Congratulations to Florida’s teacher of the year, Melissa Anne Matz, who shined above her 185,000 public education colleagues to be named the most exemplary teacher in the Sunshine State.
Education Commissioner Manny Díaz named Matz the Department of Education’s 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year on Thursday, closing out this year’s Teacher of the Year Conference in Orlando. As the winner, Matz, a seventh-grade math teacher at Lakeside Junior High School in Clay County, will serve one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education.
“I am honored to recognize Melissa Anne Matz as the 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year,” Díaz said. “Melissa has risen to the top through hard work, passion and putting her students first. I have no doubt she will represent Florida with excellence in the coming year, just as she has done in her classroom.”
Matz has displayed classroom excellence and has made significant contributions to her students and school, according to DOE. She has been her school’s math department head and leadership team member since 2015.
Matz was one of five finalists to sit for interviews with the DOE selection committee for the award. DOE says she believes that building rapport with each of her students is an essential step in the process of teaching math, and she takes the approach that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and taking positive risks are how to reach new achievements.
“Melissa Matz’s students see firsthand that the skills they acquire in her classroom can be applied to a broad spectrum of fields, and therefore, they can become well-rounded members of our community,” said Clay County Superintendent of Schools David Broskie.
For her hard work, Matz wins a $20,000 award, a tuition waiver to pursue a graduate degree from the Florida State University College of Education and a two-year Florida College scholarship from the Florida Prepaid College Board to present to a student of her choice.
Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by the conference on Tuesday to deliver $15,000 awards to the Matz and the four other finalists — Trinity Whittington, a fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Bell Elementary School fourth-grade English and social studies teacher Trinity Whittington in Gilchrist County, Sarasota Middle School social studies teacher Jennifer Jaso in Sarasota County, Samoset Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Deelah Jackson in Manatee County, and Eagle Ridge Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Seema Naik in Broward County.
“Florida is the education state not just because we have good policies, but because we have great teachers who go above and beyond for their students,” DeSantis said on Tuesday. “It was great to join some amazing teachers today and to show our appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice. We will continue to invest in our schools and educators while putting policies in place that improve outcomes for students.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Aimee Sachs, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first …
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Harris brings abortion talk to Florida — As part of a push for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, Vice President Kamala Harris hit the I-4 corridor this week. Several lawmakers, including like Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book and House Democratic Leader-designate Fentrice Driskell met with Harris, who chose Florida because of the state’s 15-week abortion ban. “This year, Republican legislators in Florida passed an extreme abortion restriction, with no exception for rape or incest. There are members of the Florida Legislature who are fighting on the frontlines to protect reproductive rights. We must fight back on every level,” Harris tweeted.
Lawmakers attend Joe Biden gun reform event — State lawmakers, local officials and gun safety advocates from across the country, Florida included, made the trip to Washington to celebrate the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The gun reform legislation moved forward following the recent deadly mass shootings in New York and Texas. It includes expanding background checks for gun purchasers under the age of 21 and pouring $11 billion into mental health services. Additionally, the bill bans people convicted of domestic violence from purchasing firearms for five years. The state’s elected leaders were also joined by Florida gun reform advocates such as Fred Guttenberg.
DeSantis picks new anti-woke fight — The Governor is joining the chorus of conservatives criticizing the use of gender-neutral terms like “birthing people” when describing pregnancies. Speaking in Putnam County on Thursday, he took the opportunity to opine on gender-neutral language when asked about implementing stricter anti-abortion laws. “Some of the people in Washington, like, can we actually agree that women get pregnant and not men? Because they don’t seem to say that,” DeSantis said. “It’s just unbelievable, some of the stuff that you’re hearing about that.”
Citizens leaders grouse over rate decision — During a Citizens Property Insurance Corporation board meeting Wednesday, Chairman Carlos Beruff said he wants the Legislature to change the law to allow it to charge some homeowners more next year. Citizens requested a 10.7% statewide rate increase, but the Office of Insurance Regulation only granted a 6.4% increase. “One of the things that makes no sense that we approached OIR about was the ability to not go below zero,” Beruff said. Beruff also bemoaned the practice of taking over the policies of failed companies and being required to charge a lower premium, calling it a foolish practice.
After cyberattack, jobs site back online — After more than a week offline, Employ Florida is operational again following a cyberattack that downed the job search portal and dozens like it across the country. Palm Harbor-based Geographic Solutions Inc., the software vendor that operates Employ Florida, was attacked about three weeks ago. With the latest development, service in the Sunshine State began to restart Monday. The Department of Economic Opportunity said the outage did not impact the delivery of unemployment benefits. Applicants can now use Employ Florida to complete their work search requirements. However, DEO will determine whether to turn the work search requirement back on as it evaluates whether the system is back to normal.
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