Superintendent Bowden and announced to the crowd: “What we’re doing today is a bit of a surprise. You have a very special teacher in your midst. Mr. Swezey, come join me!”

Students and staff adorned with “Shane Swezey is my hero” buttons and giant signs of his face cheered Swezey as he accepted the honor. As the school’s music teacher, Swezey had been sitting with his student choir and admitted, “I thought this assembly was for the choir, so I’m really confused!”

“I’m just a regular guy who tries to come in every day and show the kids here the love, kindness, grace and sacrifice that I’ve been so kindly shown,” he continued. “I’m privileged and honored not just to work with these kids but to be part of the Oak Park family.”

Swezey originally studied aerospace engineering at Florida State University but a change of heart led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music therapy. He later earned a master’s in music from the University of Kentucky and his teaching certification from State College of Florida. Swezey previously worked as a music therapist and research assistant with UK Healthcare. He has served as a music teacher and therapist at Oak Park School since 2013.

“My background has given me a unique lens to look at music as a tool to help support student learning more holistically,” Swezey explained. “Music is an engaging, motivating and accessible medium that I can use to buttress the communication, motor, social-emotional and academic goals my students have.”

As a music educator and therapist for students with special needs, Swezey often refers to a Claude Debussy quote, “Music is the space between the notes.”

“Often there are a lot of spaces between Oak Park students’ notes,” Swezey said. “Students with special needs may have longer spaces between their notes, but if you listen closely, their music is truly inspirational.”

The overall district Teacher of the Year for 2019 will be announced from among the three finalists at Ignite Education Teacher of the Year Awards Celebration.

The event will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota. More information and tickets are available at

To further amplify the importance of teachers on their students and the community, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County will also recognize the nominees and crown the recipient of the second annual Alumni of Distinction award.

About the Teacher of the Year Program

The Teacher of the Year program is produced by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County in partnership with Sarasota County Schools and is made possible through the funding and support of many corporate and community partners. Each of the three finalists will receive a cash award from the Education Foundation.

About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County is an independent partner working to advance philanthropic support for Sarasota County Schools. Its mission is to enhance the potential of students, promote excellence in teaching and inspire innovation in education. Guided by the belief that education changes lives, the Education Foundation strives to match each donor’s passion with high-impact projects created to ensure students graduate with purpose and are prepared for a postsecondary pathway. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County and its philanthropic investors are champions for students, teachers and schools. For more information on how to be a champion for education, visit

About Sarasota County Schools

Sarasota County Schools is committed to providing unrivaled academic, emotional and civic growth to every student, every day. As one of the leading employers on the Suncoast, Sarasota County Schools boasts 53 schools that expertly cater to the diverse needs of over 43,000 students. We are one of two Florida school districts to consistently earn an A-grade every year since 2004. Our passionate educators empower students to take charge of their academic and personal success, a practice we believe fosters lifelong growth and achievement. We actively maintain the district’s tradition of excellence and ensure that tradition extends to all students. Our commitment to our students extends beyond graduation to make sure they not only graduate on time but do so college and career ready. Want to take your student’s education to the next level? Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit

PHOTO CAPTIONS (Please include this credit: Photos by Rod Millington)

First image: Sarasota High School teacher Ashlee Middleton is surprised as the 2019 High School Teacher of the Year.

Second image: Tessa Healy, 2019 Elementary School Teacher of the Year from Wilkinson Elementary, poses with Superintendent Todd Bowden, 2018 Elementary School Teacher of the Year Bethany Burnett, School Board Members Jane Goodwin and Caroline Zucker, Executive Director of Elementary Schools Chris Renouf and Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne.

Third image: Surprises all around as Shane Swezey from Oak Park School is announced as 2019 Middle School Teacher of the Year.

(High resolution versions available at:


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