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Venice Elementary’s Heather Young Named Sarasota County 2020 Teacher of the Year

Alumni of Distinction and Ignite Innovation Teacher awards also announced

SARASOTA COUNTY, December 11, 2019 – Heather Young, a 22-year veteran teacher in her first year of teaching visual arts at Venice Elementary School, was named the 2020 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year at the Dec. 11 Ignite Education celebration hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (EFSC).

The announcement was made by former Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart to a crowd of 300 guests. Stewart, who was introduced by EFSC President Jennifer Vigne, thanked all Teacher of the Year nominees for the work they do inspiring students every day.

Young will represent district educators at events throughout the 2020 calendar year and will serve as the district’s nominee for state Teacher of the Year. Her fellow finalists, Marissa Dobbert of Sarasota Military Academy Prep School, and Josh Grant of Venice High School, also were honored onstage at the annual awards ceremony, and 43 Teacher of the Year designees representing local schools were recognized.

Young taught gifted students in elementary through middle school in her first 21 years as an educator in Sarasota County Schools. In her first year teaching visual arts to grades kindergarten through five, Young said she views her art room as a great venue for teaching problem-solving and a level playing field for all students, whether they are gifted or intellectually disabled.

“Art is where you can succeed no matter where you are in other classes,” Young said.

Young graduated from Venice High School after spending all her school years in Sarasota County Schools. After earning a bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Florida, she completed post-baccalaureate work in gifted and leadership education at the University of South Florida.

Young returned to Sarasota County to teach, believing there is no finer school system in the country. She has earned the Florida Best and Brightest Award for consecutive years since 2015.

Known for her leadership skills in training and encouraging fellow teachers and mentoring college interns, Young also is a strong student advocate and recognized for connecting with students. 

“You show up every day, set high expectations, support them, and don’t ever give up on them even if they want to give up on themselves,” Young said.

The Education Foundation presented Young with a $2,500 cash award and Dobbert and Grant with cash awards of $1,250 each. Sunset Automotive Group sponsored the cash awards.

Paul Burns, deputy chancellor with the Florida Department of Education and former principal of Riverview High School, presented the Ignite Innovation award to Ali Binswanger, third grade teacher at Lakeview Elementary School and a 20-year veteran teacher. The award recognizes a Teacher of the Year who is creative in approach, willing to think outside the box and able to connect students with learning in unique ways.

Sarasota attorney Dan Bailey, recipient of the 2019 Alumni of Distinction award honoring a graduate of Sarasota County Schools who has distinguished himself/herself professionally and in community service, presented the 2020 award to Sherri Reynolds.  

Reynolds graduated from Sarasota High School in 1971. Before retiring in 2016, she was supervisor of pupil support service for Sarasota County Schools. Reynolds also has been a volunteer and board member for dozens of community organizations including Suncoast Community Blood Bank, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, Sarasota Healthy Kids Insurance Advisory Committee, Take Stock in Children, and Season of Sharing.

Emcee duties were shared by the 2019 and 2018 Sarasota County Teachers of the Year Shane Swezey and Es Swihart, who also are current teacher representatives on the EFSC board. Special guest Dre Graham, the 2019 Florida Teacher of the Year, honored teachers as “world changers.” Graham and Swezey joined to provide a program highlight with a spirited blues-style rendition of “Schoolteacher Blues,” an original composition by Swezey that had the guests laughing, clapping and singing along.

Jennifer Vigne, president of the Education Foundation, thanked sponsors and guests for investing in teachers. In closing remarks, Vigne pledged to teachers: “We are here because of your dedication and commitment, and our work for you will never cease.”

This year’s Ignite Education awards ceremony, held at the Westin Sarasota, was hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and produced in partnership with Sarasota County Schools.


About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County (EFSC) is an independent partner working to advance philanthropic support for Sarasota County Schools. Its mission is to enhance the potential of students, promote excellence in teaching and inspire innovation in education. The EFSC strives to match each donor’s passion with high-impact projects created to ensure students graduate with purpose and are prepared for a postsecondary pathway. The EFSC and its philanthropic investors are champions for students, teachers and schools. For more information, visit


About Sarasota County Schools

Sarasota County Schools is committed to providing unrivaled academic, emotional and civic growth to every student, every day. As one of the leading employers on the Suncoast, Sarasota County Schools boasts 54 schools that expertly cater to the diverse needs of over 43,900 students. We are one of two Florida school districts to consistently earn an A-grade every year since 2004 and have been awarded the Mid-Sized School District of the Year by the University of Cambridge. Our passionate educators empower students to take charge of their academic and personal success, a practice we believe fosters lifelong growth and achievement. We actively maintain the district’s tradition of excellence and ensure that tradition extends to all students. Our commitment to our students extends beyond graduation to make sure they not only graduate on time, but do so college and career ready. Want to take your student’s education to the next level? Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit



1. Principal Hutchinson and Heather Young     2. Sherri Renyolds     3. Ali Binswanger (middle)     4. Tessa Healy, Joshua Grant, Marissa Dobbert, Heather Young, Shane Swezey

Photo captions:

  • 1 – Heather Young, 2020 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year & Dr. Kirk Hutchinson (Venice Elementary Principal)
  • 2 – Sherri T. Reynolds, Alumni of Distinction Award Recipient
  • 3 – Ali Binswanger (middle), Ignite Innovation Award Recipient
  • 4 – (L to R) Tessa Healy, 2019 Elementary School Teacher of the Year, Joshua Grant, 2020 High School Teacher of the Year, Marissa Dobbert, 2020 Middle School Teacher of the Year, Heather Young, 2020 Elementary and Sarasota County Teacher of the Year, Shane Swezey, 2019 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year