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January 2011

College Readiness

   St. Johns County School District high school graduates had the highest composite score in the state on the recently-released Readiness for College Report. This report is based on the placement test performance of Florida high school graduates who enrolled in public postsecondary education in the state during the academic year following graduation.
The most recent results are based on students who graduated in the 2009 school year with a standard diploma from a Florida public high school and entered a Florida public university or community college as degree-seeking students.
In the percentage of students tested who were considered ready for college in all three areas tested (math, reading and writing), 78.9% of St. Johns County graduates were ready in all areas compared to 62.1% of high school graduates statewide. This figure places St. Johns County as number one in the state.
In the writing category 87.2% of St. Johns County students passed compared to 80.4 % statewide. In reading 86.5% of Johns County students scored above the minimum compared to 78.5% for the state, and in math 83.1% of St. Johns County students passed compared to the state average of 68.4%.
“These results are very encouraging and I congratulate our students, parents and staff,” said Superintendent Joseph Joyner. “If any one measure gives us an indication of the quality of our schools, the Readiness for College Reports tells us that our students are well-prepared for their next educational experience.”
The Florida Department of Education publishes college readiness results in the Common Placement Test (CPT), which combines students’ performance results in math, reading and writing subtests. These include the CPT, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT). College freshmen who have not met the criteria for readiness, as indicated by achieving minimum scores on the CPT, must take remedial classes before beginning college-level work.  

Spelling Bee Winner

2011 St. Johns County School District Spelling Bee Winner Grace Remmer

   Grace Remmer, a sixth grade home school student, won the 2011 St. Johns County School District Spelling Bee held today at the School Board Administration Building. She won by spelling the word “barrage” correctly.
Grace is the daughter of Raymond and Jennifer Remmer of St. Augustine.
Thirty-one elementary and middle school students from 25 public, one charter, two home schools, and three private schools competed for the honor of representing St. Johns County in the Regional Spelling Bee. The regional competition is scheduled for February 19 in Jacksonville. If for any reason the winner is not able to attend, runner-up Gustavo Navar of Palmer Catholic Academy will represent the county.
It took twenty-six rounds for the winner to be determined. The participants were congratulated by School Board members Bill Fehling, Bill Mignon and Bev Slough, and Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner.
WFOY-1240 AM Radio broadcast the event live. Media Services also taped the bee and will air it via Comcast SEA-TV Channel 24 next week.
The annual spelling bee is sponsored by the Florida Times-Union. The winner of the regional bee will advance to compete in the national spelling bee scheduled June 1-2 in Washington, D.C.
Laurie Hays, Program Specialist for Elementary Language Arts, served as the spelling bee coordinator.  Pronouncer was Lyla Springfield, Grants Coordinator.
Judges for the event were Sandy Waldeis of Catholic Charities; Sheila Veatch, Secondary Language Arts/Reading Specialist; and Jim Welu, Retired Director for Student Services.

Emily Harrison Named 2010-2011 Assistant Principal of the Year for Florida

Emily Harrison, Assistant Principal at Fruit Cove Middle School (FCMS), has been selected as the 2010-2011 Outstanding Assistant Principal of the Year for the state of Florida.
Her selection was announced at the Commissioner’s Summit for Principals being held today in Orlando. Ms. Harrison was one of three finalists named by the state last November. As the statewide winner, she received a $2,500 award, $750 for her school and a plaque.
This annual awards program honors assistant principals who have utilized teamwork and leadership skills to increase student performance, promote safe learning environments and establish partnerships with parents and community members.
“We are very proud and happy for Emily, but I am not surprised,” said Superintendent Joseph Joyner.  “Ms. Harrison represents the many outstanding and dedicated individuals who serve our children as Assistant Principals.”
Ms. Harrison has served as the Assistant Principal of FCMS since 2006. She initiated a Middle School Best Practices Symposium for the district, and the district is now in the process of expanding the symposium to include more grade levels, as well as a virtual component.
During the 2005-2006 school year Ms. Harrison worked as a gifted teacher at Cunningham Creek Elementary School. Prior to that, she served as a substitute teacher for the school district and volunteered at Julington Creek Elementary School while completing her master’s degree at the University of North Florida. She also has six years of elementary school teaching experience in Florida and Georgia.
As Assistant Principal, Ms. Harrison assisted in developing a Pre-Advanced Placement (AP) program to address the needs of high achieving students at her school. She was instrumental in implementing the skills she learned in Capturing Kids’ Hearts to further develop a climate of caring at Fruit Cove Middle School and applied strategies to increase learner outcomes across achievement levels, resulting in increases in both classroom assessments and FCAT scores.
Ms. Harrison has been involved in community outreach programs and service learning projects such as the “Joy Fund” to assist families in need during the holidays, an Honorary Veterans Day Assembly for students and community, and a Hearts for Haiti relief initiative.

Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!

The 3rd Annual Department of Education (DOE) Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! will be observed January 24-28. The Department’s Just Read, Florida! is continuing its theme of “Champions Read, Readers Lead,” geared toward motivating both children and adults in becoming champions and leaders of reading.
According to the DOE, the goals of Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! are to promote literacy throughout the state by raising awareness of the programs and projects offered by the DOE and its partner agencies and organizations, and most of all, to promote the enjoyment of reading for children and adults of all ages.
Events scheduled at schools throughout the district include authors’ visits, teacher read-alouds, guest readers, students reading in pajamas and student reading “buddies” in younger classes.  Schools may also be involved in a statewide contest of student-created public service announcements that celebrate and promote the importance of literacy in the state of Florida. In addition, students will participate in a Million Minute Marathon on Tuesday, January 25 by reading an additional 20 minutes beyond their regular school work in celebration of literacy. The total number of students and minutes will be submitted by participating schools to the Just Read, Florida! office and calculated for a statewide grand total.
Celebrations of reading goals met by individual schools will include school administrators kissing a pig, getting “slimed” or other similar activities.
To obtain additional information and a recommended reading list, please visit

High School Showcase

The St. Johns County School District is hosting its Sixth Annual High School Showcase on Thursday, January 27.
The event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the St. Johns County Convention Center at the World Golf Village. The public is invited to attend.
All seven high schools will have their career academies, ROTC programs and acceleration programs on display for parents and families to view.  
Paula Chaon, Interim Director for Career Education, is the event coordinator. For more information on Programs of Study, visit

Teacher of the Year Finalists

Three finalists for the 2010-2011 St. Johns County Teacher of the Year have been selected from among 33 nominees. They are Beth Upchurch of Ketterlinus Elementary School (KES), Lisa Haas of Liberty Pines Academy (LPA) and Becci Smith of Pedro Menendez High School (PMHS).
The teachers all received a surprise visit to their classroom today from Superintendent Joseph Joyner and district staff to announce their selection as finalists. The winner, along with the Rookie Teacher of the Year, will be announced at the annual Teacher of the Year Celebration on February 17 at the Renaissance Resort in World Golf Village.
Beth Upchurch is currently serving as a co-literacy coach and a fourth grade teacher at KES. She also mentors an Associate Teacher in her position as Lead Teacher in a co-teach classroom. Ms. Upchurch has taught in St. Johns County for the past 28 years, including nine years at R. B. Hunt Elementary School.  In 2006 she was also selected as their Teacher of the Year and as a district finalist.
Lisa Haas, a fourth grade teacher at LPA, has taught for eight years, the last four of those in St. Johns County. She is the recipient of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year Award for Florida and will now compete at the national level. She was also named the 2010 St. Johns River Educator of the Year. Ms. Haas enjoys teaching her peers, as well as her students, and mentors other teachers by serving as a Lead Teacher.
Becci Smith has been a math teacher at PMHS for the past nine years. Shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, she left a successful career as a stockbroker to make an even greater investment in the lives of children.  Ms. Smith served as a substitute teacher at PMHS until a permanent position became available. She teaches students with all levels of ability and serves as a mentor to new math teachers.
The annual awards banquet is sponsored by the St. Johns County Education Foundation to recognize excellence in the teaching profession.

