Tatum Ridge Elementary's Teacher of the Year advocates for property tax extension.

It is such an honor to be the 2018 Teacher of the Year for Tatum Ridge Elementary.

I have been teaching for 11 years and, in that time, I have learned a lot about what it means to inspire successful students.

It is easy to track improvement through our rising Florida Standards Assessments scores — every student in my class during the past two years has passed the FSA reading test, and every student in last year’s class passed the FSA math test.

However, test scores are not the only measure of success in my classroom.

The improvement I observe in my students’ self-confidence and willingness to learn is what brings me the most joy. Developing these “soft skills” is accomplished with the understanding that teaching is not one size fits all. Every student is unique, so it takes different strategies to be successful. Even though students may sometimes feel frustrated and defeated when tackling a difficult problem, it is my goal to have every child leave my classroom feeling empowered, loved and ready to face problems head on.

I truly embrace all students, no matter their background or ability.

My true passion is advocating for Exceptional Student Education inclusion, and I am proud to say that, thanks to support from administration, Tatum Ridge Elementary now has at least one inclusion classroom per grade level starting with first grade. The process of ESE inclusion has not been easy but has been incredibly rewarding. This past August, I was honored to present our program at the Sarasota County ESE Summer Institute.

I am always astounded by the generosity of our community, from local businesses to the individual families that donate monetarily and give their time in and out of the classroom.

However, there is another way to help: Vote YES to continue the 1-mill tax referendum on March 20 and encourage others to do the same. This is vital in funding professional development for teachers and all of us access the resources needed to implement strategies into the classroom.

Our students are truly incredible, but with additional development and resources, we can help ensure they reach their full potential.

— Dena Peachey is a third-grade English language arts/social sciences teacher at Tatum Ridge Elementary School.