University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee



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Educator Signing Day celebrates USF graduates launching teaching careers in Manatee County

By Marc R. Masferrer, University Communications and Marketing

With fanfare that matched the significance of their budding careers, 10 soon-to-be graduates from the University of South Florida College of Education on Tuesday signed contracts to teach at schools in the School District of Manatee County.

The Educator Signing Day celebration on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus — not unlike ceremonies where high school student-athletes reveal their college choices or recruits join the armed forces — highlighted the strengthening relationship between the College of Education and the school district, and their efforts to address teacher shortages in the Manatee-Sarasota region and across the state.

Along with family and friends of the new teachers, the audience included top officials from the Sarasota-Manatee campus, the College of Education and the School District of Manatee County. An appearance by USF mascot Rocky D. Bull made the event complete.

Eight of the new teachers are products of the elementary education program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, and two are graduating from the secondary education program on the Tampa campus. All worked as paid interns in the Manatee School District as part of their training.

The students and their schools are:

  • Jessica Bailey, Palmetto Elementary
  • Jennifer Bartens, Freedom Elementary
  • Shelbi Berner, Southeast High
  • Anna Bunyak, McNeal Elementary
  • Hailey Cosby, Samoset Elementary
  • Ashley Danko, Prine Elementary
  • Paige Dodd, Prine Elementary
  • Hope Gratzer, Southeast High
  • Ariana Morales, Samoset Elementary
  • Madison Atkinson, elementary school not yet determined
teacher signing day

Ten College of Education students sign teaching contracts with School District of Manatee County.

“I cannot think of anything more important than young people going into teaching, said Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook. “We know our students are ready to become teachers and will go out and do a phenomenal job.”

Cheryl Ellerbrock, dean of the College of Education on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, said the paid internship program and the idea for Tuesday’s signing day event were products of the university and the school district sharing a common goal.

“We are in dire need of teachers,” Ellerbrock said. “We have to work in concert to prepare and educate our next generation of teachers.”

Manatee Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders congratulated the new district employees, calling teachers the “backbone” of a successful district. She said it was “only right that we celebrate individuals who have chosen to go into this profession.”

Saunders and USF officials hailed the growing relationship between the school district and the College of Education that made Tuesday’s celebration possible.

“All school districts are facing teacher shortages, so partnering with the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus is a wonderful way to not only attract those who have chosen to become teachers, but to ensure they choose the School District of Manatee County as their home upon their graduation,” Saunders said.

teacher signing day

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook speaks during the Educator Signing Day event.

Jennifer Jacobs, director of USF’s Office of Clinical Education, said the students’ internships were a key component of their training to teach. But it’s not enough, she said, to just be an extra adult in a classroom.

“The quality of the clinical experience matters,” Jacobs said. “That is why at USF we work to develop intentional clinical partnerships with our local school districts. We have worked closely with Manatee County to engage in intentional and thoughtful placements of teacher candidates throughout the district at partnership schools.”

Schools, teachers and students in the district also benefit from the relationship between USF and Manatee schools.

“Having a teacher candidate in the classroom often means opportunities for more differentiated instruction as teacher candidates can work one-on-one or with small groups of students. Having two teachers in the classrooms benefits the PK-12 learner,” Jacobs said. “Manatee County teachers give back to the profession by mentoring the next generation of teachers through their coaching and guidance.”

Dean Anthony Rolle said it is exactly that type of relationship he is trying to foster between the USF College of Education and local school districts.

“We are rebuilding and maintaining our relationships with good ideas, with good efforts, and innovations to move forward,” Rolle said. “I am extremely pleased to be here today with these fine, fine graduates from what I can consider the best college of education in the state of Florida.”

teacher contract

Ariana Morales, left, and Hailey Cosby signed contracts to teach at Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton. With them is Samoset Principal Samara Hemingway Primous. 

Students said the USF teacher preparation program prepared them for what to expect when they enter their classrooms in the fall, especially since they already have the experience of working in Manatee County schools.

“I feel like I will be able to really prioritize what my students need to grow within my community,” said Morales, who will teach at Samoset Elementary in Bradenton. “Having a job lined up before graduating really made this a stress-free transition. Now I have more time to focus on starting my classroom.”

Cosby, who also has accepted a position at Samoset Elementary, attended Manatee County schools, from elementary school (Moody) to middle school (Lee) to high school (Manatee).

“Having grown up in this county, working in the elementary schools truly feels like a full circle moment,” she said. “I have already received so much support and guidance from the staff and teachers at Samoset Elementary and I cannot be more excited to begin my career there.”

Melissa Mendiola, the students’ university supervisor, said USF’s teacher preparation program allows students to receive feedback they can apply in their classrooms as they start their careers.

“In their clinical placements, our students are offered a hands-on approach to make connections from the content that they learn in their coursework and then apply this content to an actual classroom setting,” said Mendiola, a visiting assistant professor of instruction in the College of Education on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. “This whole process provides a unique opportunity for our graduates and makes them highly sought after within the school districts for employment.” 

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