By Martie Thompson

Candice Lilly, kindergarten teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School, is one of the five finalists for Duval County Teacher of the Year. She was born and raised in Rhode Island and moved to the Ocala, Florida area when she was in high school since her father, an educator, took a teaching position there. Upon her graduation from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, she took her first teaching position at Mandarin Oaks as a second grade teacher and has been at the school ever since. Her teaching motto that she tells her students is “You never fail until you stop trying.” She and husband Dallon, who records and produces local musicians by day and sets up stages for musical shows in the evenings, have two cats and one dog.

Q: How did you know you wanted to be an educator?
A: When I was growing up, I remember going into the community and seeing my dad’s former students and their parents coming up to him and thanking him. Seeing the impact he had on so many lives inspired me to get into education to reach people as well. My mom was an engineer and a big advocate for education for me.

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Q: How did you meet your husband?
A: We actually met in high school in Ocala … in my dad’s band class! Dad was the band director and I was a mallet percussionist. Dallon was a drummer. We’ve been married for six years.

Q: You’ve taught second and third grades and now teach kindergarten. What is your favorite part about each?
A: I taught second grade for three years and then looped up with my class to third grade, which I also taught for three years. I loved third grade because this is where students are already proficient readers and are reading to learn instead of learning to read. I’m now in my third year of teaching kindergarten and the best part about it is the kids don’t have any limits. They have positive attitudes and are excited to come to school. It’s like they’re a clean slate and you get to put a positive spin on school with them. As a teacher, I try to put my students first and give 100 percent every day and be enthusiastic and encouraging.

Q: How did you find out that you were a top five finalist for Duval County Teacher of the Year?
A: There was a given date that the district would be announcing the Top Five. I was in my classroom eating lunch with my kids and I heard the door open and saw Superintendent Greene and Jaxson de Ville plus the cheerleaders and my husband all come into my room. The kids didn’t really understand what was going on, but they were excited because I was excited. I’m still in shock saying that I’m a finalist out loud. It’s overwhelming and humbling. I’m not really looking for recognition; I’m just here for the kids.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I love hiking outdoors and I love cooking. Ina Garten is my favorite chef of all time and my signature dish, at least for this time of year, is a winter minestrone.

Photo courtesy Candice Lilly
Candice Lilly

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