When Flagler Schools Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt opened the envelopes and announced the district’s 2023 Teacher and Employee of the Year, the winners were humbled and honored, they said.
Matanzas High School math teacher Lee Winfree was named the district’s Teacher of the Year, while Custodial Services secretary Renee Berry was named Employee of the Year.
“I’m very honored. I didn’t expect it. There are so many great teachers here in Flagler County. They all do amazing things.”
— LEE WINFREE, Flagler County Teacher of the Year
Winfree and Berry will now be considered with the other district winners for the state Teacher and Employee of the Year awards.
The district honored all of its Teachers of the Year and Employees of the Year from each school and department at its annual gala on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Flagler Auditorium. It also honored Rookie Teachers of the Year, for the first time, recognizing a teacher from each school who has been teaching for three years or less.
The district’s 2022-23 Principal of the Year Marcus Sanfilippo and Assistant Principal of the Year of Donelle Evensen spoke at the gala. Sanfilippo and Evensen are both administrators at Bunnell Elementary School.
Winfree is the second high school math teacher in a row to be named Flagler’s Teacher of the Year. Jim Gambone, a math teacher at Flagler Palm Coach High School, was the county’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.
The coincidence was not lost on Winfree.
“If you think about the Matanzas and FPC rivalry, part of me was, ‘I hope I kind of win,’ because the math teacher at FPC won, Mr. Gambone. I would like to be able to do the same, just so we could have that even at the high schools.”
But when Mittelstadt announced his name, Winfree said he was surprised and humbled.
“I’m very honored. I didn’t expect it,” he said. “There are so many great teachers here in Flagler County. They all do amazing things as the pieces (in the Observer) showed. So, I’m very honored, I’m very surprised.”
Berry, the secretary for Flagler Schools’ Custodial Director Kenny Seybold, said winning from among a field of 17 school and department Employees of the Year was very unexpected.
“I’m behind the scenes all the time,” she said. “I’ve been in this role for almost nine years. And I’ve been through three different directors in custodial. They nominated me this year, and it was just very unexpected.”
Berry said she is part of a very large team with 146 employees in the custodial department and loves being part of it.
“(The custodians) do anything and everything. They keep the classrooms clean. They do anything for the buildings, for the principals, the administration. They jump through hoops to make sure everybody’s life is much easier,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. It’s very humbling. We do in-services and holiday events and custodial appreciation, and I put together things for them, but you can’t ever give back as much as they give.”
Winfree teaches advanced placement calculus, AP statistics and honors probability and statistics. He also teaches college algebra and college trigonometry to Matanzas dual-enrolled students through Daytona State College.
Winfree earned a second master’s degree in 2018 so he could teach the college classes at the high school for students who don’t have transportation to have the opportunity to be dual-enrolled.
He said teaching all honors and AP classes brings its own challenges.
“You get students who are used to getting all A’s and B’s and are possibly struggling for the first time,” Winfree said. “I feel like I’m always trying to think, how do I make that student understand that struggling in higher level classes is (something) we’ve all been through."
Winfree also tutors after school to honors and non-honors students. He is in his 22nd year as a teacher. This is his 10th year at Matanzas. He said his students keep him motivated.
“Knowing that they’re excited to learn, and then hearing back from the students that have graduated, what they’re doing, how I’ve helped them. That has helped me constantly think about how I teach, how I want to reach those students and help them be successful after high school,” he said.