4 local teachers honored with prestigious education award, $15K

Gladys Prior Award created 25 years ago to recognize dedication to education

Teachers Mia Jenkins (L to R), Sangita Cody, Morgan Jackson and Latasha Lawrence received the Gladys Prior Award for 2023. (Provided by University of North Florida College of Education and Human Services)

JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – Four local teachers are the winners of a prestigious award for their dedication to education. Part of that award, the Gladys Prior Award, includes receiving a $15,000 check.

The award was created 25 years ago by philanthropist Gilchrist Berg to recognize people who have lifelong careers in education. Berg named it after his fourth-grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School.

UNF’s College of Education and Human Services manages the gift and arranges the annual surprise award for each teacher at their school surrounded by students, faculty and staff.

“The UNF College of Education and Human Services is honored to manage the Gladys Prior Awards and have a part in honoring the life-long educators who are making a significant impact in our community,” said Dr. Jennifer Kane, UNF COEHS interim dean. “We are very appreciative to Gilchrist Berg for his continued commitment to recognize and award our local educators.”

The 2023 award winners are Sangita Cody from Neptune Beach Elementary School, Latasha Lawrence from James Weldon Johnson Middle School, Mia Jenkin from Mandarin Oaks Elementary School, and Morgan Jackson from LaVilla School of the Arts.

Jackson never thought she’d be one of the recipients. She called the unexpected moment humbling.

“I really strive to be better and that is something that also keeps you going,” Jackson said. “In teaching, you always get to start over every class, you get to start over every quarter, you get to start over every year. The reason why you keep doing that is so you can be better.”

LaVilla School of the Arts teacher Morgan Jackson (center) receives the Gladys Prior Award, which includes a $15,000 check. (WJXT)

Jackson, and eighth-grade English and Language Arts teacher at LaVilla School of the Arts, is praised for having a strong connection with her students.

Jackson, who received her bachelor’s degree in English at Florida State University and earned her master’s degree in English at UNF, has been a teacher at LaVilla since it opened in the 1999–2000 school year.

She said the award is special to her, and she hopes her influence on her students transcends beyond the classroom.

“[I encourage them] to be better, to not be afraid of failure, to not be worried so much about the grade as what you walk away with,” Jackson said. “Do you know how to do something? To continue trying to do that is what I hope they can do. Trust themselves.”

Jackson is nationally board certified and endorsed to teach ESOL and gifted students.

Lianna Knight, the principal at Lavilla School of the Arts, said she thinks Jackson is a perfect choice for the award.

“[Jackson] is innovative,” Knight said. “She is always looking for the newest strategy and the newest learning style to be able to reach her students. She is a teacher that I would want my daughter to have eventually when she comes to this school. She is a breath of fresh air. She is a role model here. She is on almost every committee that we can possibly have at this school. She is looked up to by her colleagues.”

Cody is a varying exceptionalities teacher at Neptune Beach Elementary School and has 18 years of teaching experience in Duval County.

Cody is a proud alumna of UNF and began teaching at Neptune Beach Elementary in 2009.

Previously, she was a reading coach and taught third and fourth grade.

She has been awarded Neptune Beach Elementary’s “Teacher of the Year” twice.

Lawrence is an eighth-grade biology teacher at James Weldon Johnson Middle School with almost 20 years of practical experience in teaching.

Lawrence received her bachelor’s at Bethune-Cookman University and earned her master’s in health science at the University of Central Florida.

She was a semifinalist for the VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year award in 2021.

Jenkins is a fifth-grade veteran teacher with 31 years of experience at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School.

Jenkins is another proud UNF alumna. She is certified to teach ESOL and gifted students in addition to being CET endorsed.

For the 2002-03 school year, Jenkins was the chosen recipient for Mandarin Oaks “Teacher of the Year.”

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