Nassau Education Foundation
January 16, 2020
On Friday, January 10, 2020, the Nassau Education Foundation held its sixth annual Teacher of the Year Gala at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Florida Senator Aaron Bean, Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns, Nassau County School Board Chair Donna Martin, Nassau Education Foundation Board President Brandy Carvalho and outgoing Nassau County Teacher of the Year, Jessica Watkins announced Whitney Jones, second-grade teacher at Wildlight Elementary, as this year’s winner. Jones will go on to represent Nassau County in the selection process for the 2021 Florida Teacher of the Year.
Hosted by the Nassau Education Foundation, the gala serves as the foundation’s largest fundraiser. Since its inception in 2015, the organization has awarded over $500,000 to all schools throughout the district. Funds raised are used to provide classroom grants in every school.
“The caliber of teachers in Nassau County is immeasurable and the dedication to our students is overwhelming,” said Abby Bean, executive director for the Nassau Education Foundation. “We are grateful to our sponsors, donors and attendees for helping us to continue our mission and for making the evening a memorable one for our teachers.”
Jones began her teaching at Yulee Primary, where she taught for five years before joining her current team at Wildlight Elementary School two years ago. She serves as the second-grade team leader and grade level chair, providing instructional leadership in curriculum planning and development. She also leads her colleagues in implementing effective teaching strategies, planning standards-based lessons, and preparing students for third grade. Jones is also on her school’s Action Plan Team that is instrumental in creating a plan to help the lowest quartile students make their learning gains. In addition to collaborating with her second-grade team, Jones wrote a grant for a school-wide project entitled “The Leader in Me.” Through this project, every staff member participated in a book study focused on creating a leadership culture and teaching students how to individually track their academic goals through personalized data notebooks. Clearly, Jones has not only impacted student outcomes in her own classroom, but in the classrooms of other colleagues at Wildlight as well.
In her district packet, Jones shares her philosophy of teaching: “I find that no matter who the student is or what their life is like outside of school, they will work hard when they are shown love and respect.” She also defines her role, illustrated through these words: “I am called to serve my students as they look to me for encouragement, guidance, and compassion.” There is no greater joy than to know I made a difference in a child’s life.”
Besides Ms. Jones, the other finalists include: Heather Drury, Callahan Intermediate School; Lee Ann Brubaker, Hilliard Elementary School; Ashley Murray, Yulee High School; and Patrick Schinella, Yulee Middle School.
The additional eleven school Teachers of the Year are: Natalie Faucher, Bryceville Elementary School; Michelle Barnes, Callahan Elementary School; Stephanie Lundquist, Callahan Middle School; Katherine Sicotte, Emma Love Hardee Elementary School; Evelyn French, Fernandina Beach High School; Heather Stefanski, Fernandina Beach Middle School; Marella Hunter, Hilliard Middle-Senior High School; Carol Ann Young, Southside Elementary School; Jennifer Helbert, West Nassau High School; Kellie Jones, Yulee Elementary School, and Toni Webber, Yulee Primary School.
The selection of the Nassau County Teacher of the Year is part of a state-wide program sponsored by the Florida Department of Education. Locally, each school selects a nominee for the county-wide award, and each of those 16 nominees must submit three essays, a resume, and a lesson plan. They are also video-recorded teaching a 20 to 30-minute lesson.
The five finalists are identified and announced by Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns and must then complete two additional essay questions and participate in an interview by the selection team. The winner selected represents the district as a nominee for the Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year. Since 2006, Nassau County has had three state finalists and one state winner of the Florida Teacher of the Year.