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The celebrations continued today as the PCPS prize patrol visited another group of finalists for the 2022 Polk County Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year.

Congratulations to the finalists from District 4:

  • Ashley Brannon — Teacher of the Year finalist, curriculum coach, Karen M. Siegel Academy
  • John Winghart — School-Related Employee finalist, school safety guardian, Brigham Academy

Brief profiles of these two finalists can be found below (see italics).

More surprise patrols will be taking as we travel around Polk County to recognize the finalists from each of the seven districts. The overall winners will be announced at the Inspire Awards, which will take place on Jan. 20, 2022, at 5:30 p.m. at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The Polk Education Foundation and the district’s Department of Public Relations & Strategic Partnerships collaborate to present this annual event.

During the event, nominees will be recognized with video tributes and receive 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.

Platinum sponsors for the event include Lakeland Automall and MIDFLORIDA Credit Union.

Finalist Profiles, District 4

Ashley Brannon — Curriculum coach, Karen M. Siegel Academy, District 4 finalist for Teacher of the Year

Brannon says it is a “privilege” to serve students with severe physical, cognitive and behavioral disabilities at Karen M. Siegel Academy.

As a curriculum coach/resource teacher, she helps other teachers use best practices in their classrooms so that students can succeed. She also implemented a schoolwide writing program so that every student can express themselves through text, no matter what their disability may be.

Brannon helps with the planning and chaperoning of extracurricular activities and special events at her school, including prom, graduation and seasonal events. In addition, she volunteers her time to assist new educators from neighboring schools, helping them study for certification exams and sharing strategies that will benefit their students.

“My community, school and students provide me with so much happiness,” Brannon says. “My only hope is that I can one day repay them with the same.”

John Winghart — school safety guardian, Brigham Academy, District 4 finalist for School-Related Employee of the Year

Administrators at Brigham Academy say Winghart has “celebrity status” at the school.

He has “amazing” rapport with students and staff, who regard him as a role model and true gentleman. Most importantly, he is fully committed to keeping the campus safe, constantly patrolling the grounds and checking gates. He also takes additional measures like escorting kindergarteners to class and staying late if he thinks a situation might warrant extra security.

Outside of his regular duties, Winghart is a divemaster who volunteers his time with programs that teach students underwater diving. He also tries to keep up at 5Ks with Brigham’s running club.

The retired shop foreman and hazmat team commander said he learned a lot in his new career as a school safety guardian.

The job “has allowed me to interact and be surprised daily with the new encounters and open sincerity children share,” Winghart says. “It has been a truly unique and rewarding opportunity. It is an honor for me.”

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