UNF partners with Clay School District

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 12/5/18

JACKSONVILLE – Three Clay County schools will host future educators from the University of North Florida after being awarded the status of UNF Development Schools.

After a nationally recognized …

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UNF partners with Clay School District


JACKSONVILLE – Three Clay County schools will host future educators from the University of North Florida after being awarded the status of UNF Development Schools.

After a nationally recognized review process that the UNF College of Education and Human Services Department calls rigorous, Grove Park Elementary, Orange Park Junior High and Orange Park High have been selected as Clay County’s first UNF Development Schools. This means that future educators studying at UNF will be able to serve under teachers from these schools and gain first-hand experience that will benefit them in their pursuit of a teaching career.

“Like teaching hospitals that bring excellence to medicine, professional development schools will bring excellence to teachers, teacher candidates, and K-12 student success,” said Diane Yendol-Hoppey, dean of UNF’s College of Education and Human Services Department. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Clay County to collaboratively develop [these schools] as places where all stakeholders learn together and improve practice for students.”

Grove Park Elementary School Principal Stephanie Jackson said the program is a win-win because it helps the UNF student and the Clay County teacher. According to Jackson, teachers that mentor these future educators will have to examine inwardly how they perform in this career.

“While it seems that most of the benefit is for UNF, what it has done for our teachers has really caused them to think more critically and reflect more critically on their teaching practice,” Jackson said.

The 2018-19 school year is Jackson’s first year as principal of Grove Park, but she said that from the moment she stepped foot in the school, she could see how special it was. She said UNF must have seen what she saw when they determined Grove Park to be a good fit for a development school.

“I think there are often misperceptions about the school, but, and I’ve said this since the beginning, we are truly a diamond in the rough,” Jackson said. “I can vouch for my teachers and say that we probably have the hardest working teachers here and I think UNF saw that when they were determining where to go with their development schools.”

Jackson said that already, students from UNF are in Grove Park classrooms learning first-hand what it takes to be a teacher, and what practices are best when working with children. According to Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis, partnerships like this are critical for developing education in Clay County.

“This partnership allows us to create a stronger bench of candidates who have the desire to teach and link them with mentor teachers in our own schools,” Davis said. “Together, they can work collectively to identify best practices to understand curriculum and pedagogy, as a whole.”

According to Jackson, there is a clinical facilitator on the Grove Park campus for the majority of the school week who acts as a liaison between UNF and Grove Park. This liaison helps determine which Grove Park teachers would work best as mentors to certain UNF students.

Beyond the mentorship, this partnership also brings with it the opportunity for Clay County teachers to go back to school, free of charge. Davis said as a result of these UNF Development Schools, Clay County has been awarded 30 free master’s degrees – or the free credits to obtain them – to give to teachers at the three Orange Park schools.

Right now, the partnership is between three Clay schools, but Davis said he would love to see it expand to other Clay County schools. That’s because, according to Davis, these mentorships are key to the future of education.

“We’ve got to do a better job at educating newcomers to this field and let them know that we truly need them because this is one of the most important positions that’s out there,” Davis said. “Everyone, at some point, has been impacted in a positive manner by a teacher and it is important for us to grow this initiative so that this profession, while working collectively with higher education, is given a true ground perspective of how to enhance the craft and be prepared to teach the 21st century learner.”


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