TOY Finalists
The Teacher of the Year award recognizes and honors the contributions of outstanding classroom teachers who demonstrate a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities. The district’s Teacher of the Year represents Orange County at the state level to compete for Florida Teacher of the Year.

Congratulations to the 2023-24 Teacher of the Year Finalists!

Deborah ParsonDeborah Parsons, K-5 Music Teacher
Lake Silver ES
Since becoming a teacher five years ago, Parsons has created a loving and accepting environment for all students in her music classroom. For three years, she has held an ESE Inclusion concert, with support roles played by Lake Silver gifted students and those in her before- and after-school music enrichment group. She and a fellow OCPS teacher presented to a state conference in 2022 about how other educators could replicate the success of these concerts in their schools. She works with the middle and high school music teachers in the school’s feeder pattern to connect through music and build each other’s programs. Parsons is involved in organizing many school initiatives, including seasonal celebrations, cultural performances, a collaborative mural and an International Day of Peace event centered around music and art. Parsons is also chair of the committee that runs the Elementary All-County Honors Concert, one of OCPS’ largest All-County events.

Kathryn GunterKathryn Gunter, Media Specialist
Lovell Elementary
Creativity, passion, and respect inspire Gunter to make the Media Center beat as the heart of Lovell ES. She has created a vibrant and evolving library program based in a student-centered place where students love to go. Under her management, book circulation has increased, but the library has also grown into much more – a place for research, academic centers, Makerspace, STEM, and more. It is a place where students want to learn, explore, and create. Her innovative ideas led her to pursue and win the Florida Power Library School Award, which recognizes outstanding school library programs. Gunter leads several student clubs, including Safety Patrol, the National Elementary Honor Society, the student council, a journalism club, book clubs, and a STEM club. She also runs an academic tutoring program that supports at-risk students. Gunter uses kindness to help students feel connected to their school and each other.

Jacqueline RussellJacqueline Russell, 6th grade math teacher
Meadowbrook MS

A Florida DOE High Impact Teacher, Russell helped her students achieve one of the highest proficiency rates at her school. A teacher leader with 15 years of experience, Russell also supports colleagues in delivering quality math instruction. Beyond the classroom, she initiated the "Young Girls on the Move" mentoring program. Originally focused on 6th graders, the program now includes 7th and 8th grade girls and has greatly influenced their academic and personal growth. Administrators and former students say Russell's innovative teaching methods and her stimulating and inclusive classroom environment light a fire in the souls of many students. To help parents and struggling students during the pandemic, Jacqueline also started a YouTube channel called "At Home with Mother Bonnet the Math Teacher," where she provided math tutorials.

Sara HudsonSara Hudson, 5th grade ELA teacher
Prairie Lake Elementary
A teacher with 11 years of experience, Hudson creates a culture of high expectations in her classroom. In addition to bringing Level 1 students up to proficiency in a single year, she has helped her students go beyond reading standards by discussing topics such as immigration, health care and climate change. She creates a welcoming environment with monthly family nights and develops deep relationships with students that last well beyond their time in her classroom. She leads the school’s Cheer Committee and plans events. And in her grade-chair role, she pushes teachers to help their students excel, increasing fifth-grade ELA scores to above the district average. She has facilitated PLCs and now hosts monthly professional development sessions. Always willing to jump in, she helped create a house system that transformed the culture at a previous school, and also helped shape district science assessments.

Vanessa McMillionVanessa McMillion, Dean of Discipline and Science Coach
Washington Shores Elementary

For 28 years, McMillion has felt joy from seeing a concept click with a child. Her combination of roles at Washington Shores ES for the past two years has allowed her to have a great impact on student growth. Her efforts, including lobbying for a schedule change to increase science learning time, helped Washington Shores’ science proficiency scores to triple last year. As the teacher leader in science, she blends mentoring, innovation, collaboration and advocacy when she is working with educators, and hosts weekly planning sessions for fifth-grade teachers. In her dean of discipline role, McMillion designed a points-based incentive plan for rewarding students who follow the rules. Students can purchase items with their points at a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support store on campus. The successful initiative has encouraged positive behavior and respect in the Washington Shores school community.

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