View photos from the 2015 banquet here.

2015 Teacher of the Year

Christie Bassett, Polk County Teacher of the YearAdam J. Smith

Fourth Grade Teacher
Frank E. Brigham Academy

Adam J. Smith is a fourth grade teacher at Frank E. Brigham Academy with 14 years of teaching experience. With an ever-present smile on his face and an amazing can-do attitude, Mr. Smith shows contagious enthusiasm in his daily teaching. Originally, he considered a career as an architectural engineer, but turned to teaching where he could be a positive male role model. He works to provide a nurturing environment where students are able to take educational risks without fear of ridicule and embarrassment. Smith explains, “Your overall purpose is to motivate and challenge your students to succeed, but you must also instill in each child that you won’t give up on them.” His students participate in hands-on lessons involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He has been very instrumental in helping to start a STEM program at his school, and works to get other teachers interested and excited about the program.


2015 School-Related Employee of the Year

Jason Leatherwood, Polk County School-Related Employee of the YearJason Leatherwood

ESE paraprofessional
Horizons Elementary

Jason Leatherwood, an ESE paraprofessional at Horizons Elementary, is known for his sense of humor and approachable manner, which immediately puts students at ease, and they are eager to work with him to complete the task at hand. He is able to calm down the most upset child, and parents have sought his advice and guidance with their own children. He is reliable, dependable and always willing to help – whether assisting teachers get their classrooms ready for the start of the school year or creating an afternoon variety show for students to display their talents as they wait for a late bus to arrive. Leatherwood explains, “My role is ever-changing; however, it all encompasses assisting the teacher in order to provide the students with a positive school experience.”

2015 Finalists

Adam J. Smith was chosen Teacher of the Year among the following teacher finalists:

  • Pamela Grant, Dixieland Elementary
  • Cynthia Downing, Lake Gibson Senior High
  • Lynda Norton, Frostproof Elementary
  • Christie Becker-Fitzgerald, Sandhill Elementary
  • Keitha Hall, Kathleen Senior High
  • Christa Vaughn, Spessard L. Holland Elementary

Jason Leatherwood was named School-Related Employee of the Year among the following school-related finalists:

  • Cecil Ervin, Bartow Senior High/IB/Summerlin Academy
  • Deborah Whitaker, Eagle Lake Elementary
  • Brenda Gaskin, Carlton Palmore Elementary
  • Ronald Zeller Sr., Karen M. Siegel Academy
  • Carol Simon, Combee Elementary
  • Dana Holloway, Sleepy Hill Elementary

2015 Honorees

2015 Polk County Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year Honorees »

2015 Sponsors

Platinum Sponsors:

  • Ledger Media Group
  • MIDFLORIDA Credit Union
  • Regal Automotive

Gold Sponsors:

  • Achieve3000
  • Boswell & Dunlap LLP
  • Bright House Networks
  • Florida Blue
  • The Mosaic Company
  • Pearson
  • Publix Super Markets Charities
  • Southeastern University
  • TECO
  • WellDyneRX

Silver Sponsor:


Bronze Sponsors:

  • Agile Mind
  • Annett Bus Lines
  • Ben Hill Griffin Inc.
  • Citizens Bank & Trust
  • Duke Energy
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Horace Mann Insurance
  • Huntington Learning Center
  • Lakeland Electric
  • Polk Education Association
  • Polk State College
  • SunTrust Foundation
  • Warner University