Top Florida educators honored at UF commencement


Five of Florida's most effective educators were honored at UF's commencement in December. Shown here are (from left) UF President Bernard Machen, Sugarloaf School principal Theresa Axford, Warfield Elementary School principal Loreen Francescani…


January 16, 2007




Five of Florida’s most effective educators were honored at UF’s commencement in December. Shown here are (from left) UF President Bernard Machen, Sugarloaf School principal Theresa Axford, Warfield Elementary School principal Loreen Francescani, Lawton Chiles Elementary School gifted teacher Betsy Seymour, Westchase Elementary School teacher Susan Mikolajczyk, Mowat Middle School reading teacher Barbara Hicks and UF College of Education Dean Catherine Emihovich.

Five of the state’s most effective teachers and education leaders received the University of Florida Distinguished Educator Award at UF’s fall commencement Dec. 16 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

UF created the Distinguished Educator Awards in 1988 to honor the important role teachers and school administrators play in shaping the lives of Florida’s children. While the Sunshine State is home to thousands of teachers who deserve to be honored, the Distinguished Educator Award is granted only to a select few who are identified by their peers as exceptional educators.

This year’s honorees are:

Theresa Axford, principal of Sugarloaf School in Monroe County. At Sugarloaf, a K-8 school, teachers use a computerized system to assess each student’s learning style and issue homework based on the style that works best for each student. These efforts helped Axford become one of three principals around the state to be honored by the Florida Council of Instructional Technology Leaders for outstanding leadership in technology.

Loreen Francescani, principal at Warfield Elementary School in Indiantown. Ninety-six percent of Warfield’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and almost two-thirds speak English as a second language. Under Francescani’s leadership, Warfield has risen from a D to an A rating under Florida’s school accountability system. In October 2006, Francescani was named Florida’s Elementary School Principal of the Year.

Barbara Hicks, a reading teacher at Mowat Middle School in Bay County. Hicks, a teacher for 17 years, found her true calling three years ago – teaching reading to at–risk kids in middle school. Hicks creates an atmosphere of high expectations for all her students. She teaches students to be proud of their work by displaying it in her room: even the ceiling is covered with student-produced material. Hicks was named Bay District’s 2006 Teacher of the Year.

Susan Mikolajczyk, a teacher who is known as “the queen of kindergarten” at Tampa’s Westchase Elementary School. Mikolajczyk uses drama to teach her students the basics of literacy by dressing up as the Cat in the Hat, or by appointing her students as “Magic ‘E’ Fairies” who sprinkle fairy dust on words ending with “e.” Knowing the value of music in the development of math skills, she actually started a Suzuki Method violin course for her students. Her methods have earned her Hillsborough County’s 2006 Teacher of the Year Award.

Betsy Seymour, a teacher of gifted students at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville. In 27 years of teaching, Seymour has earned the love and respect of a whole generation of students. As a mentor to teaching interns, she has devoted countless hours to helping UF students become the teachers they should be. She has been eager to share her knowledge with her colleagues through training sessions and work as a cooperative learning consultant. She was Alachua County’s 2006 Teacher of the Year.

Each fall and spring term, a county from each of the five educational regions of the state is asked to select a distinguished building-level educator representative of all of the outstanding educators in the county. The chosen educators are invited to take part in UF commencement ceremonies as members of the platform assembly in full academic regalia. Each educator is recognized by the president of the university and presented the Distinguished Educator Award from UF.