Marion Home School Liaison Bruce Denerstein Wins Employee of the Year Award

Osceola Middle’s Homeschool Liaison Bruce Denerstein, known as “Mr. D” to students and staff, was named Marion County’s 2021-22 Employee of the Year on Wednesday.

Denerstein, a four-year-old Marion County Public Schools employee with a decade of education experience, received the district’s highest annual award for out-of-classroom employees.

During her second year as a home school liaison, Denerstein monitors student attendance, looking for poor grades and discipline issues. It helps students get back on track.

2020-21: Paraprofessional Marion Cathy Gotcher Wins Top Honor

2019-20: Guidance clerk named School Employee of the Year

2018-19: Ocala secretary named School Employee of the Year

As part of his duties, he works with parents and students who miss school or have had to self-quarantine due to COVID-19. His position was created at Osceola for the 2020-21 school year during the district’s first full school year of COVID-19.

Denerstein was surprised by the honor inside the Osceola Middle School library early Wednesday morning. Denerstein is also known for his special bond with Ayden Morgan, a visually impaired student from Osceola.

Ayden has made headlines multiple times, documenting his battle with cancer that led to his sight loss. Ayden hugged Denerstein and talked about his good friend. Denerstein helps Ayden walk across campus almost every day.

Denerstein was told to go to the library to meet Ayden. Denerstein walked through the library, passing directly past dozens of dignitaries carrying balloons, gifts, and a trophy, not realizing that all of those people were there to honor him.

After officials shared all the gifts he would receive, the jovial and entertaining Denerstein looked at Superintendent of Schools Diane Gullett and three school board members and said jokingly, “I thought I’d have a few days off .”

Later, as more introductions were made, Denerstein was told he could recognize the voice of a director who was introduced. He joked again, “I hear a lot of voices.”

There are approximately 7,000 employees in the Marion County School District, which is the county’s largest employer. Nearly 3,000 of these employees are teachers. The remaining 60% are mostly support staff.

Support staff includes bus drivers, teaching assistants and clerks, as well as maintenance, construction and cafeteria workers. The Marion County Public Education Foundation sponsored the caravan, with the help of donations from area businesses.

School-related workers also include employees who maintain a fleet of more than 850 vehicles and the finance department which manages a budget of nearly $700 million to ensure employees are paid.

Veteran teacher: West Port High’s Leah Bender wins 2022 Marion County Golden Apple Teacher of the Year Award

Photos of the golden apple: West Port’s Leah Bender named 2022 Teacher of the Year

Beginning teacher: Golden Apple: Melinda Kimball of Horizon Academy Named Rookie Teacher of the Year by Marion

Last month, the district’s top teacher, Leah Bender of West Port High, was named to the Golden Apple Gala.

Meghan Magamoll, the foundation’s executive director, thanked employees for all they do, from transporting more than 20,000 students to and from school to serving more than 40,000 meals a day.

Numerous school district administrators, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Mark Vianello, and school board members Eric Cummings, Allison Campbell, and Nancy Thrower followed all or most of the caravan into town.

There was a long line of winners

The winner of last year’s 2020-21 School Employee of the Year was Cathy Gotcher, paraprofessional and substitute teacher. She was the fourth winner in six years (from 2015-16 to 2020-21) to hail from Reddick-Collier Elementary School. Reddick-Collier paraprofessional Abel Garcia won the state honor for the 2015-16 school year.

Employees from each of more than 50 schools and dozens of departments choose their school or department representative. A committee reads the applications and chooses the finalists and the eventual winner. Until recent years, the winner was named at a special luncheon at the Ocala Hilton.

Magamoll said school-linked employees said they wanted celebrations at their own schools. Magamoll said the foundation pays for special gifts, and this year a Betty Cake (from Betty Cakes Bakery & Cafe) will be sent to each school/department.

Were also honored on Wednesday during a caravan:

Shanna Jennings, social worker

Shanna Jennings, social work assistant at the district office, was honored as a finalist for school-related honors.

Jennings, who is a social worker for students at Oakcrest Elementary, Howard Middle and Vanguard High, was in a meeting at Marion Technical College when she was surprised by the trailer in front of several of her peers.

