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Celebrating Florida’s 5 Teacher of the Year Finalists

So much of a child’s academic success depends on their teachers, a group of professionals who just cannot be celebrated enough! One of our special joys each year at Florida Prepaid is serving as the presenting sponsor of the Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Program.

“I feel like the student needs to find something that connects them to education. If they’re interested, they’ll be more invested.”– Krista Stanley, 2021 Florida Teacher of the Year

We would love to tell you a little about the five 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year finalists. Congratulations and thank you to:

  • Brittany Brown, a third- and fourth-grade language arts teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in Sumter County. Brown is passionate about supporting her students academically through the positive relationships she has built with each of them. Brown serves as the AVID site member for her school, is the district English language arts representative, and established the Reading Superstars program to recognize students making outstanding gains. Brittany holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Saint Leo University.
  • Francisco Garaitonandia, an art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School in Volusia County. Garaitonandia has dedicated his 18 years in education to providing a creative spark to motivate his students. He created a Kindness Mural Project at his school to honor and support kind acts. The project brought together students, staff and community members. In addition, he has promoted the integration of art intomultiple subjects by presenting STEAM workshops throughout Volusia County. In 2016, Garaitonandia was a nominee for the Hispanic Excellence in Education Award. He has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Florida.
  • Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota County. She was recognized for outstanding literacy instruction, which led to her classroom becoming a model for her school and district. Johnson serves as a member of the school’s positive behavioral support committee, a mentor to novice educators and the leader for her team and professional learning community. She has a master’s degree in elementary reading and literacy from Walden University.
  • Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Pinellas County. Painter organized common planning and collaboration for fifth-grade teachers throughout the district and created an open-door policy for colleagues to observe her instructional practices. She is the chairperson for the School Advisory Council, the representative for English language arts, and the school liaison for the extended school day program. She has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Florida.
  • James Schmitt, a history teacher at Mandarin High School in Duval County. He aims to turn his students into self-learners. He created Teachers Teach Teachers, a learning community for educators across the district. The community showcases instructional practices and coaches teachers as they implement new strategies. Prior to Schmitt joining the education profession, he served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix.


Thank you so much to these five finalists and to all Florida teachers, who are preparing students academically while we help their families prepare financially for college. The 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year will be named on July 22 in Orlando and will serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education. 

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