FB Pixel Skip To Main Content

Teaching with Heart and Soul - Judy White-Ora

Judy White Ora

A Voice for Children - Keeping the Torch Ignited

The Legacy Begins

Judy White-Ora's professional career began in the Ypsilanti Public School District. As an elementary classroom teacher, Judy was an educator who taught from the heart. She was passionate about making a difference in the life of every student. Judy refused to make judgments about the value of a child based on what was assessed as "normal." She recognized the unique gifts in each child and learned to help them discover their talents and potential.

Fostering the Passion

Innately an educator, Judy White-Ora considered life to be her classroom. Passionate to share the lessons she was learning about educational best practice, she became the Director of Curriculum for Ypsilanti Public Schools. In the mid 1980's she joined the Farmington Public School District as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development. As a leader, she mentored and modeled teaching with passion, heart and soul. She inspired others to pursue leadership positions. Judy White-Ora was steadfast in her beliefs about what was best for children, never afraid to live her convictions, doing all she could to help each and every child succeed.

An Educator with Heart and Soul

On January 9, 2006, all educators lost a true soul mate. Judy White-Ora, retired assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for Farmington Public Schools, died of cancer. Judy was one of Michigan's first female educational administrators and for over thirty years a prominent figure in Michigan's educational community. During her career, she worked side by side with former State Superintendent Michael Flanagan, when he served as the superintendent of Farmington Public Schools.

A Seed is Planted

A high school counselor once told Judy not to apply to college because she wasn't collegiate material. Later in life Judy took a copy of her assistant superintendent's paycheck and proudly displayed it to that counselor. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI. Judy completed advanced course work in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.

Living the Passion

During her tenure as the assistant superintendent of Farmington Public Schools she supervised more than 1000 educators. She devoted much of her energy to improving education and demonstrating best practice. Judy White-Ora proudly created and opened the Highmeadow Common Campus, a model of best practices in education. She began Farmington's first Leadership Academy for aspiring leaders and administrators. She was a founder of the Galileo Teacher Leadership Academy to promote best practice and instructional leadership for classroom teachers. Those who had the privilege of working with her knew she had a sense of possibility, toughness and duty to serve others. Always a believer in collaboration and problem solving, Judy helped negotiate agreements using a collaborative bargaining process. This process influenced the formation of Farmington's "Three Pillars", which is a collaboration of the association leaders, district administrators and Board of Education. Following her retirement, Judy continued consulting and leading professional development with the Michigan Education Association and school district staff.

A Bend in the Journey

Judy White-Ora believed in investing in people and relationships. She was a dedicated and loving mother. She raised ten children. Her thirty-five years in education ended with a relationship of her own. On October 1, 2005 Judy radiated with joy as she married Richard Ora. In November 2005, she discovered metastasized breast cancer that invaded her spinal cord and subsequently her brain. The shock of three months left to live did not squelch her indomitable spirit. She used her limited time to meet with friends and colleagues to discuss the importance of helping students achieve. Continuing to live by example, she emphasized the importance of never giving up.

Keeping the Dream Alive

Following her death, educators were not alone in sharing memories of Judy White-Ora. Her legacy is far reaching and leaves an unsurpassed imprint on education in the state of Michigan. During her career, Judy broke a lot of glass ceilings and turned obstacles into opportunities. She loved educators and she loved serving them. Judy believed in making a difference in the lives of every child and did so with passion and humor. The educators whose lives she touched want to celebrate her life and recognize the numerous contributions she made to education. Being the great designer of the scaffolding that creates great educators, Judy White-Ora wrote a pledge from the lessons she learned at each destination in her life's journey. It was her mission and dream to have every educator sign this pledge. Judy's death rekindles the words of John F. Kennedy, "the torch has been passed to a new generation" of educators. Educators across the state have picked up the torch ignited by Judy White's passion. We are asking every educator to sign this pledge, honoring her legacy, making a positive difference in the life of every child. Please join us as we keep Judy's dream alive by signing the pledge, displaying it in your room and sharing it with other educators. Judy's ultimate goal was to receive one million signatures from educators around the world.

The Pledge

Today I will:

  • Respect the uniqueness of each child
  • Ignite the joy of learning
  • Listen to their voices
  • Put human connections first
  • Encourage the spirit and let their light shine
  • Create a caring learning community

I will join my colleagues across the world to make our schools safe places where each child can flourish.

Download the Pledge


Jeffery Rehbine, receives the Judy White-Ora Teaching with Heart and Soul award for 2024

Previous Winners 

Jeffrey Rehbine, Farmington STEAM Academy - 2024

Kimmi Dukes, Farmington High School - 2023

Carol McGorisk, Longacre Elementary School - 2022

Kyle Curtis, Wood Creek Elementary School - 2021

Due to COVID-19 the Judy White-Ora Teaching with Heart and Soul Award was cancelled and no winner selected for 2020

Kathy Koperski, Warner Middle School - 2019

Greg Drozdowski, North Farmington High School & Kim Zell, Wood Creek Elementary School - 2018

MaryBeth Sikora, Power Middle School - 2017

Julie Folkert, Dunckel Middle School - 2016

Patricia Pomaranski, Highmeadow Common Campus - 2015

Elyse Jahnke, Warner Upper Elementary School - 2014

Nancy Morris, Hillside Elementary School - 2013

Hatty Ligon, Warner Upper Elementary School - 2012 (co-winner)
Ann Marie Robinson, Hillside Elementary School - 2012 (co-winner)

Nikki Schueller, North Farmington High School - 2011

Pamela Gutierrez, Power Middle School - 2010

Maria Blanco, Gill Elementary - 2009

Vitas Underys - 2008

Marian Orihel - 2007