Celebrating excellence: FSU CEHHS recognizes education partners during 2024 ElevatED Torch Awards

Melissa Powell

Torch Award recipients lined up with their awards along side Dean Damon Andrew

View Photo Gallery | Watch the Recording

Each year, the ElevatED Torch Awards, hosted by the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, celebrates educators and leaders who shape the future of education. On Thursday, May 16, Dean Damon Andrew opened the evening with heartfelt remarks emphasizing the event’s purpose: to honor and recognize the important contributions that cooperating teachers, school leaders, and district partners make in the development of FSU students, as well as their impact on local schools and the future of education.

During the 2023-24 academic year, nearly 500 cooperating teachers mentored CEHHS students in either a practicum or internship experience. These FSU students are also known as preservice teachers and are enrolled in the college’s teacher preparation programs.

Phyllis Underwood, Director of Internships at CEHHS, highlights the invaluable role of cooperating teachers in the development of preservice teachers. Cooperating teachers not only demonstrate consistent and fair classroom management practices, but also provide specific, actionable feedback as FSU students develop and implement lesson plans for individual, small-group, and whole-class settings. “Our preservice teachers walk away from these experiences with confidence, recognizing that—in addition to knowing the academic content—organization, flexibility, and compassion are key characteristics of effective teachers,” Underwood said.

In Dean Andrew’s opening remarks at the award ceremony, he highlighted the essential role educators play, especially in challenging times, such as the aftermath of recent tornados in Tallahassee. The event underscored the profound impact teachers have on their students, shaping not just their academic journey, but their character and resilience as well.

Numerous individuals were nominated for the evening’s awards, each of whom were celebrated as honorees at the event. Each award recipient was invited to share a few words at the podium.

View the recording to hear their reflections.


Pathmaker Award

The first award of the evening was the Pathmaker Award, presented by Christopher Small, director of the online educational leadership and administration programs and assistant teaching professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. This inaugural award honors school principals who serve as mentors and coaches for educational leadership students. Students in their last two semesters of coursework were invited to nominate their supervising principal.

The recipient, Dr. Denise Aloma from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, was recognized for her outstanding mentorship.


Cooperating Teacher Awards

Toby Park-Gaghan, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, interim director of the School of Teacher Education, and incoming Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the college, then presented the Cooperating Teacher Awards, acknowledging educators who go above and beyond in mentoring FSU's aspiring teachers. The awards were given to exceptional teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels:

Elementary School Award: Ms. Kara Weaver of Kate Sullivan Elementary School was praised for her ability to create a welcoming and respectful classroom environment.

Middle School Award: Ms. Phyllis Wright of Fairview Middle School was recognized for her immersive and instructive mentorship and ability to help students adapt concepts from theory to practice.

High School Award: Mr. Keith Griffis of Sickles High School, a band director and FSU music education program graduate, was celebrated for providing incredible educational opportunities and valuable feedback.


School Leader Award

Park-Gaghan also presented the School Leader Award, which is given to an individual who provides mentorship, guidance, and meaningful feedback to create bridges between classrooms and CEHHS.

The 2024 School Leader Award was presented to Ms. Jen Powell from Amos P. Godby High School.

“What sets this individual apart is not just their commitment to classroom placements, but their genuine investment in the professional growth and development of aspiring educators. They don't just teach; they inspire and empower the next generation of teachers,” Park-Gaghan said.


Meredith Higgins District Partner Award

The final award of the evening, the Meredith Higgins District Partner Award, was presented to Ms. Jessica Titze from the Leon County Schools Office of Professional Learning.

Titze is the first-ever recipient of the award, which was named in honor of Meredith Higgins, the CEHHS director of clinical education who tragically passed away last year. A proud graduate of the Leon County School System, Meredith taught elementary school in Leon County and earned her master’s in education at FSU. In her role as the director of clinical education, she supervised and placed practicums and interns across Florida.

The award recognizes an outstanding individual who embodies Meredith’s passion for education and dedication to establishing partnerships.

“Having worked with Meredith to facilitate placements in Leon County Schools, this award not only honors her legacy but forever links her to the impetus of her work – cultivating relationships to ensure the advancement of the profession of teaching,” Titze shared upon receiving the award. “Meredith embodied all that it was to be a partner. She prioritized her relationships with the school districts, the site administrators, and the teachers she worked alongside, as well as the students that she supported and served at Florida State. With her positive attitude and tenacious approach, working with Meredith was always so enjoyable, and it was truly a testament to her hard work that every placement was intentional.”

Watch the recording below to hear more from Titze and her fellow award recipients, and click here to view photos from the event.