Teachers and Rookie Teachers of the Year

The 2010-2011 Teachers of the Year have been selected from each of the district’s 34 schools.
These nominees represent the very best among St. Johns County School District teachers. Their colleagues have selected them for this prestigious honor, and they will go on to compete for the countywide title.
The Teachers of the Year will be honored at the monthly School Board meeting on Monday, January 10 at 6 p.m. in the School Board Auditorium at 40 Orange Street. The overall winner will be announced at the annual Teacher of the Year Celebration event on Thursday, February 17 at the Renaissance Resort at the World Golf Village.
The awards banquet is being sponsored by the St. Johns County Education Foundation (SJCEF) to recognize excellence in the teaching profession.
Additional information may be obtained from Donna Lueders, Foundation and Grants Coordinator, at (904)547-7120.
A list of the 2010-2011 Teachers of the Year is below.  

2010-2011 Teachers of the Year

Alternative Programs    Bartram Trail HighCreekside HighJohn A. Crookshank Elementary Cunningham Creek ElementaryDurbin Creek ElementaryFirst Coast Technical CollegeFruit Cove MiddleW. D. Hartley ElementaryHickory Creek ElementaryR. B. Hunt ElementaryJulington Creek ElementaryKetterlinus ElementaryAlice B. Landrum MiddleLiberty Pines AcademyOtis A. Mason ElementaryPedro Menendez HighMill Creek ElementaryR. J. Murray MiddleAllen D. Nease HighOcean Palms ElementaryOsceola ElementaryPacetti Bay MiddlePonte Vedra HighPVPV/Rawlings ElementaryGamble Rogers MiddleSt. Augustine HighSt. Johns Technical HighSebastian MiddleSouth Woods ElementarySwitzerland Point MiddleTimberlin Creek ElementaryWards Creek ElementaryThe Webster School Mr. William Conkin      Ms. Jayne Popiel Mr. Rick FowlerMs. Nicole Angelo-Baggett Ms. Bridget JeffersMs. Brenda Pence Mr. Anthony Lowman Ms. Jarelis A. Haigler Ms. Darcie Williams Ms. Kathryn Kellihan Jones Dr. Donna Aunchman Ms. Cathy RagusaMs. Beth Upchurch Ms. Yael Carlton Ms. Elizabeth Haas Ms. Jaime Swanson Ms. Becci Smith Ms. Susan Crate-Babish Mr. Charles Robert Pettit Ms. Linda Carnall Mr. Todd Watson Ms. Kellie Blanco Ms. Danielle Jacobson Ms. Lisa Barnett Ms. Lisa Eckert Brubaker Ms. Julie PennMr. Trey Brewer Mr. Richard Shea Church Ms. Rachael Herrera-West Mr. Joseph H. Zeagler IIMs. Gwen Gaines Ms. Gwen Johnston Ms. Lisa BrennanMr. Rob Hall

Nominations for the 2010-2011 Rookie Teacher of the Year have been submitted by 32 of the district’s schools. Eligible teachers must have taught less than three years.
This is the fourth year that the Rookie Teacher of the Year competition has been held. These nominees represent the best of their profession among new teachers, and they will go on to compete for the countywide title.
The Rookie Teachers of the Year will be honored at the monthly School Board meeting on Monday, January 10 at 6 p.m. in the School Board Auditorium at 40 Orange Street. The overall winner will be announced at the annual Teacher of the Year Celebration event on Thursday, February 17 at the Renaissance Resort at the World Golf Village.
The awards banquet is being sponsored by the St. Johns County Education Foundation (SJCEF) to recognize excellence in the teaching profession.
Additional information is available from Donna Lueders, Foundation and Grants Coordinator, at (904)547-7120.
A list of the 2010-2011 Rookie Teachers of the Year follows.

