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Meet the 5 finalists for 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.Two weeks after announcing 15 semifinalists for the 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year, the field has been narrowed to five.

The five finalists — Kenneth Ford, Jameea Jackson-Gaines, Kimberly Parker, Nadine Ebri, Jim Schmitt — were chosen based on their applications, interviews and footage of them teaching, according to the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

The winner will be revealed during The EDDY Awards, which is set to air live on Channel 4 at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2021. The awards show, hosted by News4Jax Anchor Melanie Lawson, also be streamed live on News4Jax.com.

“We want to make our teachers feel like celebrities,” JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune said. “After everything they’ve done for our kids, they deserve to have a moment when the community comes together and celebrates them.”

Congratulations to our five finalists for the 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year.
Congratulations to our five finalists for the 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year.

Besides the top honor, the TV special will also recognize every Teacher of the Year, along with the work of every teacher in Duval County who has persevered through a difficult year to support their students.

Bob Ellis, vice president and general manager of WJXT/WCWJ, said the TV station is proud to honor the work of these “dedicated individuals” who “help our children grow” and become successful in life.

“Part of being Jacksonville’s one true local television station is partnering with great organizations like the (JPEF) to recognize talented and hard-working educators in our community,” Ellis said in part.

Learn more about the five finalists below:

Kenneth Ford - Carter G. Woodson Elementary – Wells Fargo Finalist

Kenneth Ford teaches fifth grade math and science at Carter G. Woodson Elementary. He has three years of experience teaching, and he is a catalytic teacher leader at his school. He developed his school’s plan for data-driven instruction, leads science instruction and works to use positive behavior management. He attributes his life and career to his eighth grade teacher, Ms. Tave, who helped him re-integrate into school after treatment for leukemia. “She made room for me to operate at my greatest self,” says Mr. Ford. “Because of Ms. Tave, I’ll proudly teach the band of misfits every year.”

Jameea Jackson-Gaines - Richard Lewis Brown Gifted and Academically Talented Academy – Deutsche Bank Finalist

Jameea Jackson-Gaines teaches first grade at RL Brown Gifted and Academically Talented Academy. She has been teaching for seven years. She serves in many leadership roles in her school, including positive behavior management, using data to improve school culture, serving as a teacher liaison for her school’s PTA, and founding the “Sunshine Team” at her school. She also founded the Association for Teacher Collaboration, which allows teachers to support one another throughout Duval County, including helping new teachers set up their very first classrooms. “Teaching is truly a work of heart. I don’t do it for the accolades, I do it for the impact. Let’s do it with grace, let’s do it with passion but most of all, let’s do it with love.”

Kimberly Parker - Lake Lucina Elementary – Florida Blue Finalist

Kimberly Parker teaches first grade virtually at Lake Lucina Elementary. She has 32 years of teaching experience in several schools throughout Duval County, and she specializes in helping to turn around schools through literacy. She has led system-level training in evidence-based reading instruction, and she has also taught literacy at UNF an adjunct instructor. “You ask what allows me to move students’ academic success in class? It is simple: I give them a backpack full of love, hope, guidance, and tools necessary to be successful.”

Nadine Ebri - Southside Middle – VyStar Finalist

Nadine Ebri teaches eighth grade algebra at Southside Middle. She has seven years of teaching experience. A few years ago, she posted a video of her students learning long division with the help of a rap song and dance. To her surprise, the video received more than 17 million views from classrooms all over the world, and allowed her to present on culturally relevant instruction to close the opportunity gap at a teaching conference in Miami. Now, during the pandemic, she is leading in her school as a Microsoft Innovator Educator. “I soon realized that my love for technology would be critical in transforming our school’s ability to remain connected with students.”

Jim Schmitt - Mandarin High – Rotary Finalist

Jim Schmitt teaches history and global perspectives and research at Mandarin High School. He has 27 years of teaching experience. Throughout his career, he has excelled as a teacher leader, developing a writing program for at-risk students, writing a $10,000 grant for a school-to-work program, and serving as a standards coach. When COVID-19 hit, he took a leadership role in helping teachers collaborate even more, developing a community discussion group to exchange technology strategies that work. “In today’s world, with uncertainty and at times, fear for the future, we as teachers know that our class is a haven of hope for our students. Teachers’ love of students is the difference maker in society.”


Want to learn more or make a contribution? Visit JPEF’s website.


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