By James Combs
Lake names Teacher of the Year finalists
Three elementary school teachers received a surprise visit yesterday from Superintendent Diane Kornegay and a caravan of representatives from the district, the Education Foundation of Lake County and Jenkins Auto Group.
The entourage visited Doreen Elder, an instructional math coach at Groveland Elementary School; Sarah Foster, a fifth grade English/Language Arts teacher at Pine Ridge Elementary; and Christine Palmer, an art teacher at Triangle Elementary to announce the three have been chosen as finalists for Lake’s Teacher of the Year.
As an instructional coach, Doreen, a veteran instructor with 25 years of experience, said her impact on student learning is often rated by the school performance. She has helped Groveland Elementary make continuous improvements in math, as reflected by statistics that show steady math gains on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) over the last four years. She has also been instrumental in helping the school retain good teachers. She began a new teacher mentorship program at Groveland call the Panther Cub Club. “The goal of the program is to provide support to the new teachers and those in new positions, resulting in retention, quality education, student achievement and a culture of community,” she wrote in her award application packet. “The program helps ensure an enjoyable and successful experience at our campus, which positively impacts student performance.”
Sarah has spent all of her four-year teaching career in Lake. She said creating lifelong learners is the most important thing to her as an educator. She particularly wants to help her students develop stronger reading skills and a greater appreciation for reading. On a reading survey last year, on a scale of 1 to 5, 70 percent of her students rated their love of reading at a 2 or below. At the end of that year, she gave the same survey and 100 percent of the students rated their love of reading at a 3 or above, and 76 percent of the students had read 50 books or more. “I am inspired to change their mindset and create a love for reading that they never thought possible,” she wrote. “I often find that students being the year with a negative outlook on learning; specifically, in reading and writing. … The feeling I get when I see them finally dig into a book for the first time, enjoy it, and finish it is the most rewarding.”
Christine joined the district in 2011 and has taught art at Triangle for two years. She remembers struggling as a student and being told she was “not the brightest crayon in the box.” Then, she met an eighth-grade English teacher who was determined to help her succeed. That teacher changed her trajectory and inspired her to want to do the same for others. Her goal at Triangle was to make visual arts fun and engaging, especially for students who may have struggled in other areas. “I wanted students to look forward to art,” she wrote. “I wanted students who would normally not come to school, to come to school because they had art that day.” It worked! Far from simple free time with coloring, Ms. Palmer offered standard-based instruction and held high expectations for her students. “Watching the pride our students had when they saw their amazing art being displayed showed them and the world that they were capable of so much more than they originally thought,” she wrote.
At a celebration on Jan. 30, one of the three finalists will be named Lake’s newest Teacher of the Year and will drive away with the grand prize, a 2020 Hyundai Elantra from Jenkins Auto Group. The Lake winner will go on to compete at the state level for the title of Florida Teacher of the Year.
Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County's many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!