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Fruitville Elementary’s Kari Johnson Named Sarasota County 2021 Teacher of the Year

Ignite Innovation award also announced at annual event’s first virtual celebration

Sarasota, Fla. (Jan. 21, 2021) – Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher in her 15th year at Fruitville Elementary School, was named the 2021 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year at the first virtual event of the annual celebration of educators hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.  

The annual tribute to teachers throughout Sarasota County is a highly anticipated event hosted by the Education Foundation in partnership with Sarasota County Schools. When organizers realized that the usual buoyant tribute would not be possible due to COVID-19, they looked for alternatives to honor teachers without them feeling shortchanged.

“We are excited that we were able to continue the Teacher of the Year recognition this year,” said Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne. “Our teachers work hard and give their all to our students every year, but during the pandemic they have been called on to achieve new levels of flexibility and commitment—and they have risen to and above the challenge.”

The solution was producing a virtual event featuring a lively program and the banter of popular emcees Shane Swezey and Es Swihart, the 2019 and 2018 Sarasota County Teachers of the Year and teacher representatives on the Education Foundation board.

There was no charge for guests to join the virtual event, thanks to generous sponsors whose brief messages of support were spread throughout the program. 

Johnson will represent district educators throughout the 2021 calendar year and will serve as the district’s nominee for state Teacher of the Year.

Johnson and her fellow finalists—Samantha Miller of Sarasota Military Academy Prep; Emily O’BrienSwope of Alta Vista Elementary School; and Becky Satterly of Booker High School—were in virtual “watch party” rooms while participating safely at home with their families.

In addition, the Ignite Education Innovation award was presented to Stephanie Vlahakis of Wilkinson Elementary School. 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.

The finalists were introduced by their respective 2020 Teacher of the Year finalist —Heather Young, Marissa Dobbert, Josh Grant, and Ali Binswanger.

The 45 Teacher of the Year designees representing their respective schools also were recognized.

The Education Foundation presented Johnson with a $2,500 cash award and Miller, O’BrienSwope, and Satterly each with awards of $1,250.

Before the grand finale of Johnson’s announcement, guests were entertained by a special song, a parody based off the Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There for You” and dedicated to all teachers in Sarasota County Schools. Members of the performing group were Swezey and Swihart joined by the 2020 teacher honorees Young, Grant, Dobbert, and Binswanger.

Samuel Waite, a student at Booker Middle School and West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, who sang “Tomorrow” while a mosaic of photos filled the screen showcasing Sarasota County teachers.

“My sincerest thanks to Dr. Laura Kingsley and her team & the Education Foundation of Sarasota County for ensuring that this beloved event could still continue this year, even amidst the pandemic,” commented Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen. “It is a busy time for all, but we should never be too busy to stop and celebrate our teachers. I continue to be amazed – though not at all surprised – by the resiliency, talent, and compassion that our teachers invest in their students and their work every day. I couldn’t be prouder of all of our Teachers of the Year, especially our 2021 Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kari Johnson.”


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 all our 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. Working as one, 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 FacebookInstagram and Twitter, or visit