Judie Banfield TOY Photo

Judie Banfield, a third-grade teacher at Hernando Elementary School, stands center alongside School Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel, left, and Citrus County Education Foundation Executive Director Shaunda Burdette Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after being named the Citrus County School District's teacher of the year for 2022.

Even in the midst of a shadowing pandemic, Citrus County found shining stars within its public school system.

During the annual Galaxy of Stars ceremony, held virtually this year the evening of Thursday, Jan. 7, local school district and Citrus County Education Foundation officials honored the district’s top educator and support staffer.

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Judie Banfield, a third-grade Hernando Elementary School instructor, won the school district’s teacher of the year for 2022.

“I’m truly grateful and blessed, and I thank God and my family for the support they’ve given me to go to school and become a teacher,” Banfield told the Chronicle. “I’m blessed to work at such and amazing place with such amazing people.”

Banfield said she dedicated her award to Citrus County teachers, who taught and helped inspire her.

“Without them,” she said, “I wouldn’t be the teacher I’d be."

“Judie exemplifies a professional educator who makes a tremendous difference in the lives of all students,” Hernando Elementary School Principal Kyle Jaecks wrote in his nomination letter for Banfield, who’s taught more than six years in the district. “Her busy, bustling classroom is a model for all educators.”

Rick Godfrey SREY Photo

Crystal River Primary School ESE Paraprofessional Rick Godfrey, center, stands with School Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel, left, and Citrus County Education Foundation Executive Director Shaunda Burdette Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after being named the Citrus County School District's school related employee of the year for 2021.

Rick Godfrey, an ESE paraprofessional with Crystal River Primary School, won the honor of being the district's school related employee of the year for 2021.

“It’s definitely an honor,” the 12-year district employee said in his acceptance speech. “I know how tough it is for someone to be here; it’s got to be hard, everybody’s so good.”

“His willingness to help in any way needed is evident,” Crystal River Primary School Principal Donnie Brown wrote in Godfrey’s nomination letter, “as he helps a child use a communicative device, locate the appropriate key on the computer keyboard, use the bathroom, control his/her temper or just have a conversation with a child or adult who is having a difficult day.”

Citrus County School District Logo

Before the winners were announced, Dr. Scott Hebert and Amy Crowell, the school district’s respective chief academic officer and director of research and accountability, introduced their Facebook Live audience to the teacher and support person nominees from each district school and site.

Each nominee got a gift bag including a $50 check, and the two winners got a $500 gift from the education foundation.

In a traditional year without COVID-19, the College of Central Florida hosts Galaxy of Stars at its Lecanto campus; however the pandemic forced the event to go virtual, featuring a few technical glitches, a mask malfunction and humorous word play from its two hosts.

“We weren’t going to cancel this event,” Citrus County Education Foundation Executive Director Shaunda Burdette said, opening the event alongside School Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel. “We have to be able to celebrate what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

“It’s always our favorite event … we’ve got a great team of employees,” Himmel added, before joining Burdette in thanking their community supporters.

Citrus County Education Foundation Logo

Schools and other district locations hosted after-hour decorated screenings, catered by Katch Twenty-Two, for their two nominees and their family to catch the online Galaxy of the Stars ceremony, presented by the Suncoast Credit Union.

Sam Himmel mug

Sandra "Sam" Himmel.

While Banfield and Godfrey were watching, Himmel and Burdette gave them a surprise visit at their respective schools to award them with a plaque.

State Rep. Ralph Massullo also sent in a taped word of gratitude, along with newly-elected county commissioners, Ruthie Schlabach and Holly Davis.

Judie Banfield MUG

Hernando Elementary School instructor Judie Banfield, the Citrus County School District's teacher of the year for 2022.

“I am so proud of every one of you, and for what you have done for the children of Citrus County,” Schlabach said. “We have generations of people you have affected. Thank you so much for giving your time, money and love.”

“Never underestimate the power you have over kids’ lives,” Davis added.

Rick Godfrey MUG

Crystal River Primary School ESE Paraprofessional Rick Godfrey, the Citrus County School District's school related employee of the year for 2021.

For a complete list of nominees for the school district’s teacher and support person of the year, read this story online at chronicleonline.com

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916,  bthompson@chronicleonline.com or visit tinyurl.com/yxn2ahso to see more of his stories.

Teacher of the Year Nominees

Source: Citrus County School District

Name School Position
Julie Walker Central Ridge Elementary Reading Interventionist
Dana Rise Citrus High 10th & 12th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Anthony Nales Citrus Springs Elementary Behavior/ESE Teacher
Lorelle Enos Citrus Springs Middle Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher
Greg Elliott CREST ESE Teacher
Elizabeth Rivera Crystal River High JROTC Senior Naval Science Instructor
Tammy Rall Crystal River Middle Sixth Grade Science Teacher
Niky Wardlow Crystal River Primary Interventionist
Melanie Briggs Floral City Elementary Physical Education Teacher
Michelle Lahera Forest Ridge Elementary Second Grade Teacher
Judie Banfield Hernando Elementary Third Grade Teacher
Jennifer Namey Homosassa Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher
Benjamin Davis Inverness Middle Seventh & Eighth Grade Language Arts Teacher
Marli Dilocker Inverness Primary Title I Behaivor Interventionist
Tim Phillips, posthumously Lecanto High ESE Teacher
Pasquale Bartello Lecanto Middle Eighth Grade Science Teacher
Cassaundra Lantzy Lecanto Primary ESE Teacher
Laura Cooper Pleasant Grove Elementary First Grade Teacher
Megan Spelich Rock Crusher Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher
Nicholas DiGeloromo Withlacoochee Technical College Culinary Arts Instructor

Support Person of the Year Nominees

Source: Citrus County School District

Name School Position
Todd Harness Central Ridge Elementary Paraprofessional/Tech Aide
Tiff McCall Citrus High Bookkeeper
Michele Wilson Citrus Springs Elementary Paraprofessional
Kathy Richie Citrus Springs Middle Health Room Attendant
Tres Banda CREST School ESE Paraprofessional
Diedra Newton Crystal River High Technology Support Specialist
Jennifer Hurtado Crystal River Middle Food Service Manager
Rick Godfrey Crystal River Primary ESE Paraprofessional
Joahna Villachica Floral City Elementary Pre-K Paraprofessional
Heather Peffers Forest Ridge Elementary ESE Paraprofessional
Pauline Keen Hernando Elementary Food Service Manager
Mary Ann Klonk Homosassa Elementary Food Service Assistant
Tina Brailsford Inverness Middle Paraprofessional/Media Aide
Darla Kell Inverness Primary Paraprofessional
Helene Polazzo Lecanto High School Office Clerk
Dana Courter Lecanto Middle Data Secretary
Deborah Cahela Lecanto Primary Data Secretary
Christina McKettrick Pleasant Grove Elementary Pre-K Paraprofessional
Adriana Winkelholz Rock Crusher Elementary Paraprofessional/Media Aide
Patrick Durbin Withlacoochee Technical College Custodian
Salvatore Capasso III Food & Nutrition Services Programmer/Analyst
Rhonda Boedecker Educational Services Administrative Secretary
Linda Peltier Facilities, Construction, Maintenance Purchasing Agent
Lisa Stewart Technology Resource Center Administrative Secretary
Heather Powers-Wallace Crystal River Transportation Transportation Analyst
Debra Hartje Inverness Transportation Bus Operator
Daniel Williamson Lecanto Transportation Vehicle Maintenance Tech