Press Release for Wednesday, May 3, 2006

UNF Presents Jacksonville Teachers Gladys Prior Awards

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

Four Duval County teachers are winners of the Gladys Prior Awards for Teaching Excellence, administered by the University of North Florida’s College of Education and Human Services. The teachers will each receive $12,000.

The Gladys Prior Awards for Teaching Excellence—one of the largest teacher awards in the nation—were established in 1998 by Gilchrist Berg to honor the late Gladys Prior, his fourth-grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School who inspired him to succeed. Berg is the founder and president of Water Street Capital, a Jacksonville investment firm.

Larry Daniel, dean of the UNF College of Education and Human Services, will present the awards Wednesday, May 3, at Mandarin Middle School at 2:30 p.m. as well as on Thursday, May 4, at Sandalwood High School at 8:30 a.m. and at Paxon School for Advanced Studies at 11:00 a.m.

For the first time, there are two winners from one school. Sandalwood High School winners are Patrick Nolan and Jacqueline Simms.

Nolan, a U.S. history and law studies teacher, started his career teaching students with disabilities at Alden Road Exceptional Student Center and later at Sandalwood. He has been teaching for 20 years.

“I am perhaps most thrilled that Sandalwood High School has two recipients of the Gladys Prior Award…our school has received some negative press over the past year and to be the first school to have two recipients of this distinguished award is such a boost to our positive image that it will vastly overshadow the negatives,” he said.

Kenny Wilder, the parent of one of Nolan’s former students said, “Mr. Nolan was a man with a heart that could hold every handicapped child inside and make them feel like they were somebody.”

Simms, a 30-year veteran, teaches chemistry. A former student said, “During my year-long stint in AP chemistry, Mrs. Simms stayed after school almost every day of the week to help us. She kept me motivated and focused.” Another said, “I have to give a lot of credit to Mrs. Simms for my successes in life. It was in her class that I fell in love with science and decided to pursue it as a career.”

“I really, truly believe that all students can learn. They can learn material that is much more rigorous and challenging than they believed possible. I want my students to have the best opportunity for a good and rewarding life,” said Simms. “I never give up! I am sure my students can tell you that. Somehow, some way, I can find a better way to teach than I am currently doing.”

Janet Coburn is the winner at Paxon School for Advanced Studies.
A teacher for 40 years, Coburn teaches advanced placement European history at Paxon and is a graduate of Jacksonville University.

A teaching colleague said, “She not only teaches history, but teaches students how to evaluate and understand their strengths and weaknesses as learners. She challenges, yet nurtures. She demands, yet supports. She coaxes, cajoles and mothers these students until they achieve.”

A student said, “She doesn’t lecture from a Power Point or an overhead or notes, but from her memory. We were all amazed that she could recount all of the history of Europe without referencing the text...every student who has her wishes they could have her again...she is an amazing teacher. She inspires me, and others, to be better students.”

The winning teacher at Mandarin Middle School is Greg Whaley, who teaches world geography. A graduate of Florida A&M, Whaley has been a teacher for 14 years. At Mandarin High School, he founded the Unity Phi Knowledge Service Club to inspire male students to reach their full potential. More than 60 members have earned college degrees.

“I am committed to working with students who have no hopes, dreams or desires to become successful in life. These students are our future and we must make sure they are properly educated and capable of competing with the rest of the world,” he said. “Teachers should always set the standards if they want students to follow, and teachers should meet the needs of students through the ability to motivate and encourage them to achieve in the classroom and in life. Every student deserves a creative teacher who will explore different ways of teaching.”