By Gwen Rollings
Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, received the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA’s 2020 Community Impact Award on March 5 at the TPepin’s Hospitality Centre.
Tampa Y President and CEO Matt Mitchell said, “He believes that all schools and all students must be set up for success.”
After Eakins moved to Hillsborough County from Ohio in 1989 and began teaching in a portable classroom in the middle of a Wimauma field, he continued to do even more as an educator/leader to give students a taste for learning.
The Community Impact Award was not the first recognition of Eakins’ ability to mark the minds of others. In 1992, he received Teacher of the Year at Cypress Creek Elementary, where he began as a fourth grade teacher in 1991.
In 2010, he was presented the Dr. Earl Lennard Outstanding Leader Award for Hillsborough County Public Schools. In that same year, he earned the NAFEPA’s Outstanding Leadership Award for the State of Florida.
USF Education Dean Robert Knoeppel surprised Eakins with the nationwide 2019 Excellence in Educational Leadership Award, and Knoeppel said, “What I see when he speaks to the community is his real love and passion for what he has done. He models for us kindness and respect…He’s an inspiration to us all.”
Eakins loves to pass on knowledge and lessons he’s learned to help others. He warns teachers not to accept the Gift of Failure. After graduating from college, armed with teaching strategies, techniques and knowledge to ensure his success, Eakins admitted he failed.
He discovered the Gift of Success: forming relationships with his students, understanding their interests and noticing what motivates each one, then he could be the best teacher they deserved.
He advises new teachers that, “First, know your students, invest your time there. Because once you know them, you will adapt strategies to meet their needs.”
Eakins helped students to excel and gain self-confidence, like former student Tiffani Martinez, , who said, “When they tell you, ‘you’ll have a teacher you’ll always remember,’ he is it!”