OSZ Influencer of the Week: Michelle Ishmail of Prairie Lake Elementary

The media specialist/librarian has been at PLES since 2000, when she was hired as a third-grade teacher.

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Michelle Ishmail is the media specialist/library at Prairie Lake Elementary School and serves as the Faculty Advisory Committee chairperson and the school’s CTA union representative. Her main job duties are working with administration and teachers to provide resources that support the curriculum. This year, she handled the technology as nearly 900 students received either iPads or laptops for the first time. She was a critical part of the success Prairie Lake had this year.

Ishmail said her most important and treasured job duty is to help foster a lifelong love for reading and books, and she does this through exposing students to different genres of books, providing access to multiple sources of print and nonprint books, and having reading competitions and literacy celebrations. She had students complete interest inventories and visited classrooms with books that matched student interests and pulled books for pick-up for students learning at home. 


What brought you to your school?

My final year of working in Wakulla County, I taught a third-grade inclusion-model ESE class. Our class was invited to perform at the governor’s family summit in Orlando. Our liaison had students attending my school and raved about how great the school was. Since my family was moving to Orlando, I applied, interviewed and left that day as a member of the faculty.


What do you love most about your school?

I love many things about our school, but what I love the most is that our students always come first. Our administrators, faculty and staff share the belief that our students’ wellbeing — emotional, social and academic — is our No. 1 priority.


What is your motivation?

My motivation in life is to have a positive impact on the lives of those who I come in contact with.


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

As the media specialist, I am in most of our students’ lives from kindergarten to fifth grade. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing evidence that I have built strong relationships with our students and that they view me as a safe, trusted adult in their life. I also cherish the moments when students share with me their excitement about a book they have read or are currently reading.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I like to spend time with my immediate and extended family — visiting, having parties, vacationing, playing games and group texting — whatever ways, big and small, to stay connected with each other.


Who was your favorite teacher when you were in school? Why?

My favorite teacher was Sister Christine, my sixth-grade teacher. She was loving, strict and had high expectations for all of her students. She instilled in us the value and power of an education.


When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

By the eighth grade I knew that I was going to be an educator. I credit it to having been blessed with so many great, inspiring teachers in my life.


What is your favorite children’s book and why?

My favorite children’s book is “Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti” by Gerald McDermott. I grew up listening to my grandmother telling me my beloved Anansi stories. This book helped me connect that words on a page were just as powerful as those spoken and that I could unleash those words myself through reading.


What are your hobbies?

My hobbies are reading and watching Florida State football. Go, ’Noles!


If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

My superpower would be to adequately fund public schools with the resources students and teachers need for success. It is time our actions matched our words.


If you could only listen to three bands or artists for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

If I had to be limited to only three artists for the rest of my life, I would pick Bob Marley, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson because they were the best of the best!


How long have you been at your school and with OCPS?

I have been at my school and OCPS for 21 years! I started out as a third-grade teacher in 2000 and became the media specialist in 2007.



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.