By NewsLine Staff

Melinda Gillespie, an elementary school teacher at Patriot Oaks Academy, was named as the 2022-2023 St. Johns County Rookie Teacher of the Year

at a special recognition banquet on Feb. 2. Tracy Clauson, a Spanish language teacher at Sebastian Middle School was named the 2022-2023 St. Johns County District Teacher of the Year.

Gillespie is a first-grade teacher at Patriot Oaks Academy. Inspired by the book “Teach Like a Pirate,” Gillespie implements new and creative lesson plans in the classroom to empower students and encourage an excitement for learning. In her social studies classes, she teaches students about the state of Florida by creating an edible map using a soft tortilla shell, icing, candies, and an edible pen to provide a learning-by-immersion method for students to be in charge of their own learning.

Gillespie recently received the honor of having her own classroom for the first time, with previous experience as an associate teacher and paraprofessional in the classroom. Her philosophy of teaching is that every child who enters her classroom will have a fair and equal chance to learn in a safe environment, and the tools to be the best human being they can be to better the world.

“I encourage my young students to know they are never alone in their education and are safe to share their thoughts in school. Our classrooms are places for all teachers to acknowledge and carry out their duties as trustworthy professionals who help their students explore and learn,” said Gillespie. “I thank my husband and family for supporting my decision to become a teacher as my second career and I am grateful for the opportunity and honor.”

Clauson is a seventh and eighth grade Spanish teacher at Sebastian Middle School with more than 12 years of teaching students in English, Spanish, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and reading. As Teacher of the Year, Clauson will represent St. Johns County at the State of Florida Teacher of the Year event in July 2023.

Ninety-nine educators from each public school in the St. Johns School District and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind were honored during the event on Feb. 2 hosted by Investing in Kids (INK!). Tim Forson, St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools, congratulated all honored educators for their professionalism and profound dedication to their students. More than 950 guests attended the program themed “We’re Wild About Teachers,” including educators from throughout the District, families, friends, students, local school district officials, and dignitaries.

Photo courtesy Investing in Kids (INK!)

Melinda Gillespie

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