Polk County Public Schools Announces 2023 Teacher and School Employee of the Year

Polk County Public Schools Announces 2023 Teacher and School Employee of the Year

For Schools, News
Inspire Awards 2023 winners graphic

Polk County Public Schools is proud to announce our Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year!

Natalie McSwain, a Spanish teacher at Lake Gibson High, is the 2023 Polk County Teacher of the Year.

Julie Whiteley, the principal’s secretary at Garner Elementary, is the district’s School-Related Employee of the Year.

Profiles of each winner can be found below.

McSwain and Whiteley will each receive a cash prize generously donated by MIDFLORIDA Credit Union, custom rings by Herff Jones, as well as other gifts. As Teacher of the Year, McSwain will also receive a car, courtesy of Lakeland Automall.

Both winners will move on to compete for state titles. Each year, the Florida Department of Education names a statewide Teacher of the Year, and a School-Related Employee of the Year.

PCPS celebrated McSwain, Whiteley and many of the district’s other outstanding employees during tonight’s Inspire Awards at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. PCPS also recognized the district’s Principal of the Year, Rodrick Gray from Laurel Elementary; as well as the Assistant Principal of the Year, Sarah Miranda from Mulberry Middle.

The Inspire Awards are presented by the Polk Education Foundation and PCPS’ Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships.

Platinum sponsors for the event include Lakeland Automall and MIDFLORIDA Credit Union. Gold sponsors include: Aramark, Boswell & Dunlap, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, Mosaic, Tampa Electric Company, Publix Super Markets Charities, Orlando Health, and Legoland Florida Resort.

Natalie McSwain — 2023 Polk County Teacher of the Year award winner profile:

As a Spanish teacher, McSwain stands out for her excellent communication skills, helping to translate important information for Spanish-speaking parents so they are kept informed. She also innovates through her classroom environment, which has no desks — students sit in chairs arranged for discussion groups and write on clipboards as needed.

Lake Gibson administrators say they often take other teachers to McSwain’s classroom to observe her techniques. She also is heavily involved in school activities and professional development events, and has served as LGHS’ first-ever girls lacrosse coach. McSwain is “adored” by the LGHS community and considered a “force of nature.”

Photo of McSwain

Julie Whiteley — 2023 Polk County School-Related Employee of the Year award winner profile:

Winner graphic for Julie Whiteley

Whiteley is the principal’s secretary at Garner Elementary, and she’s often the first person to arrive at work. She warmly greets students and employees as they come to school and is known for having positive relationships with all staff.

Whiteley takes time to read to students and comforts them when they are sick. She also cheers their academic progress and good behavior. Garner administrators say the school runs more efficiently because of the systems Whiteley has developed. In addition, she volunteers her time with the school’s advisory committee and PTO.

Click here to read more about this year’s Inspire Awards honorees.