Meet the semi-finalists for 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year

Fifteen outstanding educators were chosen from more than 180 leading teachers across the county.


The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is proud to announce the 15 semi-finalists for 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year.

The teachers will go on to be considered as finalists for the county’s top teaching honor and all 15 will participate in JPEF’s Teacher Leadership Initiative, a professional learning community that connects teacher leaders with best practices in equity and school quality. JPEF is also proud to welcome a new title sponsor for the county’s top teaching honor – VyStar Credit Union, the largest credit union headquartered in Northeast Florida.

This year, JPEF is proud to host the EDDY Awards on January 27, 2020, with an exciting new format in the celebration’s 30th year. The event will take place as a small elegant luncheon and an hourlong TV Special, the EDDY Awards: Live from Jacksonville! Through a partnership with Channel 4/The Local Station, News4Jax Morning Show anchor Melanie Lawson will take audiences live to the event, where the winner of the top honor will be announced as school communities tune in to watch across the county.

You can help provide these opportunities for recognition and learning to teachers! Find out how to double your impact when you make an online donation to JPEF.

See the full list of semi-finalists below!

Elementary School
Christine Bell - Chets Creek Elementary

Christine Bell teaches music at Chets Creek Elementary. She has 23 years of teaching experience, and she has mentored young teachers for the last 12 years. She now serves as an instructor at UNF and welcomes aspiring teachers from UNF to intern in her classroom. “A good mentor is a servant. The key is helping young teachers discover what they are passionate about and where their talents can make the best difference. Where passion and talent collide is the sweet spot.” 

Maryjane Cassette - Sabal Palm Elementary

Maryjane Cassette teaches third grade at Sabal Palm Elementary. She has 10 years of experience teaching, and her class has shown outstanding results in reading. More than 76 percent of students have shown proficiency for three consecutive years, including ESE students. Outside the classroom, she leads school supply drives, serves as her school’s webmaster and serves as a Microsoft Innovative Educator, supporting other teachers using Duval HomeRoom. She is also certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid. “We are living in an unprecedented time. Now more than ever, the mental health of our students and ourselves is critical.”

Kenneth Ford   - Carter G. Woodson Elementary

Kenneth Ford teaches fifth grade math and science at Carter G. Woodson Elementary. He has three years of experience teaching, and he is a catalytic teacher leader at his school. He developed his school’s plan for data-driven instruction, leads science instruction and works to use positive behavior management. He attributes his life and career to his eighth grade teacher, Ms. Tave, who helped him re-integrate into school after treatment for leukemia. “She made room for me to operate at my greatest self,” says Mr. Ford. “Because of Ms. Tave, I’ll proudly teach the band of misfits every year.” 

Jameea Jackson-Gaines - Richard Lewis Brown Gifted and Academically Talented Academy

Jameea Jackson-Gaines teaches first grade at RL Brown Gifted and Academically Talented Academy. She has been teaching for seven years. She serves in many leadership roles in her school, including positive behavior management, using data to improve school culture, serving as a teacher liaison for her school’s PTA, and founding the “Sunshine Team” at her school. She also founded the Association for Teacher Collaboration, which allows teachers to support one another throughout Duval County, including helping new teachers set up their very first classrooms. “Teaching is truly a work of heart. I don’t do it for the accolades, I do it for the impact. Let’s do it with grace, let’s do it with passion but most of all, let’s do it with love.”

Kimberly Parker - Lake Lucina Elementary

Kimberly Parker teaches first grade virtually at Lake Lucina Elementary. She has 32 years of teaching experience in several schools throughout Duval County, and she specializes in helping to turn around schools through literacy. She has led system-level training in evidence-based reading instruction, and she has also taught literacy at UNF an adjunct instructor. “You ask what allows me to move students’ academic success in class? It is simple: I give them a backpack full of love, hope, guidance, and tools necessary to be successful.”

Margaret Rogero-Hastings - Mandarin Oaks Elementary

Margaret Rogero-Hastings teaches fourth grade students both virtually and in-person at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. She has 20 years of teaching experience. She is the webmaster and technology representative at her school, she mentors UNF education students, and has also served on district-level curriculum committees. “While this year looks different, it does not take away from the commitment I have to my fellow co-workers who are teaching in different environments.”

