The Teacher selected to represent St. Johns County in the Florida Teacher of the Year process will be announced at the countywide event on February 1
Five public school teachers selected as finalists for the St. Johns County Teacher of the Year honor were announced by Investing in Kids (INK!) on Tuesday, December 19 during a surprise visit to each school. The St. Johns County Education Foundation, which operates as INK!, hosts the annual Teacher of the Year selection process and celebration to acknowledge and commemorate excellence in teaching, and emphasize the importance and impact of the profession in the community.
Fifty-two teachers from every public school in St. Johns County were nominated by their peers as the Teacher of the Year for their school in a selection process that began in October. An INK! selection committee narrowed the search to five finalists through a process that includes a review of the teachers’ written applications, letters of recommendation, and an interview with the selection committee.
Kristen Anderson, a first-grade teacher at Valley Ridge Academy in Nocatee, has more than 11 years of teaching experience in St. Johns County, and previously in Marion County, Fla., Michigan, and New Jersey. She holds membership in the St. Johns Education Association and is dedicated to community service activities in school and outside of the classroom. Anderson believes establishing a strong teacher and student relationship is imperative for success in the classroom. Her philosophy of teaching is “relationships first” which can help students feel comfortable engaging in new learning activities and risk taking to achieve greater academic gains and positive behaviors. She teaches a strong literacy curriculum while constantly ensuring best practices. She coaches middle school boys and girls volleyball for Valley Ridge Academy. Anderson resides in St. Johns, Fla.
Samantha Gayso is an eighth grade teacher in English Language Arts (ELA) at Alice B. Landrum Middle School in Ponte Vedra. She has been teaching in St. Johns County District schools and previously in Pennsylvania for 13 years. Gayso received a Civics Seal of Excellence in 2023 from the St. Johns County School District. She is a member of the National Education Association (NEA) and is a National Junior Honor Society sponsor. She has served as a volunteer for the school’s Junior Thespian Troupe, 8th Grade End-of-Year Coordination Team and Chaperone, Gradventure Coordination Team and Chaperone, and 8th Grade Washington D.C. and Boston Trip Coordination Team and Chaperone. Gayso enjoys spending time supporting her students at school sports events, drama performances, band concerts, and talent contests, among other extracurricular activities. Her students inspire Gayso as an educator and she believes her career is destined for teaching at the eighth grade level to encourage pre-teens and teenagers to feel safe and loved in the classroom. Gayso focuses on teaching at higher analytical, evaluative, and creative levels. She also trains and mentors new or new-to-Landrum teachers within her department and produces an annual teacher music video. She resides in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
Tina Hemby is an eighth-grade pre-algebra teacher at Mill Creek Academy with 29 years of experience as an educator in mathematics, elementary education, and general science in St. Johns County District Schools, and previously in South Carolina. She has been honored with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, among other recognitions and memberships in educational associations. Hemby is a Clinical Evaluator Trained Teacher (CET) and Mentor; teacher member of St. Johns County School District’s Unity Cohort; Math Department Chairperson; and is trained in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a grade level representative. Hemby was inspired by her father who was a math teacher. She cultivates a positive learning environment to build a solid teacher-student relationship. In Spring 2023, more than 80 percent of her students scored a mastery level on the 8th-grade Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) mathematics test while meeting or exceeding mastery of the State of Florida’s student pre-algebra benchmarks. Hemby’s leadership role in St. John’s County School District has included her responsibility as a grade-level math program chairperson and peer mentor to other educators. She resides in St. Augustine, Fla.
Robyn Rice is currently teaching Exceptional Student Education (ESE) at John A. Crookshank Elementary School in St. Augustine. For more than 22 years, she has been an educator for St. Johns County District Schools and previously in Georgia while specializing in social emotional learning support for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. She developed a classroom character as herself portraying “Super Rice,” a look alike of Spiderman. While in the role, her students listen and relate to her with a better focus on their studies and activities as their Superhero teacher helps them learn. Rice’s AVID workshops in small group lessons for ESE students focus on using research-based programs with hands-on learning and teaching strategies. As an active member of her school community and the St. Johns County School District, she participates with students during Earth Day and theatrical performances. Outside of the school environment, Rice is a volunteer with the St. Augustine Little League Association. Her alter ego, “Super Rice,” is a motivator for students to continue working towards their social emotional goals helping students to better comprehend their emotions and demonstrate empathy for others in the classroom and during outside activities. She resides in St. Augustine, Fla.
Duane Spears has taught tenth and eleventh grade students at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., for more than seven years as an instructor in Naval Science studies and Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC). Master Chief Spears served with the U.S. Navy for 27 years and was awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal and the Presidential Volunteer Service Medal. His philosophy of teaching is, “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” He leads high school cadets by example with rigorous physical training and the study of current worldwide developments and military deployment in class. Spears has helped the high school cadets to consistently exceed the pass rate for the Presidential Fitness Assessment to 80 percent each year. His focus as a teacher and leader for student development is to affect outcomes in the classroom and beyond. Spears also serves as a peer mentor in his program and instructs high school educators in the Navy curriculum, field trip logistics, Navy Financials, the importance of Letter of Recommendations for cadets applying for military academy appointments, and ROTC Scholarships. During the 2022 to 2023 school year, Master Chief Spears supported 13 local cadets who earned ROTC scholarships totaling $2.275 million. He resides in Jacksonville, Fla.
The countywide Teacher of the Year program builds community awareness for the high level of instructional skills, professional excellence, and student interaction among educators and beyond school walls. The announcement of the educator selected as the St. Johns County District Teacher of the Year will be made on February 1, 2024, at the World Golf Village Renaissance St. Augustine Resort. The St. Johns County District Teacher of the Year becomes a candidate for Florida Teacher of the Year and receives various awards sponsored by local businesses and donors including the opportunity to receive a new car from Beaver Toyota St. Augustine.