Nassau County Council on Aging to hold “Low Vision Support Group” meeting – Jan 29

Nassau County Council on Aging
Press Release
Submitted by Liz Dunn
January 16, 2020

Nassau County Council on Aging’s (NCCOA’s) Low Vision Support Group meets once a month to provide information on adaptive devices and encourage members with vision challenges to share experiences. The next meeting will be held Wed., Jan. 29, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at NCCOA’s Fernandina Beach Life Center, 1901 Island Walk Way.

Special guest David Sproul from Island Tech Support will discuss computer assistive devices that work best for those with vision challenges. We will also provide updates on Free Talking Books (audio books) and Google Home, and share information on a video magnifier available Continue reading

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Great Decisions series returns to Fernandina for 2020

Great Decisions
Press Release
Submitted by Bob Boland
January 16, 2020

The eight “Great Decisions” classes have been offered in Fernandina Beach for several years, and they return for 2020. These classes are based on material provided by the Foreign Policy Association (FPA), including 25-minute DVDs with comments by America’s leading experts plus briefing books and other resource materials.

As the FPA CEO wrote recently, “we do not believe that global issues are too complex for citizens to understand if clearly briefed. Not to a limited circle, therefore, but to all, FPA extends an open invitation to join in a collective Continue reading

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Wildlight Elementary School teacher Whitney Jones Named Nassau County Teacher of the Year

Nassau Education Foundation
January 16, 2020

Pictured from left: Florida State Senator Aaron Bean, Teacher of the Year Whitney Jones, Outgoing Teacher of the Year Jessica Watkins, President of the Nassau Education Foundation Brandy Carvalho, School Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns, Nassau County School Board Chairman Donna Martin.

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.”

Whitney Jones

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.

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Florida Legislature convenes with spending, taxes, healthcare among issues to be debated

By John Haughey
The Center Square
January 16, 2020

Florida Senate President Bill Galvano

Sixty-seven committees and subcommittees, 156 lawmakers in two legislative chambers, 3,382 proposed bills and $91-plus billion in proposed spending – it’s going to be a busy 60 days in Tallahassee.

The Florida Legislature officially convened Tuesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis commissioned lawmakers to “seize the moment” and “deliver for the people of Florida” before the 2020 legislative session ends on March 13.

On the agenda is many agendas: Teacher pay, environmental spending, healthcare, criminal justice reform, abortion restrictions, nearly 100 firearms related bills, E-Verify, climate change, proposed toll road expansions, preemption, school choice, workforce education, emergency planning, elections security and so on.

But make no mistake, regardless the agendas, the common theme will be conservative with Republicans holding 23-17 Senate and 73-43 House advantages.

The Senate convened on a solemn note, commemorating the Dec. 6 fatal shooting of three U.S. Navy sailors – designated a terrorist attack last week by U.S. Attorney General William Barr – at Pensacola Naval Air Station by a Saudi Air Force officer.

In his ensuing opening remarks, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, reiterated what has become a theme for him in calling for lawmakers to respect and work with each other in conducting the people’s business.

“As we go into this session, let us continue to show our constituents that we can exchange and debate ideas while maintaining civility and decorum,” he said. “That we can problem solve together. That we can put aside personalities and politics for good policy. And, that we are not a microcosm of Washington D.C., but instead will continue to be an example for Washington D.C.”

Noting the session will set the tone for the decade to come, Galvano vowed to “continue to do everything I can to facilitate the opportunity for each of you to carry the dreams, goals and objectives of your constituencies to this process with fairness, respect and candor. As I have reminded you before, each of you carries the responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians you represent, and those microphones on your desk amplify their voices. I respect that.”

Before notifying the House that the Senate was in session, he closed his opening remarks by quoting Saint Mother Theresa: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva

House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, in what has become a theme for him, vowed to hold the line on spending – banging a gavel while repeating, “Spending is not caring, solving is caring” – and said cuffing the “healthcare industrial complex” is his top 2020 priority.

“We did not choose healthcare as our priority,” he said. “No, it chose us, it chose us through the sheer audacity of the defenders of the status quo.”

Oliva identified pharmaceutical companies, hospital corporations and medical device manufacturers as “the great robber-barons of our time.”

“They receive state dollars, federal dollars and private payer dollars. We also extend them all manner of local tax breaks, and it is not enough! It will never be enough,” he railed. “Until we have the courage to empower the patient and loosen the regulations which have allowed their empire-building, it will never be enough.”

Oliva asked lawmakers to imagine “God forbid, you are involved in an accident on your way home today. You will be in the hands of good people who will work hard to save your life” but “the organizations they work for will gouge you on every good and service they deem appropriate.”

He said with “common items like gauze, IV bags and needles will be charged to you at sometimes hundreds of times their original cost. And should you fail to pay, you will find yourself among the millions of Americans who have been made bankrupt as a result of exorbitant medical bills. It is unquestionably the single greatest threat to our solvency.”

Although more than 3,380 bills have been filed, less than 10 percent are likely to pass. Last year, 192 of 3,494 filed bills were adopted. Technically, however, lawmakers are only legally required to pass one – the fiscal 2021 budget.

With DeSantis’ $91.4 billion budget request setting the stage for debates on spending, Oliva said he would scrutinize expenditures with taxpayers’ best interests as his guide.

“I look forward to working together with all of the members of this House to once again pass a budget with a reduced per capita spending, a robust tax break, and a stronger commitment to our reserve balances,” he said. “I hope this decade does not bring the kind of economic turmoil the last one did, but our actions today will determine how quickly our state will recover.”

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8 Flags Playscapes are “accessible and inclusive”

Benjamin Morrison
Vice President
8 Flags Playscapes, Inc.
January 15, 2020

When 8 Flags Playscapes was initially founded just over ten years ago, it did so with the goal of creating the region’s first accessible and inclusive playground here in our community. Building on the success of that endeavor, our organization has continued to partner with the City of Fernandina Beach to develop other inclusive recreational facilities here in Fernandina Beach, including Egans Creek Park as well as features such as the Mobi-Mat beach access systems. Presently, we are excited to be working with the City once again on the first new park to be built here in several decades: Simmons Road Park.

Looking back, it is humbling to consider the countless individuals and organizations here in our community that have dedicated their time, talent, and financial resources to help make our vision become a reality. Few communities that I am aware of have the ability to come together to achieve a common goal better than Fernandina Beach, and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it. We are advocates for the benefits of public-private partnerships, and hope that the successes we have achieved help to lay the groundwork for other organizations to see a path to help make their dreams a reality as well. If nothing else, our organization is proof that five concerned citizens with a vision for something better can truly make a difference.

While many people would measure our success based on the beautiful and unique facilities that we have been able to create for this community, it is something far more meaningful that we seek to leave behind as our legacy. When we first started back in 2007, the words “accessible” and “inclusive” were rarely part of the conversation when it came to the development of our parks and playgrounds. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to lead by example and educate our fellow citizens, city staff, as well as our elected officials on why a change in perspective was necessary. So much has been accomplished, yet there is so much Continue reading

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