Kayla Santiago - Cedar Hills Elementary

Kayla Santiago teaches fourth grade English at Cedar Hills Elementary. She has eight years of teaching experience. She is the kind of teacher who says to her principal, “put me in the game, coach,” accepting every task and challenge with grace. She serves as a Clinical Educator, welcoming teacher interns in her class, serving on the Sunshine committee for school culture and working on the after-school program. “I want to continue to show others that anything is possible with faith and prayer. Always lead by example!” 

Leslie Wilkinson - Garden City Elementary

Leslie Wilkinson teaches fifth grade science and reading at Garden City Elementary. She has five years of teaching experience. She is a stand-out teacher leader who serves on Saturday School, breakfast morning tutoring, a science club, and a girls running club. “I strive to have my students leave my classroom with the expectation that education is fun, engaging and with a desire to learn more.” 


Middle School


Nadine Ebri - Southside Middle

Nadine Ebri teaches eighth grade algebra at Southside Middle. She has seven years of teaching experience. A few years ago, she posted a video of her students learning long division with the help of a rap song and dance. To her surprise, the video received more than 17 million views from classrooms all over the world, and allowed her to present on culturally relevant instruction to close the opportunity gap at a teaching conference in Miami. Now, during the pandemic, she is leading in her school as a Microsoft Innovator Educator. “I soon realized that my love for technology would be critical in transforming our school’s ability to remain connected with students.” 

Katie Kiefaber  - Matthew Gilbert Middle

Katie Kiefaber teaches eighth grade science at Matthew Gilbert Middle. She has four years of teaching experience. Over those years, she has grown into a true teacher leader, starting a bicycle club, restarting the garden club, creating a recycling program and leading field trips to Savannah. She’s also an instructional leader, serving as the chair of the science department and mentoring other teachers as a Clinical Educator. “Each year, I whole heartedly take on whatever I can do,” she says.

Mathew Schemer - Julia Landon College Preparatory and Leadership Development School

Mathew Schemer teaches Civics at Julia Landon College Preparatory Middle School. He has nine years of teaching experience. He created his own fictional nation, Schemerica, to serve as an educational aid to help students understand what it means to be an active and engaged citizen. “The invention of Schemerica revolves around the idea that any student can succeed when provided with a learning environment they enjoy and feel comfortable in.” As a result of this work, he was asked to develop a gifted curriculum in civics.

Charlotte Wintz - James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School

Charlotte Wintz teaches seventh grade language arts at James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School. She has 22 years of teaching experience. She has served in almost every leadership capacity that exists in a school, from coaching, clubs, tutoring, mentoring other teachers, faculty training and leading training on culturally responsive education. “Over the years, I have learned that no matter the subject area, what generation is in front of me, or in which direction the pedagogical pendulum is swinging, students will respond when they feel safe and loved.”

High school
Sharmariton Ashley - Andrew Jackson High School of Advanced Technology

Sharmariton Ashley teaches college prep and serves as testing chair and reading coach at Andrew Jackson High School. She has thirteen years of experience teaching, and she serves as a teacher leader in many capacities in her school, leading professional development, lesson planning and coaching on classroom management. Her proudest moment was taking over a class of seniors who were struggling to graduate. They were demoralized and talking about dropping out until two of the fourteen found out they passed the graduation exam. Slowly, the class became like a family. Many went to college who never thought they would be accepted. “I made the students understand that they are the victor and not the victim,” Ms. Ashley says.

Shayla Baylock - William M. Raines High

Shayla Baylock teaches honors English at Raines High School. She has six years of teaching experience and she has demonstrated that her commitment to students extends well past the school day. She created the “Raines Family Affairs Committee,” to help bolster teachers’ morale during challenging times by celebrating success, supporting each other in family emergencies and having fun and inviting educator spaces. “I joined Teach for America and committed to two years, but somehow, I am in year seven wondering where the time went! For some reason, I keep telling my students, ‘see you tomorrow,’ and those tomorrows keep coming! My students are my inspiration.” 

Jim Schmitt - Mandarin High

Jim Schmitt teaches history and global perspectives and research at Mandarin High School. He has 27 years of teaching experience. Throughout his career, he has excelled as a teacher leader, developing a writing program for at-risk students, writing a $10,000 grant for a school-to-work program, and serving as a standards coach. When COVID-19 hit, he took a leadership role in helping teachers collaborate even more, developing a community discussion group to exchange technology strategies that work. “In today’s world, with uncertainty and at times, fear for the future, we as teachers know that our class is a haven of hope for our students. Teachers’ love of students is the difference maker in society.”






of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.