Education’s Shining Stars Announced

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — In a blended virtual and live broadcast on Saturday, February 6, 2021, St. Lucie Public Schools (SLPS) and the Education Foundation of St. Lucie County announced this year’s line-up of educational superstars. Lauren Kappler took top honors as St. Lucie County’s Teacher of the Year.  She is a Civics Teacher at West Gate K-8 School.  Joining her in the winner’s category were School Related Employee of the Year, Maria Carley, a School Assessment Clerk from St. Lucie Elementary School, Distinguished Minority Educator of the Year, Mildred Brown, a Criminal Justice Teacher from Ft. Pierce Westwood Academy, and Outstanding First Year Teacher, Jewel Edwards, a U.S. History Teacher from the Creative Arts Academy of St. Lucie.

Teacher of the Year Lauren Kappler says that her passion for teaching comes from her students.  She knows if her students feel that they are cared for and loved, then learning will take place.  Kappler said, “I chose to be a teacher because I want each student to know that they have a place in this world and it’s just a matter of finding out what that place is.”  She explained further that she wants to be a small part of her students’ educational journey. Based on that belief, she works diligently to find out how each student learns best and uses a variety of teaching styles and instructional tools in her classroom to help them learn new concepts. Her goal is to help her students realize the potential within them to become the best versions of themselves.

Superintendent E. Wayne Gent said, “These outstanding individuals exemplify excellence in teaching and distinction in providing a positive teaching and learning environment in SLPS.  They represent what’s best about SLPS and they are why we are making great strides.”

Education Foundation President Thom Jones considers the Night of the Stars a highlight each year.  “Honoring our teachers and support staff for the work they do each day for our students is central to The Education Foundation’s mission which is to recognize excellence in education and support teacher development.”  Jones also points out that the corporate sponsors are just as focused on the mission.  MIDFLORIDA Credit Union sponsored both the Teacher of the Year and School Related Employee of the Year categories and Herff Jones honored the Teacher of the Year winner with a commemorative ring. Keiser University sponsored the Distinguished Minority Educator of the Year, and Seacoast Bank sponsored The Outstanding First Year Teacher. Jones also offered a special thank you to the many other event sponsors.

Event Coordinator Dr. Kevin G. Perry said, “The honorees at this annual event represent the high-quality educators and staff who support our students’ tremendous academic gains. Our distinguished honorees not only embody the mission of the District but go beyond and surpass expectations.”

St. Lucie County’s Teacher of the Year and School Related Employee of the Year will now move on to the state level competition.  In the category of Teacher of the Year, the State has a long-standing tradition that recognizes and honors the contributions of outstanding classroom teachers who have demonstrated a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities. The state finalist for The Florida Teacher of the Year also serves as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education and represents the Florida Department of Education and teachers throughout the state.

About the Winners

Teacher of the Year 

Lauren Kappler, West Gate K8 

Mrs. Kappler’s kind and caring demeanor are unparalleled. She works diligently to help build students’ confidence and competence. She refuses to let any student fall behind. She is proud of each success and celebrates her students’ growth continuously. Her impact is not only felt by her students, but she has had a tremendous impact on the teachers at her school as well.  With the shift to some classes being taught virtually this year, Mrs. Kappler has taken the lead to train the teachers at West Gate on Nearpod.  This instructional platform makes virtual lessons extremely engaging for students and the teachers at her school have stated that the new skills that they have learned from her are a “game-changer.” Lauren Kappler’s extraordinary knowledge, skills, and ability to teach effectively make her most deserving of this recognition.



School Related Employee of the Year 

Maria Carley, St. Lucie Elementary School 

 There is no job too big or too small for Maria Carley. She is constantly on the move supporting every aspect of her school and the achievement of the students. Maria ensures all teachers have everything they need to be successful during testing, and even schedules herself to support the testing environment as an “extra set of hands and eyes” in the classroom.  She also organizes and orchestrates the school-wide student achievement celebrations, including the “Rising Star of the Month” ceremony and honor roll assemblies. Ms. Carey epitomizes each quality of an outstanding school related-employee.



Distinguished Minority Educator of the Year 

Mildred Brown, Fort Pierce Westwood Academy 

Prior to becoming a teacher, Ms. Brown was the first black female SLC Sheriff’s Deputy in 1993 where she served until 2012.  She then moved to Westwood to start the Criminal Justice Industry Certification program which has recently expanded to include the 911 Operator Program. Mrs. Brown is recognized as a “teacher leader” because she is an educator that has experience working with students who come from poverty.  Furthermore, she serves as a caring adult who taps into students’ strengths and supports their path to success.  She was recently appointed as the Career and Technical Education Department Chair overseeing 13 teachers.  Included in this role is monitoring the progress that all students across the school are making with their industry certifications. Mrs. Brown embodies the mission of St. Lucie Public Schools as she helps to ensure that all students graduate equipped with the skills, knowledge, and desire to succeed.



Outstanding First Year Teacher 

Jewel Edwards, Creative Arts Academy of St. Lucie 

When you walk into Ms. Edward’s classroom you can feel the excitement and warmth of Ms. Edward’s teaching style. She may be a first-year teacher; however, her leadership qualities are clearly evident. She is a strong contributor to her Social Studies team and the school as a whole. She not only makes an impact in the classroom, her volunteer work in the community does not go unnoticed. In her spare time, she prepares food bags for the homeless, registers people to vote, and is involved in many community events.