School District Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year Announced

Toshimi Abi-Janiga, teacher at Riviera Beach Preparatory Academy and Hernan Avila, Instructional Technical Support Assistant (ITSA) at Wellington Community High School have been named the School District of Palm Beach County’s Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year respectively. The announcement was made during a live ceremony on Tuesday, March 30.

Abi-Janiga was selected as the Teacher of the Year in a field of finalists that included Ariana Murphy from Belle Glade Elementary, Zuleika Acevedo Ayala from Hidden Oaks K-8 and Alyssa Maddox from South Grade Elementary. Abe-Janiga is now the District’s candidate for Teacher of the Year for the state of Florida.

Abe-Janiga is originally from Japan, and has taught in Palm Beach County since 2006. A nationally-recognized expert in Holocaust Studies, her recommendation says, “Her focus on teaching the standards has made a tremendous impact on students’ gains, and consequently increases the graduation rate and college readiness” of students at Riviera Beach Preparatory Academy, an alternative school in Palm Beach County.

Abe-Janiga has been a Dwyer Award finalist on multiple occasions. She was also named Teacher of the Year for Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights as well as a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow.

In addition to Holocaust studies, she has also earned several grants for curriculum “designed to incorporate a school-wide reading initiative while teaching African-American history and ways to dismantle systemic racism in American society,” according to her principal, Mark Simmonds.

Additionally, Abe-Janiga has received numerous grants to provide funding for her students to take the ACT and SAT after she had created intensive boot camps for the rigorous tests. She has secured funding for the AVID curriculum, as well as subsidized and conducted college tours for her students.

While accepting her award, Abe-Janiga thanked school staff, the custodians who keep her campus clean and safe, her students for inspiring her and the Holocaust surviors she has met. “Thank you for allowing me to teach your story to our students.”

Hernan Avila was selected as the District’s School-Related Employee of the Year from a group of finalists that included Candy Bartolon from Congress Middle School, Jeffrey Sears from Rosenwald Elementary School and Joy Cabot from Osceola Creek Middle.

Hernan is now the District’s nominee for the state’s School-Related Employee of the Year.

Avila, or “Coach H” as he is known by everyone on campus, had been nominated by the entire team at Wellington Community High. Formerly a behavior intervention associate, he was recently promoted to be the school’s ITSA, overseeing the school’s computers and systems.

When distance learning was implemented, Avila had already begun work on Chromebook distribution and helped the school prepare for virtual events such as new student orientation. However, Avila doesn’t let a title or job description define his work on campus.

“The word ‘no’ is not in his vocabulary,” according to assistant principal Elizabeth Calvente-Torres. “Avila can be seen stepping in to de-escalate student issues, providing support whenever needed, and providing a rapport with faculty and students alike.”

“Coach H has a sixth sense when it comes to what a student needs to hear,” said school counselor Julia Saye. “He finds innovative ways to meet them where they are.”

When one student was struggling after the death of his father, Avila conducted a home visit and discovered the student’s love of fishing. Avila developed a cost-free incentive for him and the student to go fishing together.

A letter of recommendation on Avila’s behalf noted that “while the student had been offered therapeutic services, it was this quality time with a caring adult that helped the student find the motivation to go on.”

While accepting his award, Avila recalled the words of a Wellington High School assistant principal who passed away this school year. “He left me a brief message telling me ‘You only do this once. You have to maximize the opportunities,’ so I live by that every day,” Avila said.

“In a school year like no other, our nominees have turned challenges into opportunities. They have been nimble, and worked harder and smarter than ever before,” said Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II.

Watch the entire ceremony by clicking here.

The Teacher of the Year/School-Related Employee of the Year ceremony and prizes were made possible by the event sponsors:

  • Applebee’s
  • Gold Coast Federal Credit Union
  • Lion Country Safari
  • Rapids Water Park
  • The Breakers
  • JFK Medical Center
  • Palms West Hospital
  • Airport Hilton
  • The Education Foundation of Palm Beach County