Sarasota County Schools News

Sarasota County Teacher of the Year finalists surprised at 3 schools

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RHS-BJ Ivey and Paul BurnsTatum Ridge-Holly Houghton-BrownPine View-Christine Braun

SURPRISE! TOP PHOTO: High School Teacher of the Year and Riverview High basketball coach William “BJ” Ivey, at left, is congratulated by Principal Paul Burns. MIDDLE PHOTO: Tatum Ridge Elementary School teacher Holly Houghton-Brown basks in the admiration of her students and colleagues after learning she is the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year. BOTTOM PHOTO: Pine View School teacher Christine Braun, center, celebrates being named Middle School Teacher of the Year with members of the Teacher Tribute Tour team. Pictured from left are Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne; Jeff Rutter of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a Teacher of the Year sponsor; Superintendent and Pine View alum Lori White; Braun; School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker and Todd Bowden, incoming superintendent. Photos by Rod Millington.

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

SARASOTA COUNTY, Feb. 2, 2017 – Teachers at three public schools in Sarasota were surprised Thursday, Feb. 2, when they were revealed as the district’s 2017-18 Teacher of the Year finalists. The annual Teacher Tribute Tour team included Superintendent of Schools Lori White, School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker, Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne and other representatives of the Foundation and the school district, past winners and special guests, who congratulated the teachers as their students and peers helped celebrate the event. One of the three finalists will be named the district’s overall Teacher of the Year on April 5.

The first stop for the Teacher Tribute Tour bus was the Riverview HighSchool gym, where William “BJ” Ivey was surprised by White as High School Teacher of the Year for the district.

Speaking to students in the bleachers, his family members, RHS colleagues and the Tribute Tour team, Ivey said, “I’m blessed to have great students who make me a good teacher. I care about them as people. Sometimes the task of learning can be overwhelming. In the classroom, I try to ‘coach’ my class and make it about more than just books.”

A native of Sarasota and teacher at Riverview for 11 years, Ivey has taught a wide range of social studies classes, including International Baccalaureate World History Honors and AP Psychology. He has also served as the head coach for both the girls and boys basketball teams during his time at Riverview, as well as the Nike Team Florida basketball coach. Ivey was named Florida Association of Basketball Coaches Class 8A Coach of the Year in 2016.

Ivey earned a bachelor’s degree history from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in education curriculum and instruction from National Louis University in Tampa.

Next, the bus pulled into Tatum Ridge Elementary School, where fourth-grade teacher Holly Houghton-Brown was revealed as the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

Houghton-Brown said she was “excited and thrilled” to be selected. “This is one of the most special days of my teaching career, “ she said; then quickly added, “It also happens to be my husband Tom’s birthday, and he’s here to celebrate with me. He was my inspiration; he didn’t have a very positive experience in school. I wanted to make a difference for students like him.”

Her teaching philosophy? “Education is not just about academics. It’s also about character. I try to encourage empathy, kindness and generosity, so students know what it means to give back.”

Houghton-Brown began her career in education as an exceptional student education teacher at Laurel Nokomis School in 2004 and has been at Tatum Ridge since 2005.  She has also taught fifth grade and currently serves as chairwoman of the Tatum Ridge Literacy Committee. Houghton-Brown has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Utica College of Syracuse University (N.Y.), a master’s degree in special education from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., and is currently pursuing her doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction from the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

The final stop on the tour was Pine ViewSchool, where Christine Braun was named the Middle School Teacher of the Year. A social studies teacher who began her career at Pine View in 2005, Braun currently teaches seventh-grade civics. She is certified in gifted education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

“This is my first job as a teacher,” Braun said. “I absolutely love coming to work each day and being with students and my fellow teachers. I honestly could share this honor with every one of them.”

Asked about her influences, Braun said, “My first-grade teacher in Warren, Michigan — Ms. Suardini — was an inspiration. She taught me to keep trying and never give up. When I was in college I went back to visit her and she was still teaching first grade. She told me she didn’t ever want to retire. I feel the same way.”

Braun holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Oakland University in Michigan and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from the American College of Education in Indiana. She describes herself as a “late bloomer;” she received her degree in education at age 37.

About Teacher of the Year

The Teacher of the Year program is co-produced by the Sarasota County School District and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and is made possible through the funding and support of community partners. Each of the three finalists will receive a cash award from the Education Foundation, sponsored by Sunset Auto Group. The overall district Teacher of the Year for 2017-18 will be announced from among the three finalists at a celebration to be held Wednesday, April 5, at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. The individual Teachers of the Year for each school also will be honored at that event. The district Teacher of the Year will represent Sarasota County Schools at the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year program and will serve as a spokesperson for and representative of the teaching profession at various events throughout the 2017-18 school year.

About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County is a supporting partner that exponentially enhances the educational experiences available to the children of Sarasota County. Its mission is to strengthen the community by investing in educational opportunities for the students, teachers, and schools. The Foundation works to match donor’s passions with high-impact projects and initiatives that help every child in Sarasota County rise to their full potential. It achieves this mission through scholarships, access to advanced technology, supplies needed for creativity to flourish, and funds for educators’ professional development. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County and its philanthropic investors are champions for students, teachers, and schools. For more information on the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, call 941.927.0965 or visit

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