“I’m grateful to work for this department,” Jennings said. “It’s an amazing department. Everyone is like family. I know this job was given to me by God. I prayed for it when I was trying to figure out my calling.”

In a letter of recommendation, Marion’s Zone Superintendent, Melissa Kinard, wrote that one of Jennings’ “strengths is building positive relationships with families, which helps her problem address the root cause of issues. student attendance”.

Kinard wrote that Jennings goes above and beyond to advocate for Oakcrest students and families and follows them to their feeder schools at Howard Middle and Vanguard High.

“She meets individually with identified students to help them set goals for their attendance and checks in with them weekly to make sure they are having success,” Kinard wrote.

Karen Gaines, cafeteria manager

Karen Gaines, the cafeteria manager at Hillcrest School, received the ‘Above and Beyond’ award.

Gaines was caught inside the cafeteria at Hillcrest, which is a school for Marion County students with the most severe mental and physical disabilities. Gaines, with tears in her eyes, was shocked to see that around 50 people were there to cheer her on.

“She knows every student,” says an appointment letter. The letter, posted by WorkStudy teacher Tracy Bravo, says Gaines knows “the likes and dislikes” of each student.

Gaines was also instrumental in hiring a student from Hillcrest in the cafeteria. The student had worked with her in the kitchen on a work-study basis and she saw real potential in her job skills and understanding of the job.

“She recommended him for an OJT (On the Job Training) position and he was employed while attending Hillcrest,” Bravo wrote. “This is the first for Hillcrest and I am very grateful to him for giving him this opportunity.”

Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.

The nominees

(These are the nominees for each school, department and transportation. There were about 60 in all and a committee chose five finalists and the winner was surprised Monday.)


Anthony: Antonio Stanley

Nice view : Susan Hamblem

Belleview Santos: Lisa Seas

College Park: Jennifer Nelson

Dr. NH Jones: Tina Garvin

Dunnellon: Maegan Shaffer

Marion East: april miller

Eighth Street: Christy Godin

Emerald Coasts: Traci Weiss Dorsey

Fesseden: Suzanne Sanders

Greenway: Amos Alexander

Hammet Bowen: Angel Fernandez Ramos

Harbor view: Juan Mendez-Reveron

Heritage: Mandy Glen

Madison Street: Helen Willis

Maple wood: Miranda Underwood

Marion Oaks: Nathaniel Mulkey

Oakcrest: Barbara Godvin

Ocala Springs: Chris Acevedo

Reddick-Collier: Fried Patty

Romeo: Miriam Torres Cruz

Saddle wood: Darniece Nunn

Shady Hill: Janet Moser

South Ocala: wooden hattie

Sparr: Alfreda Ray

Stanton-Weirsdale: Omar Rodriguez

Sunrise: Nidia Delgado

Neighborhood-Highlands: Rebecca Williams

Wyoma Park: Cynthia Mackey


Nice view : Christel Borges

Dunnellon: Frank Knapp

ft. King: Leslie Melendez Rosa

Howard: Kenyetta Johnson

Weir Lake: Sharon Duke Clark

Freedom: Jose Lugo / Wanda Dishon

Marion North: Amber Morgan

Osceole: Bruce Denerstein


Nice view : Deborah Fritch

Dunnellon: Joyce Boyle

Forest: Anthony Waters

Weir Lake: Carmen Lopez

MTI: Martha Martinez

Marion North: Sharlene Sales

Vanguard: John McDonald

West Port: Walter Rumney


Hillcrest School: Karen Gaines

Horizon Academy: Carmen Lopez

Fort McCoy School: Robin McCallum

Marion Technical High School: Vera Jones


Central Warehouse/Purchasing: John Cook

Food and Nutrition Services: Thomas Kroohs

Federal grants and programs: Giojan Davila

Marion Virtual School: Diane Henderson

Mental health and well-being: Shanna Jennings

Professional direction: Tracy Voigt

Student pathways: Lynn Vachon


Area 1: Cassandra Thornton

Area 2: Rena Thorton

Area 3: Judith Ditzel

Area 4: James Teston

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