On Friday, January 18, 2019, the Nassau Education Foundation held its fifth 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, and outgoing Nassau County Teacher of the Year, Asa Jernigan announced Jessica Watkins, fourth-grade teacher at Yulee Elementary, as this year’s winner. Watkins will go on to represent Nassau County in the selection process for the 2020 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 nearly $400,000 in grants to all schools throughout the district.
“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.”
Coming to us from Duval County, Watkins is in her eight year of teaching (four in Nassau County), and during this time, she has supported her colleagues, both at the school and district level. At the school level, she serves as the fourth-grade chairperson, on the school leadership team, and on her school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support team. She has also mentored both new teachers and interns. At the district level, Watkins has served on the Reading Curriculum Building team, the Writing Professional Development team, and the Language Arts/grammar building team – all in efforts to affect student outcomes in classrooms beyond her own.
In her district packet, Watkins describes teaching as an “emotional and passion-driven career.” She further stated, “All students experience challenges, and it is my job to earn my students’ trust to help them through the process of learning. It inspires me to see that I have gained a student’s trust, and then we can work together through their challenges.”
Besides Ms. Watkins, the other finalists include: Katherine Thrift, Callahan Elementary School; Sarah Palmer, Callahan Intermediate School; Angie Jarrett, Hilliard Middle-Senior High School; and Jonathan Goodwin, Yulee High School.
The additional eleven school Teachers of the Year are: Sue Butler, Bryceville Elementary School; Michelle Ginder, Callahan Middle School; Karina Mikelson, Emma Love Hardee Elementary School; Joe Monaghan, Fernandina Beach High School; Geri Janzen, Fernandina Beach Middle School; Jacquelin Sims, Hilliard Elementary School; Paige Subjinski, Southside Elementary School; Jamie Whitehead, West Nassau High School; Michelle Thompson, Wildlight Elementary School; Rachel Kennedy, Yulee Middle School; and Sarah Baldwin, 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.