Skip Navigation
Suggest a story

Innovative partnership program with Mort & USF racking up the awards

February 26, 2019 - Points of Pride

Mort Elementary, the University of South Florida College of Education and Hillsborough County Public Schools are being honored yet again for an innovative partnership program that’s changing the school’s culture and empowering teachers to become leaders. It’s called the Mort Teacher Leader Academy.

The National Association for Professional Development Schools is the latest organization to recognize the partnership with the Exemplary PDS Achievement Award at the 2019 National NAPDS Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

NAPDS is the pre-eminent national organization supporting and advancing school-university collaboration. The Exemplary PDS Achievement Award is awarded to a select group of school-university partnerships whose work creates and sustains genuine collaborative relationships between PK-12 schools and higher education institutions.

This is the third award the program has received in the past four months.

  • 2019 Exemplary Professional Development School Achievement Award from the National Association for Professional Development Schools
  • 2018 Shirley Schwartz Urban Education Impact Award from the Council of Great City Colleges of Education
  • 2018 Florida Compact Campus-Community Partnership Award

This fall, the Council of the Great City Colleges of Education celebrated the program’s success with the 2018 Dr. Shirley S. Schwartz Urban Education Impact Award. The award honors outstanding partnerships between universities and urban school districts that have a positive and significant impact on student learning.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins, Mort Principal Woodland Johnson, School Board Members Cindy Stuart and Tamara Shamburger, USF College of Education Associate Professor Dr. Rebecca West Burns and others involved in the program accepted the award at the Council of the Great City Schools’ Annual Fall Conference in Baltimore.

The unique program between the school and USF College of Education launched in 2013. The goal was to create a group of teacher leaders that could help the principal renew the school. The Mort Teacher Leader Academy is supportive and innovative in its mission to develop teacher leaders who can conduct their own research, coach other teachers, and become change-agents for improving student outcomes.

“My vision for Teacher Leadership has always been to support my teachers, to give them the best each and every day, to really fill their toolbox with the tools they need to be the best teachers they can be – because our children deserve it,” said Principal Johnson. “It was really my vision to take the Teacher Leader Academy and open new avenues for teachers in terms of professional development and also in terms of teacher leadership.”

Principal Johnson said the school has one of the highest poverty rates in our district with 97 percent of students participating in free/reduced lunch. Mort has struggled with both student and teacher turnover. They’ve seen a huge transformation over the past five years. There’s been a shift in school culture that’s centered around our students, in- and out-of-school suspension rates dropped significantly and so did the teacher turnover rate.

“We look at the school’s data. We look at the needs facing Mort Elementary School, the challenges and issues teachers face here on a daily basis and use that as the curriculum for our course work. Teachers are living the work and connecting practice to theory. They’re taking the issues that they’re facing and saying let’s understand those conceptually and now what do we do about it,” said Dr. Burns.

The Mort Teacher Leader Academy is a customized program that allows teachers at Mort to work toward a Teacher Leader Graduate Certificate and an advanced degree at USF. All courses are taught onsite at Mort Elementary and are tailored to meet aspects of the school’s improvement plan.

“The Teacher Leader Academy at Mort Elementary is a true exemplar of how schools and universities can partner in robust ways to make a difference in the lives of children,” said Dr. Burns. “It is an honor to work alongside Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Mort community to improve the learning experience for all students. We are truly better together. Together, we are raising the next generation of urban teacher leaders who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to become catalysts for change.”

For more information about the Mort Teacher Leader Academy, visit:

To see the latest events happening at Mort Elementary, follow the school on twitter:

For more information about Mort Elementary School:

*Video: Courtesy of the University of South Florida College of Education

View Full Album