Teacher and Rookie Teacher of the Year

Jessica Geronimo, an Autism Spectrum Disorder teacher at the St. Johns County School District’s (SJCSD) Transition School is St. Johns County’s 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year. The announcement was made by Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner at the annual Teacher of the Year and Rookie Teacher of the Year Banquet held on Thursday, February 21 at the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village. She will go on to compete in the 2013 Florida Department of Education-Macy’s Teacher of the Year.

The evening’s events were presided over by emcee St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles. The St. Johns County Education Foundation (SJCEF) presented the celebration to recognize excellence in the teaching profession with THE PLAYERS as the presenting sponsor for the event.

Geronimo has been with the SJCSD for three years and previously worked at Switzerland Point Middle School. Before accepting the position in St. Johns County, she taught in New Jersey. Her specialized training and caring nature make her the ideal teacher for her students at the Transition School. She regularly works with others in her field of expertise and recognizes that there is a particular system to working with students with autism. She also works closely with paraprofessionals in this area to provide them with knowledge and experience.

Placing an emphasis on real-world application that is thoughtful and relevant to her students is paramount to their ability to function outside the classroom and Geronimo goes above and beyond to ensure that life experiences are integrated into her instruction. She finds that her greatest joy comes from witnessing her students learn in their unique environment. Her instruction is varied and meets the individual needs of her students through meticulous tracking of target behaviors and successes.

“In my 26 years of education in St. Johns County I have worked with a variety of teachers,” said Gaines Alternative and Transition Schools Principal Tish McMahon. “Ms. Geronimo is an extraordinary example of the high standards that represent all teachers of St. Johns County. As a “family” member of the Transition School at the Evelyn Hamblen Center she models those attributes that make us all so very proud; creativity, patience, never give up attitude, and especially endurance. I think Mrs. Herskovitz summed it up so well when she stated that Ms. Geronimo is our present day version of “Annie Sullivan”.”

Geronimo has served as a big sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and has been a volunteer and a member of the Special Olympics both in New Jersey and in Florida. She also works as a volunteer for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

In addition to recognizing the St. Johns County Teacher of the Year, the SJCEF honored Rookie Teachers of the Year. Since 2008, the SJCEF has recognized exceptional teachers with three years or less of teaching experience.

The 34 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 2012-2013 St. Johns County Rookie Teacher of the Year is Kelly Thigpen, a first-grade teacher at Crookshank Elementary (CES). Thigpen is the first person in her family to graduate college and grew up on a farm in Bushnell, Florida. Her philosophy for teaching is embodied by the word, garden. She believes that every child who enters her classroom has the ability to learn and it is her purpose to help them grow to achieve their goals.

She started her career at CES in 2010 as a paraprofessional after graduating from Flagler College. Thigpen always looks for ways to further her professional development and plans to seek a master’s degree in educational leadership.