Return to Headlines

Finalists Named for 2021 Marion County Teacher of the Year


Kevin Christian, APR, CPRC, Public Relations Director

352.671.7555 ◊ FAX: 352.671.7735 ◊ CELL: 352.840.3265





Golden Apple Gala Set for January 22


MARION COUNTY – Five experienced teachers in Marion County Public Schools received surprise visits and golden apples today from Superintendent Dr. Diane Gullett and an entourage from the Public Education Foundation of Marion County.  All five are now finalists for Marion County 2021 Teacher of the Year.


One education newcomer also received the title of Rookie Teacher of the Year during a surprise presentation.


Marion County school board members and a handful of others accompanied Gullett and Foundation Executive Director Judi Zanetti on the four-hour trek taking them to various parts of the community.


This year’s Golden Apple recipients alphabetically by school include:

  • Heather Nesbitt, North Marion High, who teaches Agriculture Science. She joined the district four years ago and has been in the profession five years. 

Heather Nesbett pic

  • Daphne Butler, North Marion Middle, who teaches Intensive Reading to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. She joined the district in 2014 and has 10 years of classroom experience.

Daphne Butler pic

  • Christine Fernandez, Shady Hill Elementary, who teaches kindergarten and first grade MCPSonline. She joined the district in 2013 and has three decades of teaching experience.

Christine Fernandez pic

  • Christopher Lanza, Ward-Highlands Elementary, who is the media specialist and teaches Media Production and computer-based literacy courses. Lanza joined the district in 2005 and has been in teaching for 21 years.

Chris Lanza pic

  • Tina Otero, West Port High, who teaches English and English Honors. She started teaching in 2008 and joined Marion County Public Schools in 2010. 

 Tina Otero pic

Golden Apple teachers have at least four years of classroom experience.  Those with three years or less are represented by Emma Dingman, who teaches Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten at Emerald Shores Elementary and is Marion County’s 2021 Rookie Teacher of the Year.  She started her teaching career just three years ago at the same school.

Emma Dingman pic  

All six teachers, along with dozens of other school-based teachers of the year, will be featured in a live event, scaled down because of COVID-19, on Friday, January 22, at 7PM at the Webber Center on the College of Central Florida campus in Ocala. The event will be broadcast live on the Marion Education Channel and livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel (


One of the five Golden Apple teachers will become Marion County’s 2021 Teacher of the Year and drive away with a new car compliments of Jenkins Auto Group, the diamond sponsor of the Golden Apple Gala.


For more information, contact Foundation Executive Director Judi Zanetti at 352.671.4167.


#                      #                      #