INK!’s (Investing in Kids) 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year awards campaign culminated on January 20 with a special recognition banquet and program, along with honors and a tribute to Andrew Burk, band director at Valley Ridge Academy who was named as the Teacher of the Year among teacher finalists from St. Johns County, Fla. public schools. Kaitlyn Holle, a middle school science teacher at Mill Creek Academy was named as this year’s Rookie Teacher of the Year.
During the event, Tim Forson, St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools, spoke and congratulated Burk and Holle, along with accolades from local business leaders, and recognition for all Teacher of the Year finalists. Additional presentations included Burk’s comments and affirmations from many educators who were previous award winners along with attendance by families, friends, and students who joined the evening event at World Golf Village Renaissance St. Augustine Resort.
As Teacher of the Year, Burk will be awarded a car to drive from Beaver Toyota and a $500 gift certificate from Staples. He also becomes the representative from St. Johns County in the State of Florida Teacher of the Year competition. Burk will begin a yearlong professional development and leadership program with fellow Teachers of the Year from all 67 counties around the state. As Rookie Teacher of the Year, Holle will receive $500 from Equitable.
Additional Teacher of the Year finalists this year include Veronica Fuata, second-grade teacher at Cunningham Creek Elementary School; Robie Hagan, instructional literacy coach at Wards Creek Elementary School; Patricia McElhone, academic interventionist at St. Johns Virtual School; and Sharon Warwell-Murden, fifth-grade teacher at R.B. Hunt Elementary School. The countywide awards program commemorates recipients as local scholastic leaders who help to build community awareness of the region’s best educators.
Since 2017, Burk has been teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth grade music classes beginning in South Florida, and in 2019, he started teaching the same grade levels in band at Valley Ridge Academy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and majored in
Instrumental Music Education at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. Burk resides in Jacksonville, Fla.
Burk has received awards as an outstanding educational leader, and for high academics, and is a member of several professional educator associations. He is a volunteer mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida. Burk’s focus is helping students learn how to play instruments through world-renowned music programs. The method allows students to start on specific instruments for faster learning so they can play harder, more impressive music as they grow, and to play additional instruments.
According to Burk, his proudest accomplishments outside of the classroom is being the co-founder of Collegiate Music Education Day at the Florida Capitol and advocacy for a legal provision in a large education bill that lists music as a core subject in Florida public schools. He has partnered with the Florida Music Education Association and worked with more than 20 house and senate offices while hosting the first-ever legislative advocacy event related to music education in the State of Florida.
As a music teacher, Burk’s philosophy is to focus on students working together, exerting effort, and making sacrifices as a team. He requires all students to help set up chairs and stands each morning, with responsibilities to move equipment, perform instrument maintenance, and organize paperwork for the band to emphasize personal ownership of the program. Burk assigns every student to perform three minutes throughout the year to present their favorite song to the band and to help build a caring, supportive band family. Burk teaches students that as individuals and through cooperation, they will benefit from their class experience as they work to provide value to the group.
“I am so proud to have played a role in educating students and music teachers in and beyond the classroom,” said Burk. “Within St. Johns County School district, I have taken on the role of leading the Professional Learning Community for middle school band directors where I guide
teachers during monthly band director meetings. We are currently planning the 2023 St. Johns County Honor Band,” he said. “Inside my classroom, I have hosted three college interns and directed them through a day in the life of a young middle school band director.”
Burk added, “I am honored and humbled to receive such an amazing distinction as Teacher of the Year. We have an exceptional group of educators in St. Johns County and it is a privilege to collaborate with them each day,” said Burk. “The school year has been challenging in many ways. Yet, it has provided us with a unique opportunity to reflect on our teaching practices and think about our relationships with our students. And it reminds us that what matters most is to help students truly engage in their own learning experiences,” he said.
All finalists were honored during the surprise visits in December by INK! (Investing in Kids), school district officials and 2020-2021 St. Johns County Teacher of the Year, Ali Pressel from Creekside High School. Visits also included program sponsors and supporters who provided flowers, applause and accolades at each school with school principals, staff members, and students. Beaver Toyota St. Augustine hosted the day with its Bucky the Beaver mascot on prize patrol.
Old Town Trolley Tours provided transportation with Leonard’s Photography donating photography. During the visits, board members, staff and volunteers, along with Superintendent Forson and officials visited schools and recognized the finalist teachers for their outstanding demonstration of instructional skills, student interaction, professional excellence, and importance in the lives of hundreds of students. The St. Johns County Education Foundation, which operates as INK! facilitated a group of panelists as they interviewed nominees who have more than three years as professional educators in the classroom.
Emcees and presenters at the Jan. 20 event included Paul Ray, INK! Board President; and St. Johns County Teachers of the Year with Ali Pressel, Teacher of the Year 2020-2021 from Creekside High School; Amy Grimm, Teacher of the Year 2017-2018 from Julington Creek Elementary School; Julie Haden, Teacher of the Year Finalist 2019-2020 from Freedom Crossing Academy; Becky Welu, Teacher of the Year Honoree 2020-2021 from R.B. Hunt Elementary School, Ashley Grimm, Teacher of the Year honoree 2019-2020 from Freedom Crossing Academy; and Lauren Wood, Rookie Teacher of the Year 2020-2021 from Valley Ridge Academy.
According to Donna Lueders, INK!’s Executive Director, the importance of the countywide awards program builds community awareness of the region’s best educators. Lueders and her team of professionals provide innovative programs, services, and classroom resources to support academic success for all St. Johns County public schools.
INK! promotes academic success for all St. Johns County public school students by providing innovative programs and resources to support over 45,000 students and approximately 2,785 teachers. The office is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine. For more information, contact Donna Lueders at 904-547-7120 or email Do***********@st*****.us. Visit the website at www.ink-stjohns.org.