Palm Beach County schools announce teacher, principal of the year
Behind every Palm Beach County student is a person who dedicates their life to education. And on Tuesday evening, the school district celebrated four of the people who make local schools a success.
"This is our Oscars," Superintendent Mike Burke said during this year's Celebrate the Great award ceremony. "This is our marquee event to celebrate team Palm Beach and our greatest contributors."
This year’s 16 finalists gathered at the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. And the winners —teacher of the year, principal of the year, assistant principal of the year and school-related employee of the year — walked away with a trophy and a check worth between $1,500 to $2,000, depending on the category.
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Each winner has a passion for helping students and making a positive difference in their community. Education, they said, was more than a career.
Here are the 2023 winners announced by the School District of Palm Beach County and the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County:
Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year - Belle Glade Elementary
Joselyn Leon, a fifth-grade teacher at Belle Glade Elementary School, grew up in the area and wanted to give back to her community. She found that opportunity in teaching.
"What I do doesn't feel like work," she said. "It's a way to impact the world through working with children."
Leon joined the school district in 2017 and quickly earned the title of Belle Glade Elementary’s “Beginning Teacher of the Year.”
She described herself as a “mama bear” to the students. Even when Leon is tough with her class, it stems from love and a desire to see them excel.
“I view my students, our class, as a family,” she said. “They have that support here.”
Principal of the Year in Palm Beach County - Pahokee Middle-Senior High
Dwayne Dennard, the principal at Pahokee Middle-Senior High School, is a familiar face among the school’s nearly 900 students.
“I will get out and get dirty to lead by example,” Dennard said. “I believe in being in the classroom.”
The principal has worked to grow the school’s robotics program and its International Baccalaureate (IB) program. He also achieved a 100% graduation rate last year.
In 2013, Dennard joined what was then known as Pahokee High School as an assistant principal. About three years later he started working at Pahokee Middle School as its principal.
And he helped to combine the two schools into Pahokee-Middle Senior High, where he's worked as principal since 2018.
“Every day that we are on this job, we are here as an educator, a motivator, and we have to be a positive role model for every single one of our students,” he said.
Palm Beach County Assistant Principal of the Year - Lake Worth High
Caelethia Taylor, an assistant principal at Lake Worth High School, tries to be a source of motivation for the dozens of employees she supervises, including math teachers and counselors.
“They take the challenges that come every day because they feel like they’re part of a family,” Taylor said.
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The highest graduation rate at Lake Worth High was 74% when she joined the campus in 2013. In the years to come, Taylor partnered with a Haitian radio station, an education task force and other local groups to boost community involvement and decrease the number of drop-outs.
Last year, Lake Worth High achieved a 90% graduation rate for the first time, the school district said.
"To see those students walk across the stage – there's no other feeling like it,” Taylor said.
“The accolades are just a bonus,” she continued. “I think the real reward comes from the daily growth that I see in teachers and students.”
School-Related Employee of the Year - Village Academy
Kathy Suarez, a social service facilitator at Village Academy, makes sure that every student has school supplies, clothes, food and whatever else they need to feel comfortable and focused.
“They walk into their classrooms, and they are prepared to learn,” she said. “Anytime that they need anything, they know who to come to: Ms. S.”
Suarez also works as a translator between staff at the Delray Beach school and families who speak other languages.
Calling her the "glue" that holds Village Academy together, Principal LaToya Dixon said Suarez is an authentic person who truly cares about students and their families.
“She is such a bright spot on our campus,” the principal said.
Giuseppe Sabella is an education reporter at The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at email@example.com. Help support our journalism and subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach County schools teacher and principal of the year in 2023