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Meet our finalists for Teacher of the Year

Tammy Jerkins of Leesburg High School, Anthony Ritter of Eustis Heights Elementary School and Jessica Simmons of Gray Middle School are Lake County Schools’ finalists for Teacher of the Year. The three were surprised this week by a caravan of officials led by Superintendent Susan Moxley who delivered the good news face to face.

The top teacher will be announced at a celebration on Feb. 11.
 
Meet the finalists:
 
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Anthony Ritter has been a teacher five years and currently works at Eustis Heights Elementary where he teaches General Education to third and fourth grade students. He also teaches gifted students in third through fifth grade. As a teacher he developed projects and lessons to provide differentiated and individualized learning for gifted students, and he provided free, after-school tutoring in writing to help struggling students. He serves as the technology contact, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Team coach, and a robotics coach for his school. He has a passion for incorporating technology in his lessons. “Every student needs to receive the opportunity to be educated in technology and basic engineering skills,’’ he wrote in his application packet. “We need to train our students in technology at a young age and help them adapt as technology changes and advances. This will better prepare them for the future as they enter their college or career choices.”
 
 
 
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With seven years of teaching experience, Jessica Simmons currently teaches students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in a self-contained classroom at Gray Middle School.  Her responsibilities include planning individualized and group lessons, managing various symptomatic behaviors, implementing intervention strategies to help those who need special care, teaching students how to appropriately interact with peers and helping them develop communicative and social skills. “When the students enter my room, they are very dependent, sometimes non-communicative (or limited communication), many lack social and functional skills, and often they display inappropriate behaviors and/or aggressive behaviors,’’ she wrote. “However, by the time these students leave my classroom to transition into their next phase in life, they’re more independent, they can communicate better, [and] exhibit socially appropriate behaviors and reduced aggressive behaviors. … Working with students with autism is challenging but very rewarding.”
 
 
 
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Tammy Jerkins has been a teacher 17 years, 13 of which have been as a math teacher at Leesburg High School. Last year she taught Math for College Readiness, a class seniors with college potential are placed in because they are not mathematically ready to enter college. The students take the PERT (Post-secondary Education Readiness Test) as their final exam, and 69 percent passed and were able to enter Florida colleges and take math classes for credit instead of non-credit remedial math courses. She also teacher Pre-Calculus Honors, and said she is seeing a 100-point math gain in SAT scores among her students. While test scores offer helpful data, Ms. Jerkins says the best feedback comes from students who have graduated high school and are now in college. “Every year, I have students return to see me and tell me that they are succeeding in their math classes,” she wrote. “Just last month, three students showed up at my classroom door on different occasions to thank me for preparing them for college. Those are the best days a teacher can have.”