- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - A central Florida elementary school art teacher was named Florida’s 2015 Teacher of the Year on Thursday night.

Christie Bassett of Highlands Grove Elementary School in Polk County was announced as the winner in an Orlando ceremony at the Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios.

Bassett and four other finalists were selected in May from among 72 school district nominees. Other finalists were Jill Espinosa of Belle Terre Elementary School in Flagler County; Lyndsey Matheny of Citrus Elementary School in Indian River County; Kevin Ford of Tarpon Springs High School in Pinellas County; and Daryl Cullipher of St. Augustine High School in St. Johns County.

Florida first lady Ann Scott handed out the award.

“It’s an honor to join our best teachers in the state to celebrate their commitment to their profession and to Florida’s students and families,” she said in a prepared statement before the ceremony.

Bassett is the art department chair, and her 700 students range from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Her art program is unique because she incorporates a cross-curricular integration of subjects. Her art lesson plans include math, writing, reading and science. She reads books and poetry to her students that connect literature to their art projects. The students write critiques of their artwork, lead discussions of professional works, use geometry in their drawings and create summaries of art lessons. They also write and answer questions concerning artist’s biographies that they have read.

Bassett will receive a $10,000 grant funded by the Macy’s Foundation, along with an all-expense paid trip for four to New York City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The ceremony was hosted by the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s.

In a news release, Macy’s executive vice president Darlene Hanes applauded the teachers’ commitment to students and their communities.

Bassett will also serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges in the Sunshine State.

“Each of Florida’s district Teachers of the Year are passionate about helping their students succeed both now and in the future,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a release. “I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to honor these teachers for their dedication and commitment to excellence.”

During the event, the remaining district nominees from around the state were recognized and presented with a $750 personal cash award and a $250 grant for their school, funded by the Macy’s Foundation. This year’s finalists were chosen from more than 180,000 public school teachers by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee consisting of teachers, principals, parents and the business community.

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