Congratulations to our 2019 S.T.A.R. Award winners

District Administrator of the Year

Lea Mitchell

Office for Leading and Learning


Lea Mitchell is the director of the Office for Leading and Learning.  She currently oversees K-12 curriculum, instruction and materials, professional development and school supports, enriched and innovative programs as well as instructional technology.  In June of 2016, she moved to Pasco County and began working at the district office as the director of Professional Development and School Supports.

Ms. Mitchell began her career as an elementary school teacher in inner-city Phoenix, Arizona after receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University.  From Arizona, she moved to Lexington, Kentucky where she served as an ESOL teacher and instructional coach, earned her Master’s Degree in Administration and Instruction from the University of Kentucky, and started her administrative career as an elementary school assistant principal. After a number of years living in Kentucky, Mrs. Mitchell and her family relocated to her home town area of Denver, Colorado, where she served as an assistant principal (2009-2011) and principal (2011-2016) at two different elementary schools. Greatly missing the warmth and sunshine offered in Arizona and wanting to live a more tropical, beach-going lifestyle, she moved to Florida in June of 2016.

Lea Mitchell is a dedicated educator, but also a loving wife to her husband Anthony and caring mother to son Max. When they aren’t all busy working and learning they are avid Kentucky basketball fans and can be found traveling the country to see their team in action or hitting up local beaches to enjoy the Florida Sunshine.

Ms. Mitchell is honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve and support countless teachers, leaders, students and families. She is deeply committed to delivering on the mission and vision of Pasco County schools for every child and family, including her own.

Principal of the Year

Carin Hetzler-Nettles

Cypress Creek Middle High School


Carin Hetzler-Nettles is the principal of Cypress Creek Middle High School, overseeing students in grades 6-12. Mrs. Hetzler-Nettles is a product of Pasco County Schools, having attended Sanders Memorial Elementary, Lake Myrtle Elementary, Pineview Middle, and Land O’ Lakes High School. She joined the Pasco County school system in 1996 as special education teacher at River Ridge Middle School.  In 2000, she helped open J.W. Mitchell High School as a special education teacher. She became an assistant principal in 2004 at J.W. Mitchell High School, and was appointed principal of Wesley Chapel High School in 2009. Mrs. Hetzler-Nettles has enjoyed serving the Pasco community for more than 23 years. She is most honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Wesley Chapel students, staff, administrators and community to not only turn it’s school grade around, but to create programs at Wesley Chapel that have set an example for others.  She opened Cypress Creek Middle High School in 2017 as its first principal, which involved working with the construction team, selecting and ordering everything from furniture to curriculum materials, and hiring all the staff.  Under her leadership, the school has established a mission and vision and set traditions that have brought students from six schools together into one collaborative student body.  Finally, she is honored to have assisted numerous teachers and assistant principals in the advancement of their careers in educational leadership.

Mrs. Hetzler-Nettles holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education, a Master’s Degree in Varying Exceptionalities, and certification in Educational Leadership from the University of South Florida.

Assistant Principal of the Year

Amy Riddle

Gulf High School

Assistant Principal

Amy Riddle began her career in Pasco County in 1993 as the band and choral director at Gulf Middle School; and in 1997, she became the full-time choral director at Gulf High School.  In January 2010, Mrs. Riddle became an assistant principal at Land O’ Lakes High School; and in June 2015, she became assistant principal at River Ridge Middle School, finally coming full circle and returning to Gulf High School in June of 2018.

Mrs. Riddle has enjoyed serving and working with the Pasco community for the past 26 years. She is most proud of the impact she had on her students throughout her time as the GHS choral director along with the work she has done as an administrator at all of the school communities she was fortunate enough to be a part of over the latter part of her tenure.

Holding a Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida, a Masters of Education degree from National-Louis University and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Saint Leo University, Mrs. Riddle wholeheartedly embraces the love of life-long learning.

Mrs. Riddle and her husband, Glenn, have been married for 25 years and have two beautiful daughters.  Brianna, who graduated in 2018 from Gulf High School and now attends the University of Florida, and Alyssa, who is a junior at River Ridge High School, are their pride and joy.

NNB of the Year

Michael Witfoth

Custodial Services Area Specialist


Michael Witfoth, Jr. was born in Dade City, Florida, the middle child of three siblings and a cousin to more than 120 Witfoths. Michael played four years of varsity football as an offensive lineman for the Royal Knights and graduated from River Ridge High School in 2002.  At the age of 19, he started his career with Pasco County Schools. He has lived in Pasco all his life and has worked for the district for the past 17 years.

