NeoCity Academy mathematics teacher Jonathan Motta has been named as Osceola School District’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, and Highlands Elementary computer technician James Graves has been named as the 2020 School-Related Employee of the Year.

The district said Motta earned the award, “In recognition of his accomplishments as an outstanding educator and his commitment to the success of each and every one of his students.”

It is through his dynamic personality and dedication to building relationships with those around him–whether they be students, peers, parents, or others in the district– that he has been able to capture the attention with all those whom he works.

In his rather short tenure as an educator, Mr. Motta has accomplished so much. After his very first year of teaching, Mr. Motta’s passion for the career drove him to begin growing his role as a leader in our schools and our district. He became an AVID teacher and coordinator for his school, which led him to building partnerships and opportunities for collaboration with many surrounding schools. Mr. Motta opened his classroom doors to teachers, administrators, and other district leadership to demonstrate and share his instructional practices and strategies.

As his career in education returned to mathematics, he continued to grow his leadership role in a number of ways. He has led professional development at both the school and district levels, as well as presented project-based learning to all district math coaches. In 2018, Mr. Motta was selected as one of the seven teachers to help open the district’s new STEM-magnet high school, NeoCity Academy. It is here Mr. Motta has truly been able to flourish as a leader in his craft.

Tasked by his principal to create a project-based learning curriculum for the student-driven learning environment the school prides itself on, Mr. Motta ensures the series of open-ended, application-based projects for his Geometry and Algebra II classes are real-world scenarios that cover finance, design and manufacturing, health, architecture, and more. This school year he is working with many of the new staff members across all content areas to develop and create projects for their classes as well.

Mr. Motta has achieved Highly Effective Teacher status since 2014. All Geometry students at NeoCity Academy are under his instruction with 91% mathematics achievement attained, including 90% of the lowest 25% of students making learning gains.

Mr. Motta will now represent Osceola County at the state level in the Florida Department of Education’s 2021 Teacher of the Year judging.

James Graves earned his honor, “In recognition of his steadfast support for his school and exceptional work ethic,” the School District said.

As a school computer technician, Mr. Graves has shown an understanding for the need to support student learning through his role. The technology needs of teachers and staff are met promptly with professionalism, and he encourages students to grow their knowledge of technology in this high-tech world. However, the things he does at Highlands Elementary in addition to this are what make Mr. Graves a true leader in his role and with his colleagues.

Mr. Graves built a garden, The Groves at Highlands, for students to learn about and take care of plants. This garden was built using a grant from Home Depot, many hours of work outside of his normal workday, and in partnership with students, parents, and staff at the school. Another grant, from PetSmart, allowed Mr. Graves to repair an aquarium that the school now uses as a focal point in the front office. With this project as well, students are invited to help Mr. Graves feed and care for the fish.

Continuing to nurture the students’ interests in life outside of the classroom, Mr. Graves started the Highlands Eagle Initiative to recognize and educate his school community about the American bald eagle family living in a pine tree on their campus. He has worked with local news, the Audubon Society, Eagle Watch, and the Birds of Prey Sanctuary to build interest and fundraise for a 24/7 eagle watch camera.

His dedication to students does not stop there. He is the Highlands Elementary soccer coach, leading the team to four years of winning records. He also started the first elementary school chess club, which led the district-wide participation, as well as yearly tournaments where students under his coaching have gone on to become district champions.

Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace will now proudly forward his nomination on to the Florida Department of Education for consideration for Florida’s 2020 School-Related Employee of the Year Award.