‘Find joy’: After challenging school year, Pinellas educator named Florida’s Teacher of the Year

Sarah Ann Painter poses of a photo after she was named the 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year (Photo credit: Florida Department of Education)

Out of 185,000 Florida teachers, one educator in Pinellas County was honored as the state’s Teacher of the Year.

Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher from Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater, learned of her new title – 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year – Thursday night and also received a $20,000 check.

Like Painter, teachers faced a challenging year during the pandemic, but said her students helped her overcome them.

"And when a call would drop or my sound wasn’t shared or my screen wasn’t shared, we would, instead of groan, we would say, ‘Find joy,’" she said Thursday. "That two-word phrase changed a mindset across our school and I hope it catches on and you use that as well."

Sarah Ann Painter (Credit: Pinellas County School District)

Painter has been with the Pinellas County School District for 18 years. She is married with six children.

Now, she will serve as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education and spend the next year traveling on behalf of the Florida Department of Education representing teachers throughout the state.

"She will have the opportunity to promote and celebrate the countless contributions of Florida’s teachers," according to a news release from the Department of Education, "provide professional learning opportunities to educators and recruit future teachers into the education field.

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In addition, Painter will also receive a 2-year Florida College scholarship to present to a student of her choice.

One of the four finalists including a Sarasota County teacher. Each will receive $15,000: 

  • Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota County
  • James Schmitt, a history teacher at Mandarin High School in Duval County
  • Brittany Brown, a third and fourth grade English language arts teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in Sumter County
  • Francisco Garaitonandia, an art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary school in Volusia County

During Thursday’s ceremony, additional awards were also given out. Among the recipients were two teachers from the Bay Area.

Mason Ross Lewis, a teacher at D.S. Parrott Middle School in Brooksville, received the Ron Nieto Digital Educator Award, which is given to the "educator who excels in using technology in the classroom to positively impact student outcomes."

Laura Meehan, a teacher at Caminiti Exceptional Center in Tampa, received the State Farm Life Skills Award, which "recognizes an educator dedicated to improving the decision-making, critical thinking and fiscal responsibility of their students, making sure they are prepared and ready for the future."

A full list of all of this year’s awards can be found on the DOE website