Press Release for Tuesday, May 1, 2007

UNF Presents Jacksonville Teachers Gladys Prior Awards

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

Four Duval County public and private teachers are winners of the 2007 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 Monday, May 7, at John Stockton Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. as well as at Paxon School for Advanced Studies at 10 a.m. and Stanton College Preparatory School at 11:30 a.m.

The winners are as follows:

Cindy Fitch teaches fifth grade math at John N. C. Stockton Elementary School. She has been a teacher for 34 years. The parent volunteer who nominated her says Fitch “assures every child that she values who they are and that it is safe for them to ask questions, to try something new, or to not understand.” She uses careful assessment, solid teaching principles and humor to ensure that students master math. Each year her students score among the highest in Duval County on the FCAT math.

Fitch differentiates instruction to meet the individual needs of all her students. When a foster child moved away, she fought to get her bussed back to finish the year at Stockton, where she had found success. Fitch models the joy of helping others, involving her students in community service activities such as collecting teddy bears for cancer patients and adopting a needy family at Christmas.

Mai Keisling, a graduate of Jacksonville University, has been a teacher for 14 years and teaches at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. Although she is an art and art history teacher, one student said that she goes out of her way to help students who struggle in calculus, pre-calculus and physics.

Two other students credit Keisling with keeping them at Paxon with her constant support and encouragement. She wouldn’t let them give up. As one said, “By believing in me and encouraging me to make good decisions, I ultimately made the right choice: to remain at Paxon my senior year.”

Keisling believes that nothing is impossible. She learned this the hard way, as a teenager escaping with her siblings from Vietnam on an overloaded boat in the dark of night.

Ben MacKay teaches history at Stanton College Preparatory School. A student at Davidson College said that MacKay’s charisma and passion changed the course of his academic career, opening his eyes to the liberal arts. “I learned more in his two history classes than the rest of my high school combined.”

MacKay is known for weaving his students’ interests into his history lessons, sending each student a holiday card and remembering their birthdays.
A parent-volunteer said, “One of the priceless lessons that my son learned from Mr. MacKay was his example for helping others and putting that in front of your own personal financial gain.”

Maria Perez Randle has taught math at Bishop Kenny High School for 36 years. A graduate of Jacksonville University, she consistently prepares her students to earn high scores on the Advanced Placement calculus test. Students return year after year to thank her for their excellent preparation in math.

When students complain that higher math is too hard, she assures them if she could learn English then they can learn math. As a 12 year old, Randle and her sister emigrated from Cuba in 1960 and lived in a foster home.

As one of her students said, “She won’t stop until you know it. She doesn’t move on until we all understand.” Another said, “Her enthusiasm is contagious and inspires me to do my best work.”