UF to honor leading educators at commencement

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The University of Florida College of Education will honor five of the state’s most effective school administrators at its spring commencement ceremony May 5.


May 14, 2007



GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida College of Education will honor five of the state’s most effective school administrators at its spring commencement ceremony May 5.

Education leaders from five Florida counties will receive UF’s Distinguished Educator Awards, which were created 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:

  • Principal Victoria Davis, known to her colleagues as “Calhoun County’s most accomplished school leader.” Under her watch, Blountstown Elementary School has received five A ratings. Known as a strong leader in curriculum development and data interpretation, Davis leads by example and inspires others to excel through her own work ethic.
  • Judi Hughes, a Lee County teacher and administrator who came out of retirement to establish the Freshman Academy at Lehigh High School. The academy hosts Lehigh’s ninth-graders in a separate building, with a curriculum designed to help them transition from middle to high school – causing a dramatic improvement in academics, attendance and discipline. Hughes has also taken Lehigh’s new teachers under her wing in overseeing the school’s new teacher orientation program. Hughes was recognized as the Florida Commissioner’s Outstanding Middle Level Principal in 1995.
  • Elizabeth A. Kennedy, principal of Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach – an arts-focused magnet school which has received an A rating for the past six years. Kennedy is chairperson of the Palm Beach County Principals’ Association, president-elect of the Florida Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, and site visitor and consultant for International Baccalaureate North America. In 2006, she received Palm Beach County’s Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership.
  • Mary Mimbs, the current principal of Keystone Heights Elementary School in Clay County. Mimbs brought the school a renewed focus on reading and writing, urging teachers in all subjects to incorporate literacy skills into their classes. As a result, Keystone Heights has for the past two years maintained the highest fourth grade writing scores in the district. Keystone Heights Elementary as a whole has maintained a grade of A for the past three years.
  • Principal Toni Wiersma, who was recognized by the Florida Board of Education in 2006 as a “Turnaround Principal.” As leader of Okeechobee High School’s Freshman Academy, Wiersma brought that institution’s rating from a D to a B in two years. As principal of Okeechobee High, she has implemented a continuous improvement plan that includes input from students and faculty. She meets individually with teachers twice per month to make sure the entire school is coordinated in its efforts to promote literacy across the curriculum.

Each fall and spring term, a county from each of the five educational regions of the state is identified and 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 University of Florida 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 the University of Florida.