VCS Teacher of the Year is Top 5 Finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year

Mr G with state and VCS leaders

DAYTONA BEACH – Volusia County Schools Teacher of the Year Frank Garaitonandia, the art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School, has been selected as one of five finalists statewide for Florida Teacher of the Year.

Florida Chancellor of Education Jacob Oliva and Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality Dr. Paul Burns visited the elementary school in DeLand on Tuesday to surprise Garaitonandia with the honor. The Florida Teacher of the Year will be announced on July 22 in Orlando.

Oliva presents award to Mr G

Florida Chancellor of Education Jacob Oliva visited Citrus Grove Elementary to announce art teacher Frank Garaitonandia is a finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year.

Garaitonandia, a Cuban immigrant who believes “there is no greater creative act than sparking a child’s mind” was named VCS Teacher of the Year in January from a field of 71 nominees.

A graduate of the University of Florida, Garaitonandia was an exhibiting professional artist before becoming a teacher 16 years ago. He started at Citrus Grove in 2014.

His family fled Cuba for political freedom when he was 8 years old, and they lived in Costa Rica for four years before migrating again, to Florida. Teachers welcomed and nurtured him along the way as the only constant in a sea of change, he said.

“My only constant were my family and those individuals who would take my hand and explain this world around me. Those individuals who held up a lantern so that I could see a path ahead, those were my teachers,” Garaitonandia said in his acceptance speech for VCS Teacher of the Year.

“Sometimes I was so confused, I could not even see my next steps or envision a future where I belonged. My teachers helped me find my greatest strength and sparked my imagination,” he said. “That is one of the reasons I became a teacher: to be there for all students, especially for students like me who need someone to light the way.”

At the Volusia celebration, Garaitonandia thanked his first art teacher in the United States, along with his current school family, administrators, School Board members, the FUTURES Foundation for VCS, and AdventHealth, which sponsored the Volusia Teacher of the Year event. He reminded all of those invested in education of the importance of their mission.

“Just one moment in our classroom can be the spark that sets a wonderful path ablaze for our students. Just one moment,” Garaitonandia said. “Even in these uncertain times, one thing is certain. Our students are our future and, if we get it right, we will find the light in them and help it shine.”

Students celebrate Mr G

Art students in Frank Garaitonandia’s class at Citrus Grove Elementary celebrate the announcement that “Mr. G” is a finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year.

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