SCF Collegiate School Teacher Receives Governor’s Excellence Award

(Bradenton, Fla., February 26, 2014) — LaTonja McNeil, a teacher at State College of Florida Collegiate School (SCFCS), was presented with the annual Black History Month Excellence in Education Award by Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott at the Governor’s Black History Month reception in Tallahassee Feb. 25.

McNeil was the state’s only middle school teacher to receive the annual award, which recognizes full-time African-American elementary, middle school and high school teachers in Florida who impact their schools and communities.

McNeil, who teaches seventh and ninth grades world history and civics and serves as an academic coach and sponsor of the SCFCS Diversity Club, was excited and surprised to receive the award.

“Every teacher at SCFCS works so hard that I really feel like it is our award. It wouldn’t have happened without the support of teachers and administrators who allow me the freedom to be creative,” she said.

Dr. Carol F. Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, which operates SCF Collegiate School on its Bradenton campus, said, “Ms. McNeil richly deserves this statewide recognition by Gov. Scott, and I am proud of her and all of her SCFCS colleagues. The award reflects the stellar quality of our instructional staff and demonstrates why SCFCS has been an A-rated school by the Florida Department of Education since we started.”

McNeil was nominated by SCFCS teacher Holly Cole, who praised her for her innovative ideas and dedication to promoting diversity and expanding the school’s outreach to the community.

“LaTonja is an outstanding educator and positive role model for our diverse students. She truly embodies the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream because she encourages all students to reach their potential,” Cole said. 

SCFCS Head of School Kelly Monod, who takes pride in SCFCS teachers recognizing each other’s contributions, said that McNeil is a dedicated teacher who leads her students by example. 

“LaTonja is always reminding her students of their responsibility to be involved in the community. She engages them in real-life learning experiences to help them view the world through an historical lens and understand their role in making it better for the future,” Monod said.

Since arriving at SCFCS two years ago, McNeil founded the SCFCS Diversity Club, which hosted several events to promote diversity and cultural awareness, including a Black History and Culture Brain Bowl and the Hispanic Heritage Festival. The festival, held to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in October, involved SCFCS Hispanic students and parents who provided authentic cuisine and taught Hispanic dances. 

Under McNeil’s leadership, SCF Collegiate School’s National Junior Honor Society and Diversity Club won a grant to participate in the communitywide 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service by hosting “The Dream Preferred Project," a series of workshops and tutoring sessions aimed at preparing first-generation middle and high school students for secondary and postsecondary success.

“We live in a very diverse community. It’s important to appreciate every culture because it makes America a better place. It’s my goal to help students understand that everyone’s ideas are valued so that they will make educated, informed decisions based on their experiences with diversity and history,” McNeil said.

McNeil received $1,500 with the award. The awards are supported by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, the Volunteer Florida Foundation, Prudential, Comcast, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Florida Blue, Publix, the Florida Lottery and the FAMU Foundation.

As an innovative, technology-oriented school, SCFCS is a tuition-free public charter school with grades 6-12 located at SCF Bradenton. Students in 11th grade enroll in the Accelerated College Program to receive guidance and support from SCFCS while taking college courses with an opportunity to earn simultaneously a high school diploma and an associate's degree. A partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University provides a scholarship program for SCFCS graduates to continue to FGCU for a baccalaureate degree. The first class will graduate in Spring 2014.

SCFCS Teacher LaTonja McNeil with her daughter, Arianna DeCambre,
First Lady Ann Scott and Gov. Rick Scott

LaTonja with students
LaTonja McNeil with SCFCS students

MLK Day of Service Project Manager Keenan Wooten, SCF Collegiate School
student John Thompson, SCF Collegiate School student Maria 'Salome' Ariza,
SCF Collegiate School Teacher LaTonja McNeil, SCF Collegiate School Staff
Assistant Irasel Benavides and MLK Day of Service Project Coordinator Rodney Jones

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