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Press Release for Monday, May 5, 2008

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 school teachers—including the first inner-city elementary teacher—will be recognized today as winners of the 2008 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 $15,000.

The Gladys Prior Awards for Teaching Excellence—one of the largest teacher awards in the nation—were established in 1998 by Gilchrist Berg, founder and president of Water Street Capital, a Jacksonville investment firm. He has given 44 teachers a total of $500,000.

“Teachers are one of our most important assets,” said Berg. “We simply don’t do enough to remind ourselves of their great influence on us every day of our lives.”

For the first time in the 11-year history of the Gladys Prior Awards, an elementary teacher from an inner-city public school is a recipient of the award. Cleo Jones is a 40-year veteran at Rufus E. Payne Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarten.

Last August, only 53 percent of her students came to school with basic readiness skills. In December, 100 percent of her students tested on grade level.
Jones doesn’t accept failure from her inner-city kids.

Her students and their parents have no choice but to be excited about learning. If parents don’t come to her, she shows up on their doorstep with a bag of books for them to read to their children.
Albert Duane Chester II, a former student of Jones, said she ignited a fire within him to excel. “She sparked a drive in me that led me to Florida A & M University’s College of Pharmacy and to play the quarterback position on the football team,” he said. “I have no doubt that Ms. Jones made a huge difference in my life and set me on the road to success.”

In addition to Jones, three other teachers were recognized today. Awards went to Susan Bell, a physical education teacher at Woodland Acres Elementary School; Jeffrey Clayton, choral music teacher at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts; and Laurie Stucki, a fourth-grade teacher at Atlantic Beach Elementary School.

Bell has been teaching for more than 14 years. When Gov. Charlie Crist mandated that all students receive 150 minutes of physical education a day, she didn’t blink an eye. Bell immediately started giving every teacher detailed lesson plans to extend the instruction she provides for their students once a week.

Her physical education program was recently featured as being the only school in Duval County meeting the requirement. Now, Bell is helping other schools set up similar programs.

She also coordinates two after-school tutoring programs, one of which she developed from the ground up and trained the staff to implement. Now four days a week, children have intensive tutoring in reading and math under Bell’s leadership.

Clayton has been a choral music teacher for 20 years. He teaches his students to sing at a professional level and matches his high standards with deep compassion for his students. He also encourages his students to help each other with their music and academic studies.

In 2007, Clayton and his vocal music department received the designation of Signature Grammy Gold School, one of only two in the nation, sponsored by the Grammy Awards Foundation. His women’s chorale was also chosen as one of two high school choirs to perform at the American Choral Director’s Florida Conference.

For the last 10 years, Stucki has enthusiastically welcomed children with disabilities into her fourth-grade inclusion classes. She has taught children with autism, developmental disabilities, severe language disabilities, emotional handicaps and learning disabilities as effectively as she teaches those who learn easily. She sees the strengths and abilities of all her students and finds a way for each one to contribute to the classroom learning community.

Stucki has collected more than 1,000 books for her students to enjoy in the reading corner of her classroom. She often tutors children after school, taking them home when their parents can’t pick them up. Stucki’s fourth graders, including her students with disabilities, consistently score high on the reading and writing portions of the FCAT.