Five Lehigh teachers in the running for Golden Apple | News, Sports, Jobs





Suzie Garrett – Veterans Academy for the Arts

Five Lehigh Acres teachers were named Golden Apple finalists, as part of the 35th annual Golden Apple Teacher Recognition program.

There were a total of 30 Golden Apple Finalists, each interviewed and observed in their classrooms by the selection committee of the Golden Apple.Among this pool, there will be six teachers selected as the Golden Apple Award Recipients and honored at the Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Banquet on Friday, April 29, at Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater.

The five Lehigh Acres teachers all have a love for what they do, teaching students and instilling that love of learning.

Suzie Garrett

Veterans Academy for the Arts

Brittany Gonzalez – Tortuga Preserve Elementary

Suzie Garrett began her teaching career in Maryland, where she taught for 15 years, before moving to Southwest Florida in 2015. She has been teaching in the district for six years, all of which have been at the Veterans Academy for the Arts.

“I am the middle school Peer Collaborative Teacher, which means I coach other teachers, but I am currently teaching Global Perspectives and Research for advanced level 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. This is a new Cambridge (AICE) course for the district. I have taught in the past at VPAA, 5th grade math and science, 6th grade science, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, World History, US History, and Civics,” she said.

Being named a Golden Apple Finalist is an honor, Garret said.

“I love how the Foundation for Lee County does so much to support our teachers. We have some amazing educators in Lee County and I am so proud to be recognized along with them. I have been a finalist two other times: in 2018 and 2020, and a Teacher of Distinction in 2019 and 2021,” she said.

Brittany Gonzalez

Evalea Barrett – Lehigh Senior High School

Tortuga Preserve Elementary

In 2017 Brittany Gonzalez became a teacher for the district and began working for Tortuga Preserve Elementary in 2018.

“I began my career at Tortuga Preserve Elementary teaching in a fourth grade ESE Resource position for a semester, where I was lucky enough to work alongside some of the best mentors I’ve ever had, Charlotte Johnson and Suzanne Tocci,” she said.

During the 2018-2019 school year she began in her current position as a social communication teacher for 10 second and third grade students.

“I teach a self-contained special education classroom for students primarily with social communication needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder, speech/language impairment). I have two sons (Jackson, 6 and Julian 5) on the spectrum that attend Tortuga Preserve as well,” Gonzalez said.

Dana Windey – Riverdale High School

Although she was a Golden Apple finalist for the first time last year, this year means a great deal because she has another opportunity to represent her school.

“I was a Golden Apple finalist for the first time last year during a raging pandemic and one of my final semesters in graduate school. It was a whirlwind experience that I didn’t truly allow myself to enjoy because of first-time jitters and an overwhelming plate of responsibilities,” Gonzalez said. “It means so much to be a finalist for the second year in a row because I get another chance to represent my school and enjoy the experience. In my profession, there are few honors as special as being named a Golden Apple Teacher. I am blessed to have made it to finals and I am so thankful that my dedication to the field of special education is evident in my practice.”

Evalea Barrett

Lehigh Senior High School

Although Evalea Barrett became a certified teacher in January 2019, she began working for the district in 2013 when she was hired to be a PE paraprofessional at Treeline Elementary School.

“This is my first year teaching at Lehigh Senior, but truly feel as though I have found where I belong,” she said. “I wake up each day excited to be in my classroom, working with my remarkable 11th graders. I find true joy in teaching and know that it is so much more than a career to me. It is my passion and calling.”

Barrett teaches English general paper where she pushes students to think independently and write from a non-biased perspective.

For Barrett, being named a finalist is still sinking in, as becoming a teacher was something she worked very hard to accomplish and learned that through struggle and hardship she faced, it developed her into who she is today, an educator who truly believes the future is bright because who she sees in her class every day.

“Over the past week, I have walked past the roses Mrs. Corey presented to me when she announced I was a finalist and find myself in awe that this is all really happening,” she said. “There are so many phenomenal educators in this county, so many that have coached, mentored me and supported me. To even have been nominated was truly flattering. I am extremely honored and very humbled to be named a finalist for such an important award.”

Barrett went on to say that being a teacher who makes a difference in the lives of her students is what she strives for the most.

“While the academics are extremely important, knowing that my students have a safe place to talk about their goals, dreams, fears and even the occasional failures are what matter the most to me,” she said. “As I embark on the next phase of the finalist process, I do so knowing that this is by no means all about me. This is an opportunity to shine a bright light on my students, my team, my school and my administration.”

Dana Windey

Riverdale High School

Dana Windey is now in her fifth year teaching at Riverdale High School, where she teaches psychology 1 and 2 for ninth through 12th grade students and IB psychology for junior and senior students. Prior, she worked as a substitute teacher while finishing her Master of Arts degree in psychology.

“To be a Golden Apple Finalist means the world to me,” she said. “About half of my family are educators, including my brother and sister-in-law, who also work at Riverdale. So, it is a huge honor to be recommended with them and to be a finalist two years in a row shows that I am really making a difference in my students’ lives.”

Steven McGinley

Harns Marsh Middle

Steven McGinley is a Peer Collaborative Teacher at Harns Marsh Middle.

The other finalists include:

• Alison Peeling – Bayshore Elementary, Principal Benjamin Ausman

• Mary Leigh Harris – Bonita Springs High, Principal Jeffrey Estes

• Amy Bombace – Caloosa Middle, Principal Ann Cole

• Danielle Fitzsimmons – Cape Elementary, Principal Nicole Osterholm

• Lindsey Dwyer – Colonial Elementary, Principal Eric Washington

• Shelby Massaro – Cypress Lake Middle, Principal Matthew Miller

• Phillip Savage – Dunbar High, Principal Carl Burnside

• Ryan Arciero – Fort Myers High, Principal Robert Butz

• Christina Cerwinsky – Heights Elementary, Principal Douglas Palow

• Amanda Rasnake – Heights Elementary, Principal Douglas Palow

• Leanne Olmstead – Ida S. Baker High, Principal Jami Covert

• Francy Johnson – Island Coast High, Principal Michelle Cort

• Justine Shaul – Mariner Middle, Principal Rachel Gould

• Brian Blauet – North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, Principal Andrea Gunns

• Taylor Ashby – North Fort Myers High, Principal Deborah Diggs

• Kaleigh Stewart – North Fort Myers High, Principal Deborah Diggs

• Colleen Herman – Oak Hammock Middle, Principal Jennifer McMillan Barnes

• Kaisha Louis – Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle, Principal Trent Eckhardt

• Paul Chilson – Pinewoods Elementary, Principal Leslie Gunderson

• Danielle Morin – Rayma C. Page Elementary, Principal Valerie Sheckler

• Caitlin Marzec – San Carlos Park Elementary, Principal Christy Kutz

• Stephanie Osterhouse – Skyline Elementary, Principal Laura Trombetti

• Kevin Schell – South Fort Myers High, Principal Edward Mathews

• Susan Bruni – Villas Elementary, Principal Shane Musich

• Brittany Griner – Villas Elementary, Principal Shane Musich




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