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Polk County Public Schools is sharing plans for its pandemic-safe 2021 Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year event.

“This is the school district’s signature event, a special evening when we come together to honor our employees for the life-changing work they perform each day. Much time and effort has gone into planning the 2021 event to ensure we’re still able to celebrate — but safely,” said Susan Copeland, executive director of the Polk Education Foundation.

PEF and the district’s Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships collaborate to present the Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year event annually. This year, they consulted with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County to develop a pandemic-safe version of the event.

In normal years, nearly 1,000 individuals attend a banquet at the RP Funding Center’s exhibit hall. Attendees typically include Teacher and School-Related Employee honorees from throughout the district, their principals and special guests, Board members, other district employees, and judges. In recent years, the event has also included large-scale student performances.

Amid the pandemic, the event must be significantly scaled back — but care has been taken to preserve the spirit of the night.

“Honorees are always at the forefront of our planning for this event, and this year is no exception,” said Rachel Pleasant, senior director of communications, who oversees the Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships.

This year, the Teacher and School-Related Employee honorees at each of the district’s nearly 150 schools will receive a commemorative plaque and $50 gift card.

“Normally, all of our honorees would have the opportunity to attend the event, but that’s just not possible this year,” said Pleasant. “Sponsors are making it possible for us to provide them with something extra — a $50 gift card — as an expression of our appreciation.”

In December, the Teacher and School-Related Employee nominees selected through an extensive judging process to represent each of Polk County Public Schools’ seven districts will be recognized at surprise school-based celebrations. These celebrations will be attended by school representatives, district officials, and event sponsors. Nominees will be presented with gifts to celebrate their achievements.

The schedule for school-based celebrations is as follows. Two celebrations — one for the teacher nominee, one for the school-related nominee — will be staged within each district. A map of school districts and a listing of schools within each district can be found here:

District 1 — Dec. 1

District 2 — Dec. 2

District 3 — Dec. 3

District 4 — Dec. 4

District 5 – Dec. 9

District 6 — Dec. 10

District 7 — Dec. 11

IMPORTANT: The finalists are NOT aware that they are finalists. Each school-based celebration will be a surprise. News media are welcome to attend any of these surprise celebrations. We just ask that you do not conduct any advanced coverage or interviews, so we can keep this a surprise. For details, please email

Photos from each school-based celebration will be shared on the school district’s official social media accounts — @PolkCountyPublicSchools on Facebook and Instagram, @PolkSchoolsNews on Twitter.

On Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m., a smaller-scale culminating event will take place at the RP Funding Center’s Lake Hollingsworth Room. PCPS’ 2020 Teacher of the Year, Vincent Miller, will serve as emcee.

Dinner and student performances have been eliminated to shorten the duration of the event, and face coverings will be worn at all times. The event will be attended by less than 100 people; the guest list includes nominees and their plus-ones, their principals, Board members, event sponsors and the superintendent and deputy superintendent.

During the evening, nominees will be recognized with video tributes and sponsored gifts. The Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year will receive a cash prize generously donated by MIDFLORIDA Credit Union. 

While the in-person audience will be small, the event will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel, @PolkCountyPublicSchools.

“We encourage all Polk County Public Schools stakeholders to watch live as we announce the 2021 Teacher and School-Related Employee. Whoever they are, they have given so much to our district and our community, and they have done so even amid this year’s very challenging circumstances. Help us celebrate them!” Pleasant said.

Sponsors so far confirmed include: Aramark, Boswell & Dunlap, Florida Blue, LEGOLAND, MIDFLORIDA Credit Union, Mosaic, Publix Super Markets Charities, Tampa Electric Company, and the Polk Education Association.

For more information about the Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year event, visit

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