Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
3:02 am EST
Monday, December 6, 2021

2022 Lake Rookie Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year Announced

Umatilla High’s Theresa Spann and Grassy Lake Elementary’s April Dempsey honored.

Two professionals dedicated to feeding the minds and bodies of their students are being celebrated by the Lake County school district. 

Theresa Spann, the culinary arts teacher at Umatilla High School, was named 2022 Rookie Teacher of the Year. 

April Dempsey, the food service manager at Grassy Lake Elementary, is the 2022 School-Related Employee of the Year. 

Both were announced the winners of their respective categories at a celebration event presented by Insight Credit Union and hosted by the Education Foundation of Lake County. School district staff, dignitaries, and sponsors were on hand to recognize Spann and Dempsey along with this year’s Rookie Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year honorees from other Lake County Schools. 

Spann, who has been teaching for just under 3 years, left her career in the hospitality industry to lead a classroom kitchen. Since joining the faculty at Umatilla High, Spann helped create the Bulldog Bistro, an on-campus cafe run by her culinary students, which gives them real-world experience to help prepare for their culinary certification exams. 

“Regardless of what direction a career path a student takes, I know that when they leave my program, they will have life skills because of the ‘hands-on’ approach our program provides,” wrote Spann in her application for Rookie Teacher of the Year. 

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2022 Rookie Teacher of the Year Theresa Spann (center), with Umatilla High School Principal Thomas Gerds and Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay

Jacob Carriero, a physical education teacher at Mascotte Charter Elementary and Amy Crofts, a pre-K/ESE teacher at Rimes Early Learning Center were district finalists with Spann. 44 rookie teachers were recognized by peers at their respective Lake County schools for excellence in teaching. 

Dempsey has been the food service manager at Grassy Lake Elementary since it opened in 2007 and was instrumental in creating the school’s cafeteria structure, protocols, and culture. 

Known for running a tight ship in the school’s kitchen, Dempsey has successfully built strong relationships with teachers, students, and parents by making herself available to discuss meals, allergy concerns, and student nutrition. 

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2022 School-Releated Employee of the Year April Dempsey (center) with Lake County Schools Superintendant Diane Kornegay and Grassy Lake Elementary School Principal Julie Williams

“She leads by example 100% of the time,” wrote Natalie Shaffer, Grassy Lake Elementary assistant principal in a letter of recommendation. “She knows that without proper nourishment, our students wouldn’t be able to flourish academically. She handles even the most challenging situations with poise, professionalism, patience, competence, and most of all love for our students and families.” 

Dempsey advances to the Florida School-Related Employee of the Year program. The winner of the state-wide program will be announced later this spring. 

Along with Dempsey, the district’s School-Related Employee of the Year finalists were Sandra Belinski, a bookkeeper at East Ridge Middle, Samson Becker, a custodian at Groveland Elementary, and Karly Nelson, a teacher assistant at Leesburg Elementary. 37 school employees were recognized by peers at their respective Lake County schools for their dedication to support teachers and students. 

“While the coronavirus has caused leaders in the state and nationwide to debate the definition of ‘essential workers,’ we in education have known long before COVID that teachers and support staff alike exemplify the meaning of the word essential,” Superintendent Diane Kornegary told the honorees during the celebration. “Your work is not only essential, your work is vital to the future of our children, our community, and our nation. The work is hard, and it’s even harder during a pandemic, but you all have done extraordinary things throughout these unprecedented times, and for that I am grateful.” 

As the district liaison to the Florida Department of Education, the Education Foundation of Lake County coordinates all awards and recognition events including the annual Lake County School-Related Employee of the Year and Rookie Teacher of the Year programs. 

A video of the celebration can be viewed at youtu.be/vqk1ezya2jg.

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