2010-2011 Rookie Teachers of the Year

Bartram Trail High                              Creekside High                          John A. Crookshank Elementary   Cunningham Creek Elementary     Durbin Creek Elementary         First Coast Technical College           Fruit Cove Middle                                W. D. Hartley Elementary                Hickory Creek Elementary                R. B. Hunt Elementary                   Julington Creek Elementary              Ketterlinus Elementary                  Alice B. Landrum Middle                 Liberty Pines Academy                Otis A. Mason                           Pedro Menendez High                     Mill Creek Elementary                    R. J. Murray Middle                     Allen D. Nease High                     Osceola Elementary                      Pacetti Bay Middle                      Ponte Vedra High                                PVPV/Rawlings Elementary                Gamble Rogers Middle            Sebastian Middle                                St. Augustine High                      St. Johns Technical High                South Woods Elementary          Switzerland Point Middle                        Timberlin Creek Elementary               Wards Creek Elementary          The Webster School Mr. Andrew Hurley Ms. Leigh Moss Ms. Amanda Wolfe Ms. Allison Zweigle Ms. Audrey Holtz Ms. Pam Callan Ms. Amanda Paul Ms. Nichole Walker Ms. Heather Isbell Ms. Stephanie Guy Ms. Elizabeth Harmon Ms. Katie Kusiak Ms. Caty Van Housen Ms. Kristin Harrington Ms. Kirsten Hanson Mr. Jonathon Higgins Ms. Abby Bergmann Ms. Darby Taylor Mr. Matthew Augenstein Ms. Elizabeth Steen Ms. Rachel ChecchiaMr. John Weinbrenner Ms. Genevieve Miranda Ms. Lauren Smith Ms. Nancee Callahan Ms. Anna Renton Mr. Carlton Barber Ms. Katie Tallon Ms. Megan MillerMs. Casey Ragland Ms. Jennifer LuskMs. Jenny Kamla

Moody’s Investors Service Rating

Moody’s Investors Service has affirmed the A1 rating on St. Johns County School Board’s 2006 Certificates of Participation totaling $115.2 million. The bonds are secured by the Board’s annually-appropriated lease payments and are paid from a portion of the district’s 1.5 mills of capital outlay funds available for this purpose.
According to Moody’s, the A1 rating affirmation reflects the district’s financial position characterized by sound management and high reserve levels, below average debt levels and large tax base.
In 2007-2008 the district began aggressively building reserves through extensive expenditure cuts in anticipation of state cutbacks and the loss of federal ARRA funds in 2012. The district reduced its operating budget by 25% through the elimination of over 300 administrative and support positions, a savings of $2.5 million in energy costs, the reduction of vendor payments by $500,000 and the implementation of medical clinics to help control the costs of a self-insured health plan, in addition to various other cost-cutting measures. These efforts have allowed the district to build up its reserves.
Despite these increases to reserves, Moody’s believes the district will be challenged when the $14.9 million of ARRA federal funds, as well as the $4.8 million from the 0.25 mill critical millage levy, are no longer available to the district in 2011-2012. In addition, the possibility of further state budget cuts is anticipated in light of the projected state deficit. Last year the district appropriated $8.3 million of its fund balance to balance its budget.
“The Board and administration have been working hard since 2006 to focus our limited and shrinking resources on academic success,” said Chief Financial Officer Conley Weiss. “This work has been made difficult by Florida’s economy, forcing schools to do more with less. It is nice to see Moody’s maintain our bond rating at A1 and acknowledge our efforts to control our financial position, just as we are trying to maintain the quality of our product.”
Moody’s expects that the school district’s large $27.7 billion tax base will decrease in the short term after years of substantial growth. Assessed values are expected to decline by 20% to $19.7 million this year from its high of $24.6 million in 2007-2008. This would be the second year of significant declines in the tax base after five years of an average 15.3% growth. The SJCSD is also one of the few districts in the state still experiencing increased student enrollment.  
Moody’s expects the district’s debt position to remain manageable given its below-average debt burden and no medium term future debt plans.