Skip to Main Content

COEHS announces 2021 Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence recipients

The University of North Florida College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) proudly presented the 2021 Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence to four local Jacksonville teachers yesterday.

UNF’s COEHS manages this gift and coordinates the annual surprise award that presents four teachers $15,000 each. The Gladys Prior Awards are among the largest monetary awards for teachers in the nation.

The 2021 winners include Kirk Altman from Sallye B. Mathis Elementary School; Chris Banks, La Villa School of the Arts; Jennifer Prescott, Mandarin Middle School; and Sonja Sams, Highlands Elementary School.

The Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence were established in 1998 by Gilchrist Berg, founder and president of Water Street Capital, to honor teachers with lifelong careers in education and inspiring students. The award is named after Gladys Prior, Berg’s fourth-grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School. To date, Berg has given more than $2 million to honor Jacksonville teachers.

Principals in the Duval County Schools invited faculty and staff to join for special Zoom meetings to announce the award and surprise the winning teachers in front of their peers. Dr. Diane Yendol-Hoppey, UNF COEHS dean, was also in attendance to make the special announcement.

“The Gladys Prior Awards allow us to show our sincere appreciation by recognizing those outstanding teachers who have been dedicated and committed to educating our local youth and making a profound impact in their students’ lives,” stated Yendol-Hoppey.

Together, the awarded teachers have a combination of nearly a century of teaching experience.

Altman headshotKirk Altman is a veteran exceptional student education (ESE) teacher who currently teaches pre-K at Sallye B. Mathis Elementary School. Altman uses his more than 28 years of experience in the classroom to provide an abundance of care in supporting his students’ growth and development in an inclusive and creative environment. Even during COVID-19, Altman continued to virtually provide for his students with his animated story telling, art, science, literacy activities and daily routines to remain connected and provide support.


banks headshotChris Banks has served as a teacher for 17 years and is the band program director for LaVilla School of the Arts Middle School. He believes “perfect practice makes perfect” and challenges his students to hold themselves to high standards. Banks’ impact on his students affects them well after leaving middle school. Many of his alumni return to serve as volunteers and mentors for the younger students. He is known for his collaborative team effort, both with the faculty members and interns as well as his collaboration with local non-profit, Don’t Miss A Beat; a partnership that stemmed from wanting to provide his students of color with assistance and a community support system.  

prescott headshotJennifer Prescott is a veteran teacher with more than 37 years of experience. She currently serves as the TV production and career technical education teacher at Mandarin Middle School where she has taught for more than 30 years as a charter faculty member. Prescott shares her passion for teaching beyond the classroom to help build a better education for students and colleagues. She stepped in to help her team at the beginning of the pandemic and has made lasting impressions on her students, many of whom now have careers in TV production. Prescott also volunteers with Citibank’s Women in IT Program to expose girls to STEM and has mentored more than 40 beginning teachers and many of the UNF COEHS’ student interns.

sams headshotSonja Sams has spent more than 23 years committed to serving Title I schools. Currently she serves as Highlands Elementary School’s reading interventionist and TV production sponsor. Year after year, Sams’ students are recognized for their gains and high levels of achievement. She is known not only for her content knowledge and expertise, but also her ability to build lasting relationships with peers and with her students.

UNF’s College of Education and Human Services serves as an integral and dynamic contributor to the education, human services and sports communities in the Northeast Florida region and beyond.