FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Speeches by educators can sometimes be boring and dry, but the one delivered by Executive Director of School Improvement for the Florida Department of Education Dusty Sims to close out the 2023-24 school year for the annual Flagler County Education Foundation Dinner was anything but boring.

Know Your Audience

Did you know Optimus Prime lives in Palm Coast?

Yes, you read that right.

The metaphor used by Sims, the former principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School, to describe a childhood experience resonated with everyone in the room. Fascinated, guests listened as he told the story of the gift that went from tractor trailer to the most righteous of Transformers because he believed what met the eye could be so much more.

“Optimus Prime is the head dog Transformer. He was more than meets the eye. You see, I had to transform him. I had to apply my talents, and my skills and my knowledge to that tractor trailer. When I picked it up, and I started moving those parts and one wasn’t moving right and another would go the wrong way and I’m trying to figure out how to transform him into the baddest of all Transformers there is, Optimus Prime. And when I finally got him into the shape of Optimus Prime, he could do way more than all my army men. He was going to defeat the bad because he was good. It’s a good versus evil and he was overcoming all of that because I applied what I had to that tractor trailer,” said Sims.

“When these students walk into our classrooms, they’re just kids. With your funds and your resources, and what you provide to the vet tech program, the fire academy, the entrepreneurship academy, the marketing program, the law program, all the programs that you have in Flagler County, do you know how blessed you are? I told people, do you have your elevator speech about what’s going on in Flagler County? Let me tell you what’s going on, we’re transforming lives. Optimus Prime lives in Flagler County,” he declared to rousing applause and cheers.

Urging the community, supporters, teachers, and parents to see children in Flagler County for their potential, everyone dug deep to meet the evening’s $75,000 fundraising goal for the education foundation.

Excellence In Leadership

Since taking the helm after the passing of her husband, FCEF Executive Director Teresa Rizzo has been surrounded by a rock-solid support system, among them, Joe and Kelly Wright. The Wrights discovered their passion for the foundation several years ago as have other benefactors. Stepping up lead, Joe encouraged the foundation’s staff and board to put their all into setting new benchmarks for success, raising more than $1.2 million this year.

The evening marked Joe Wright’s final day as President of the Flagler County Education Foundation, a term that has been nothing short of record-breaking noted executive director Teresa Rizzo.

“I say, with gentle pressure, he gave us clear expectations on what he wanted from us and we worked really hard. It’s the best year the Foundation’s ever had,” she said.

“It’s my last night as President of the Board and I’m so excited about the year we had and the year to come,” shared Joe Wright. Some of his greatest joys have came from the day-to-day involvement with the students and seeing the progress made on their behalf, but there was a special twinkle in his eye on Thursday night as his wife received a well-deserved recognition.

During the evening’s celebrations Kelly Wright was honored as the first recipient of the Women in Philanthropy Award, something long overdue, according to Teresa Rizzo.

“I feel like Joe Wright always gets shined in the light as being a philanthropist in our county but it is actually Kelly behind the scenes. I just feel like it was a moment and her time to shine. The whole team agreed, Kelly is the Woman in Philanthropy and I love the hot pink jacket on her. It looks amazing,” gushed Rizzo. “I think it’s time that we started this precedent. We hear all about men giving but it’s time.”

What’s Next? 

Helping tally up the final donations of the evening, FCEF Assistant Director of Finance and Operations Maryiotti Johnson was proud of the team’s accomplishments.

“I am extremely thrilled for the goals that we’ve set, more importantly the goals that we’ve reached for our students, families and teachers in Flagler,” said Johnson. “We could not do it without the support of the community. We’re excited tonight that we have raised over $75,000 to put back into our classrooms, back into our students, back into our families, because we are moving Flagler forward.”

Undaunted by the challenge to exceed this year’s success, Johnson said they are ready to keep the momentum going.

“As big as Joe thinks, we dream bigger. He lights the fire and we pour the gas on it. We’re going to do it with the team Teresa Rizzo has set up, our executive director, and I’m extremely excited for the future of the Flagler County Education Foundation.”

The evening culminated with the swearing in of the new executive board members and four new additions to the board of directors.

“I’m looking forward to making it happen for kids in Flagler County, continuing to raise the bar and helping our superintendent LaShakia Moore meet the needs of those kids and families,” shared Khanh-Lien Banko, after being sworn in as the new president of the Flagler County Education Foundation.

Asked about breaking records, Banko was modest.

“I don’t have any tricks. It’s just the same thing you saw tonight. It’s just the personal touch of remembering what it was like to be in school. Remembering what teachers and schools do for us, which is remind us of the assets we are in life, and hoping that our community, which is truly tremendous, gracious, and charitable will rise to occasion to meet the needs of those 13,000 plus students we’ve got in Flagler County every single year in and year out,” she said.


Rashawnda Lloyd Miller, Sue Freytag and Peter Freytag were recognized as the 2023-24 Joe Rizzo ‘Make It Happen’ honorees. Chiumento Law received the 2023-24 ‘Community Connection’ Award for the Chiumento CARES initiative.

FCEF 2024-25 Executive Board:

  • President: Khanh-Lien Banko
  • Vice President: Maria Lavin-Sanhudo
  • Vice President: Chelsea Barney-Herbert
  • Secretary: Rashawnda Lloyd Miller
  • Treasurer: Dr. Jennifer Kennedy

New FCEF Board Members:

  • John Distler
  • Jordan Farrell
  • Katie Palmer
  • Richard Cooper