Pinellas Math & Avid Teacher Named Teacher of the Year Finalist and Receives $5,000 from Macy’s and the Florida Department of Education!

May 10, 2017

FDOE Press Office

Pinellas Math & Avid Teacher Named Teacher of the Year Finalist and Receives $5,000 from Macy’s and the Florida Department of Education!

~ Macy’s partners with the Florida Department of Education for a surprise announcement to name one of the five finalists to compete for the 2018 Florida Teacher of the Year ~


Palm Harbor, Fla., May 10, 2017 – Like any other school day, Ms. Ko and her students were focused on their lessons for the day. She had no idea that today was different and that she was about to receive the surprise of a lifetime! From a group of 73 teachers, Vanessa Ko from Palm Harbor Middle School in Pinellas County was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Award!

For the past 29 years, Macy’s, along with the Florida Department of Education, has honored the most exceptional educators in Florida who make magic in and out of their classrooms every day. The Teacher of the Year program 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.  

At 9:45 a.m., Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, along with Leigh Ott, Macy’s district vice president, were on hand to make the big surprise announcement. The sixth and eighth grade math and AVID teacher was instructing her class when the Commissioner made the surprise visit and told her that she had been chosen as one of five finalists for the prestigious honor.

“Vanessa Ko is a great teacher who challenges and inspires her students to believe and achieve a better tomorrow. Macy’s congratulates Ms. Ko for her commitment to help her students reach their full potential,” said Dennis Witte, Macy’s executive vice president and regional director of stores.

Upon receiving the good news, Vanessa Ko was presented with a $5,000 check from the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s, and a $500 Macy’s gift card.  A $1,000 check, funded by Macy’s, was presented to Palm Harbor Middle School. 

“Teachers are some of THE most important people in our children’s lives,” continued Witte.  “To be a teacher is to be a mentor, a friend, a coach and a constant in the lives of their students. Teachers are life changers and this is what happens each day in Ms. Ko’s classroom. Throughout Macy’s sponsorship of this program, we continue to be humbled and proud to support the best educators in the Florida.”

“It is a pleasure to highlight Vanessa Ko for her dedicated time and service to Florida’s students,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “Ms. Ko has set out to change the way students think about math by creating an energetic and creative learning environment in which students are given opportunities to build confidence in their abilities. Congratulations to Ms. Ko for being selected as a finalist for 2018 Teacher of the Year!”

The winner of the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award will be announced during a ceremony on Thursday, July 13, 2017.  The event will be held at Orlando’s Hard Rock Liveat Universal Studios CityWalk.

In addition to a $5,000 award funded by Macy’s and the Department of Education, the Teacher of the Year will receive awards from Macy’s including an all-expense paid trip for four to New York City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The winner 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. To date, Macy’s has contributed $3 million to teachers throughout the state.

This year’s five finalists were chosen from more than 195,744 public school teachers throughout the state by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee representing teachers, principals, parents and the business community.  Each finalist is selected on the basis of outstanding ability to teach and communicate knowledge of the subject taught, professional development, philosophy of teaching, and outstanding school and community service.