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Rookie Teacher and School Related Employee of the Year finalists announced

Maverick Baer of Carver Middle School, Ella Gibson of Windy Hill Middle School and Evelyn J. Guzman of Triangle Elementary School are Lake County Schools’ finalists for Rookie Teacher of the Year.

 Additionally, Micheka Thomas of Carver Middle School, Caroline Thompson of Minneola Charter Elementary School and Maria Torres of the district’s Title I Department are finalists for School Related Employee of the Year.

 All six were surprised on Tuesday by a caravan of officials led by Superintendent Susan Moxley who delivered the good news face to face.

 The district’s Rookie Teacher of the Year will be announced at an award ceremony on March 22, and the School Related Employee of the Year will be announced on April 19.

 Meet the finalists:


 Maverick Baer is an Emotional and Behavioral Disability Teacher at Carver Middle School, a position he has held for two years. “My philosophy of education is constantly evolving as I gain experience serving various types of learners,’’ he wrote in his RTOY application form. “A constant, however, is my belief that every child should have the right to learn and get a quality education.” Mr. Baer believes education is at its best when it’s a team effort involving teachers, teacher assistants, administrators, coaches and parents or guardians. He keeps the lines of communication and often sends home links to videos to help parents or guardians understand how to help their students with their work.


Ella Gibson is an AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) teacher at Windy Hill Middle School. She has taught in Lake for a year and a half. “My instruction is centered around teaching students the organizational, reading, writing and collaborative skills they need to be successful both as a student and as an adult,” she wrote. “All students, regardless of what they have done in the past, are capable of great things when provided with a structured, safe environment which promotes their academic and personal growth.” She strives to maintain and enthusiastic and passionate teaching style to keep students excited about learning.


Evelyn J. Guzman is a fourth grade teacher at Triangle Elementary, a position she has held for 2-1/2 years. When it comes to teaching, she focuses on what she calls the three Is: Intentional, Innovative and Impactful. “Being intentional in my purpose for teaching helps me to think about my students and how I am helping to raise a generation that will impact the future of this country,” she wrote. “Being innovative… I like to incorporate new ideas and techniques, and invest time in multiple means of representation that can reach all styles of learners. Being impactful in the lives of my students means not just focusing on their academic successes, but their personal growth and development as well.”



Micheka Thomas is a Data Entry Operator at Carver Middle School, where she is responsible for maintaining accurate and up-to-date information related to schedules, attendance and grades; completing various reporting tasks for the state Department of Education; and answering phones and greeting guests in the main office of the school. She enrolls new students, handles report cards, helps track data and assists staff and families with Skyward. “Where Ms. Thomas shines brightest, however, is in the way she gives of her own efforts and time to go beyond her assigned duties,” a letter from the nominating committee reads. She is involved in Carver’s PTO and serves as Secretary for the SAC. She designs and writes Carver’s monthly newsletter, takes pictures at after-school activities and oversees ticket sales at athletic events. “If the doors are open,” the letter continues, “if a student or a family needs her, she is here.”


Caroline Thompson is a School Nurse at Minneola Charter Elementary School. As such, she focuses on prevention of illness, early detection and correction of health problems. This includes health assessment knowledge and proper referral services. With 22 years of nursing experience, she is a first responder for any medical emergencies at the school, has reduced the number of students being unnecessarily sent home by about 20 percent, and has not missed a single day of work since she was hired two years ago, except to attend approved training or mandatory county nurse meetings. “Nurse Thompson is an invaluable asset to the Minneola Mustang Team,” her nominating committee letter reads. “She is one shining example of an employee that stands out by putting the needs of students, staff and parents ahead of her own.”


Maria Torres is a Family Engagement Specialist with the district’s Title I Department. She serves as a positive liaison between school personnel and families that receive Title I services. She helps with the development of the school family engagement plans, maintains and verifies accuracy of program records, and develops and implements activities to initiate participation. “Ms. Torres works tirelessly to improve family and student literacy and to raise student achievement,” wrote Letizia Haugabrook, Administrative Coordinator, Title I, Federal Programs. Barbara Crewell, Community Resource Director, United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties, praised Ms. Torres as well. “I am impressed with her dedication, organizational skills and leadership abilities,” she wrote. The nominating committee also highlighted her many attributes. “What is most notable about Maria Torres and her immediate, positive influence across this school district is her ability to secure and create safe environments for families in need,” the committee letter reads.