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UNF partners with local philanthropist to surprise four Jacksonville teachers with awards

The University of North Florida’s College of Education and Human Services presented four Duval County teachers with awards of $17,000 each on Tuesday.

Philanthropist Gilchrist Berg established the Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence in 1998, and since then, he has given over $2 million to Jacksonville teachers.

Berg named the award after his fourth-grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School. COEHS organizes the surprise each year and presents the awards on his behalf.

This year’s winners were Susan Morgan from John E. Ford Pre K-8, Jesica Pearce from Lake Lucina Elementary, Kristi St. John from LaVilla School of the Arts and Ilyssa Tomlinson from Loretto Elementary, three of whom are UNF alumni.

The awards are usually $15,000, but Berg added $2,000 to each teacher’s award this year.

Interim COEHS Dean Jennifer Kane said the college appreciates Berg’s commitment to recognizing and awarding local educators.

Tomlinson is a first-grade teacher at Loretto Elementary who graduated from UNF with a degree in elementary education in 2012.

She said her pay as a public school teacher is sometimes insufficient to support her and her family. Tomlinson said she sincerely appreciates the award, which will eventually fund a much-needed family vacation.

“The award is incredible, and you know, teachers, we don’t really make a lot of money, so having a little financial stability is definitely going to be a nice plus to this award,” she said.

Ilyssa Tomlinson received the award and a bouquet surrounded by her students and peers. (Photo courtesy of UNF)

Tomlinson said she is a big advocate for inclusion and welcomes students from Loretto’s Communication and Social Skills program into her classroom to interact with students outside the program.

“I feel like just getting students to feel loved and accepted for who they are, regardless of if they have any kind of disability … they always have somebody rooting for them in their corner,” she said. 

Every April, the Gladys Prior Awards are given to four Duval County teachers with over a decade of experience. Nominations for next year have not opened yet, but information on how to do so can be found on the COEHS website.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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