He began his career working as a maintenance assistant at the Northwest Bus Garage where he learned the importance of being part of a team. When an opportunity became available, Michael accepted a position in the Maintenance Department learning the trades of fencing, flooring, and welding. His ambition to learn and desire to excel led him to obtain his certified and master custodian certifications. Once certified he became the assistant plant manager at Pine View Elementary, and a year later, he opened Connerton Elementary as its first plant manager, where he successfully led a dedicated and hardworking custodial team for six years.

Michael’s work ethic and commitment to the students of Pasco County were key factors in earning his current position as a custodial area specialist. He oversees 25 elementary school plant managers and works alongside them striving every day for the highest of standards in cleanliness. He has enjoyed his career with Pasco County Schools and relishes the opportunity to serve its students.

SRP of the Year

Kathleen “Katie” Jeffcott

Stewart Middle School

Resource Management Associate

Katie Jeffcott started her career with Pasco County Schools nine years ago and she has been at Stewart Middle for the last six years. Her primary responsibilities include all the inventory, distribution, maintenance and repair of all of the technology on campus.

Katie is an active member of the school through her coaching of cheerleading, soccer (boys and girls) and track. She continues to support her athletes in high school and college by attending their games or just being someone to talk to. She continuously volunteers at Stewart Middle outside of her coaching responsibilities with National Junior Honor Society, dances (where she is often the DJ), and fundraising for school or community projects. Katie has created and coordinated several programs such as Alternative Field Day, Intensive Math rewards, 6th and 7th grade carnivals, and spirit week. She also is responsible for coordinating pep rallies and book fairs.

Recently, Katie and her NJHS students came to the rescue of the local Meals on Wheels program after several robberies left them short of donations. The NJHS kids raised $1,200 with a trash-a-thon, in which the children collected garbage throughout the community and received donations based on how much they collected. Meals on Wheels was presented with the check in early November. She also partners with Thomas Promise, Relay for Life, and Angel tree.

Katie feels the need to bring service back to the kids, the school and the community. “If you don’t volunteer you lose something,” she says.

Teacher of the Year

Holly Mickler

Pasco Middle School

AVID Elective Teacher/Coordinator

“In high school came the opportunity to spend my elective as a peer in the self-contained classroom, and with that extraordinary experience, my path in education was solidified.  I believe I’ve found my niche within education as an AVID Elective teacher and AVID coordinator because this role not only allows but expects me to focus on creating a family of students, on building up students as individuals, on constructing a culture of success.  I watch my kids gain confidence, advocate for themselves and others, turn into leaders, and experience growth they never imagined for themselves.”

Mrs. Mickler has been teaching 14 years, all at Pasco Middle School.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Appalachian State University.  Mrs. Mickler states that intentionally planned flexibility is what turns good teachers into great teachers.  Her end goal shifts with the needs of her students and she uses the mantra, “Do what we gotta do!” to change, protect and save futures.  She considers it a challenge and a pleasure to learn what makes her students who they are and then to “do what I gotta do” so their goals have a better chance of being fulfilled.  She believes that non-academic skills such as perseverance, time management, curiosity, manners, and character should also be taught.  Mrs. Mickler’s district supervisor has challenged her to make Pasco Middle an AVID National Demonstration School, giving her the responsibility and honor of facilitating what could have ripple effects throughout the county, state and nation.  She has been awarded the Best and Brightest Scholarship in 2016, 2018, and 2019.

Professional Guest Teacher of the Year

Deborah Marocchini

Professional Guest Teacher

Pasco County Schools

Deborah Marocchini began her employment as a Guest Teacher with Pasco County Schools in February of 2018. She is currently serving as a Professional Guest Teacher at Cypress Creek Middle High School. A graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University, she has an Associates degree in Business, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Elementary Education. She has also earned her Masters in Elementary Education. Ms. Marocchini retired as a teacher in Connecticut after more than 25 years of service and relocated to Florida in 2017. After she retired, she found herself being drawn back into the classroom as she missed interacting with students on a daily basis. In her most recent role as a Professional Guest teacher, she is instructing three honors English classes, a creative writing class, and an English II class for a teacher on leave. She is highly regarded at Cypress Creek Middle High School by both students and faculty.

Guest Teacher of the Year

Sergio Contreras

Guest Teacher

Pasco County Schools

Sergio Contreras started as an AVID tutor with Pasco County Schools in September of 2014, and then joined us as a Guest Teacher.  He attended Pasco Middle and Pasco High schools, and graduated from Pasco High in May of 2015. He fills in as a guest teacher on a daily basis and mentors students who need additional behavioral guidance to encourage their success. He is a leader in the YMCA Young Achievers Program at Pasco Middle School, which is a program to keep at-risk students engaged in productive activities after school hours. He is also an AVID tutor for PMS, a college prep class to encourage students to consider post-secondary schooling. Mr. Contreras will be enrolling in PHSC this summer, working toward his degree as a physical therapy assistant.