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Hillsborough announces Blake High educator as Teacher of the Year

Science teacher Clayton Nylund is honored, as awards also go to two other school employees.
 
Clayton Nylund, a science teacher at Tampa's Blake High School, celebrates after being named Hillsborough County's Teacher of the Year on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts.
Clayton Nylund, a science teacher at Tampa's Blake High School, celebrates after being named Hillsborough County's Teacher of the Year on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 2|Updated Feb. 3

It starts with pencils. Clayton Nylund would like his students to bring them to school. But it’s all right if they don’t.

Nor do they have to worry about notebooks, rulers or calculators. Parents are sometimes shocked. But, he says, “my students are only expected to provide two things for my class: themselves and a focused mind.”

He finds donors to augment the district-issued supplies, and confessed that like a lot of teachers, he pays for some himself.

Nylund, who was recognized Thursday as Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year for his work at Blake High School, is all about helping young people excel in science and technology, regardless of their learning style or socioeconomic background. He wrote in his contest essay that “achievement gaps are complicated, and so are their solutions.”

From the Pinewood Derby cars that students design and build in class to the science and engineering competitions that Blake has entered and won, Nylund stresses technology-rich, hands-on projects that allow students to feel included.

“I have found that if students are provided non-traditional opportunities to achieve, greatness will grow within them, they will begin achieving in new ways, and there will be no limit to what they can accomplish,” he wrote.

As a bonus, he has found that their scores improve on standardized tests.

Nylund, 39, a teacher for the district since 2011, was one of three educators who took top honors at Thursday’s ceremony at the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts.

Ilfaut Joseph, a community resource teacher at Jennings Middle School, was named the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year.

Ilfaut Joseph
Ilfaut Joseph [ Hillsborough County School District ]

Joseph, a Hillsborough educator since 2002, works to support Jennings on a number of fronts. These include cooking for teachers to build morale so they are less likely to miss work, scheduling students for tutoring sessions, and inviting parents to the school’s food pantry and community garden. He helps with math instruction and enjoys playing basketball with the students.

“I did not see this coming,” Joseph said twice, accepting his award. “This is amazing.” To his principal, Latonya Anderson Rhodes, he said, “Thank you for allowing me to be me.”

For Instructional Support Employee of the Year, the district recognized Maria Ortiz, the principal’s secretary at Temple Terrace Elementary.

Maria Ortiz
Maria Ortiz [ Hillsborough County School District ]

Ortiz, a district employee since 2007, serves as a sounding board for parents who have concerns and translates for Spanish speakers who struggle with English.

“I love my school, my community, but most of all the students and their families,” she wrote. “I like to help in any way possible and I will continue doing so.”

Nylund’s award was announced last in the program. He thanked the four principals he has worked for in Hillsborough, his parents, his wife and co-workers.

“Teaching is hard, but it’s meaningful,” he told the audience. “I never go into Blake thinking my day is going to be easy.”