5 finalists named for 2023 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year

The winner will be announced at the EDDY Awards Gala on Feb. 10

The EDDY Awards, an annual event to celebrate Duval County's leading teachers, is a time-honored tradition that has grown into its new mission to elevate the role of Jacksonville's best teachers. Each year, we celebrate each school's Teacher of the Year and announce the winner of the VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The final five teachers vying for the Duval County Teacher of the Year award were announced by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) on Thursday.

Over 160 elementary, middle and high school teachers were nominated by their schools for the award in a search that began in October. A JPEF selection committee narrowed down the search to 15 semifinalists, then those semifinalists were narrowed down to five finalists through a selection process that includes observing the teachers in the classroom.

Here are the top five finalists and their sentiments about teaching.

Katrina Bias has 15 years of teaching experience. She teaches various subjects for 3rd - 5th grade students at Garden City Elementary School.

“I feel we can help students to develop to their maximum potential by facilitating a nurturing learning environment that will instill in the students [the desire] to become lifelong learners. It is never too late; the present is a wonderful place for children to be introduced to new opportunities and develop the ‘I can’ attitude. Exuding positivity towards your students is a must. There will be so much more buy in if they feel that you will have their back no matter how many tries it may take them to excel at a particular standard, skill, or lesson,” Bias said.

Katrina Bias (Deutsche Bank finalist) (Jacksonville Public Education Fund)

Dr. Argel Hipol has 12 years of teaching experience. He teaches biology at Westside High School.

“I rise above challenges. Changing the narrative of this school is challenging, but I am inspired because I know I can make a bigger impact and difference here. I always believe that my role in this school is to be an instrument of hope, care, and love to my dear students and fellow teachers,” Hipol said.

Dr. Argel Hipol (Wells Fargo finalist) (Jacksonville Public Education Fund)

Andrew Lodge has three years of teaching experience. He teaches music at San Mateo Elementary School.

“The biggest thing that inspires me as an educator is the students. I am an educator that will go beyond for his students. They have a place in my heart that only they can fill. No matter how much certain students try to get under my skin, they get everything I have. I just want to make sure they have a reason,” Lodge said.

Andrew Lodge (Florida Blue finalist) (Jacksonville Public Education Fund)

Julia Mayeshiba has four years of teaching experience. She teaches math and physics at Andrew Jackson High School.

“Julia folds her care and compassion into all her actions. The atmosphere in her room makes it abundantly clear that she believes all her students are worthy of love, praise, and is a teacher that sees the best in them regardless of their race, gender, history, test scores, or any other trait that our students possess. She is truly the best of us, and I am honored to call myself one of her peers,” a fellow teacher said.

Julia Mayeshiba (VyStar Credit Union finalist) (Jacksonville Public Education Fund)

Ashley Watkins has nine years of teaching experience. She’s an inclusion teacher, who teaches first to third grade at J. Allen Axson Montessori.

“I believe in teaching the whole child. Creating a love of learning that is intrinsic is the greatest contribution that I can give my students and it is what inspires me as a teacher. One of my greatest joys is watching my children grow academically, socially, and emotionally throughout their three years in my classroom. In our classroom, students play a vital role in their education process,” Watkins said.

Ashley Watkins (Rotary finalist) (Jacksonville Public Education Fund)

The Teacher of the Year program, which is a partnership with VyStar Credit Union, aims to recognize, elevate and empower Duval County’s “best” public school teachers by offering unique programming to elevate the teaching progressions throughout the year. Teachers selected by their schools are also given the opportunity to participate in the teacher leadership initiative offered by JPEF.

The winner of the Teacher of the Year award will be announced at the EDDY Awards Gala on Feb. 10 at the Hyatt Regency. That teacher will then move forward with competing for the Florida Teacher of the Year award.

About the Author:

As a proud alumnus of Bethune-Cookman University, Kendra is a Jacksonville native, who loves all things lifestyle-related.