Finalists vie to be teacher of year

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

A registered nurse, a lifelong teacher and a second-generation teacher are the finalists for Alachua County's teacher of the year.

Several weeks ago, the teachers in each of the county's 38 schools selected one of their peers as their school's teacher of the year. The field was whittled to one elementary, one middle and one high school teacher this week. The 2008 finalists in Alachua County are:

Petrina Leggon, a first- and second-grade teacher at Williams Elementary school who has been teaching for nine years. Leggon's mother, Floretha Bryant, is a fifth-grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School, where she was named the school's teacher of the year.

Jane McMullen, an "exceptional education" teacher since the 1970s and a teacher at Kanapaha Middle School since it opened 12 years ago.

Janine Plavac, who spent three decades working as a registered nurse before being hired as a teacher in the Academy of Health Professions at Gainesville High School five years ago.

Leggon, McMullen, Plavac and the county's 35 other teacher of the year candidates will be honored Feb. 7 during the 16th Annual Robert W. Hughes Teacher Recognition Program reception.

School board spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said each teacher will be given a $500 check and a goody bag with gifts donated by local businesses.

"The tradition of giving all the teachers the same cash award was established in 1992 when program started," Johnson said in an e-mail. The district is still accepting contributions from local businesses to provide a slightly larger gift for the three finalists. (Arrangements to make donations are being handled by Johnson's office at 955-7253 ext. 228.)

The district's overall teacher of the year will receive a few additional benefits, Johnson said, such as registration and expenses to attend a professional institute during the summer, courtesy of the Alachua County Public Schools Foundation.

A few weeks from now, the county's top teacher will be named and will go on to compete in the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year Program. The Florida teacher of the year will be named in July.

Leggon, who graduated from P.K. Yonge in 1994 and the University of Florida in 1998, is working on her master's degree in special education.

She said her interest in teaching as a career was sparked by her mother's joy of teaching and by her own experience working in after-school programs.

"And I love children, they are so interesting and interested in so many things," Leggon said. "I want to inspire them to learn."

McMullen, who graduated from Florida State Univeristy in 1975 and from the master's program at UF in 1979, worked in Hardee County as well as at Westwood, Metcalfe and Hidden Oaks schools in Alachua County before transferring to Kanapaha when it opened 12 years ago.

"The staff here is wonderful to work with and we all know that all teachers need lots of support, so I can go to any teacher to get help any time, " McMullen said. "This is a wonderful school and a wonderful honor."

Plavac earned her bachelor's degree in nursing at the University of Miami in 1976 and completed a bridge program for her teaching certificate in December at UF.

She is director of the Academy of Health Professions at Gainesville High, a position she says allows her to help prepare the next generation of health care professionals.

"It is wonderful to see them grow from ninth graders who aren't really sure what they want to do into seniors wearing their EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) uniforms or going to clinicals," Plavac said. "This is the best part of teaching - to see them grow into nurses or technicians or whatever it is they want to do. This is a wonderful job."

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or

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