The event was emceed by Melanie Lawson of WJXT-Channel 4. The St. Johns County Education Foundation (SJCEF) hosted the annual celebration to recognize excellence in the teaching profession.
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.
Ms. Upchurch believes that all students can learn in a supportive, caring and challenging environment which supports differentiation. She is a strong proponent of the Accelerated Reader Program since it meets each student exactly where they are. Students in her class learn that they are valuable and unique as individuals and may have different learning paths from other students.
Ms. Upchurch involves her students in understanding data so they can chart their own educational progress. She feels this helps students develop a sense of ownership and a determination to improve. She also uses technology to make learning relevant and fun, and last fall she received a Horizon Grant from the SJCEF for an innovative program involving iPads and Ipod Touches. KES Principal Kathy Tucker says that the qualities she most admires in this year’s winner are her positive attitude and sense of humor. She notes that her classroom is always lively, upbeat and engaging. A colleague observed that watching Ms. Upchurch in the classroom is like watching the conductor of a symphony but with lots of humor thrown in. Her strong work ethic and dedication to children are also exemplary, and her love of helping others learn extends to the other side of the globe through her involvement with mission work in Tanzania, Africa. The other two finalists for the 2010-2011 Teacher of the Year were Lisa Haas of Liberty Pines Academy and Becci Smith of Pedro Menendez High School.
In addition to recognizing the District Teacher of the Year, the SJCEF honored Rookie Teachers of the Year. This was the fourth year the Foundation recognized exceptional teachers with three or less years of teaching experience.
The 32 candidates, nominated in most cases by their peers, completed a process similar to that used for Teacher of the Year. Each submitted an application packet and participated in an individual interview conducted by a panel of retired educators.
The 2010-2011 St. Johns County Rookie Teacher of the Year is Megan Miller, a social studies teacher at Switzerland Point School Middle School (SPMS). Ms. Miller attended SPMS, graduated from Bartram Trail High School and is in her second year of teaching. She said she is grateful to have been given the opportunity to teach in the same “top notch public education system” where she attended school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
According to SPMS Principal Lisa Kunze, Ms. Miller has the energy, warmth, passion and natural talent that puts her above other rookie teachers.
“Megan uses creative, innovative practices in all her classes to empower each student and keep them engaged in their own and each other’s learning,” she added.
This rookie has learned the importance of focusing on the whole child. She discourages other teachers from providing background information about her students and said she would rather all students start with a clean slate in her class.
A student in her class said Ms. Miller is a good role model who handles herself very well in many different situations. She said she challenges her students every day and always make learning fun.
This year’s winner views a great education as being engaging and relevant to a student’s life. Her classroom focuses on cooperative learning, especially through the study of current events. Ms. Miller believes effective teaching “should aim to present curriculum through opportunities and experiences that encourage students’ personal growth, deep self-reflection and development of interpersonal skills.”
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Ms. Miller co-sponsors the SPMS Student Council and a running club for students. Through these activities she encourages students to participate in community service projects, and she also serves as a member of her school’s Relay for Life team.
Both the 2010-2011Teacher of the Year and the Rookie Teacher of the Year will be recognized at the March 8 School Board meeting.
THE PLAYERS Championship provided every teacher with tickets to the Tournament Players Championship and other benefits. The winning teacher also has the opportunity to bring her class to the TPC for a field trip. Honoring the Teachers of the Year is part of their tradition of giving back to the community.
Other corporate sponsors included The Bailey Group, Community First Credit Union, Flagler College, Florida Power and Light, Leonard’s Studio, Northrop Grumman, St. Augustine Record, St. Johns County Tax Collector and Vystar Credit Union.