Business and Rookie Business Partner of the Year

The St. Johns County School District (SJCSD) hosted its annual Academy Awards on Thursday, May 17 at the Northeast Regional Airport Conference Center. This event celebrates business and community partners who are involved in the district’s career academies. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of two special Awards of Distinction.

Guana Tolomato Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) was named Business Partner of the Year for its support of several Career Academies including the Academy of Coastal and Water Resources at St. Johns Technical High School and the Academy of Environmental and Urban Planning at Creekside High School. Dr. Mike Shirley, Kenneth Rainier, Beth O’Connor and Lauren Flynn received the award on behalf of GTM NERR which has been an active business partner with the academies for the past four years.

“GTM’s work with the academy exemplifies the reserve’s hands-on approach to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education”, said the Director of the GTM NERR, Dr. Mike Shirley, “Students in the academy program receive early exposure to science careers. It gives them an opportunity to aim for higher education and careers in STEM fields.”

GTM NERR has provided input on curriculum, hosted student interns for the past two years, facilitated teacher externships including professional development through workshops, and hosted multiple field trips and expert classroom speakers. Most recently, the GTMNERR partnered with the Academy of Coastal and Water Resources on a $40,000 grant to restore oyster beds at the GTM NERR. Funding for this grant came from Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Rookie Partner of the Year award went to PGA Tour Entertainment for its involvement in Ponte Vedra High School’s Academy of International Business and Marketing. Charlene Landen and Kelly Boston received the award. Most recently, academy students worked with the PGA Tour on social media and marketing during the THE PLAYERS Championship. In addition, PGA Tour Entertainment hosted teacher externships and conducted field trips and interactive classroom presentations.

Career Academy students received more than $14,000 in scholarships from the following business partners: the Air Force Association-Falcon Chapter, Flagler Hospital, Leonard’s Studios, St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, St. Johns Housing Partnership, Stellar and VyStar Credit Union.

Partner time and resources dedicated to career academy students has been valued at more than $2.2 million. This “value-added” calculation takes into account the time and resources of more than 5,100 hours of involvement including student and teacher internships, guest speakers, field trip hosts, judges for student competitions, advisory board membership and donations of cash or equipment.

Paula Chaon, director for Career Education, was the event coordinator. For more information, you may visit the SJCSD website at