Josie Stumpf, an Ormond Beach resident, was selected among 72 finalists across the School District.
Josie Stumpf knows what it's like to struggle academically.
As a child, school was hard for her, just like it had been for her father and her grandfather. Stumpf, an Ormond Beach resident, was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when young, and was on and off medication until adulthood.
"I often felt like a burden and misunderstood,” Stumpf said.
It wasn't until her junior year at Mainland High School that the Holly Hill School fifth grade teacher realized she could have dreams beyond her childhood aspiration of working at a surf shop and hanging out at the beach with her best friend. One teacher in particular taught her that: Her psychology teacher, Derrick Henry, now most commonly known as Daytona Beach's mayor.
She recalled that he had them fill out journals in his class. Henry would read them and ask them questions about their lives. He got to know Stumpf's goals, and was the first person she remembers asking her about her plans for college.
“And honestly, no one in my family had gone to college before me and I never thought about going to college," Stumpf said. “That was the first time I thought, ‘Well, maybe I am college capable.’”
Henry wasn't the only teacher that impacted her life. Before him, there was Virginia Medders, who taught Stumpf in kindergarten, first and second grade.
Medders was patient, calm and loving, even when Stumpf wouldn't quit talking in her class, Stumpf recalled.
“A quote that she has said is that, ‘You never know which students you’re going to touch. It could even be the yappers,’" Stumpf recalled. "That meant the world to me because she knew that I was a struggle bus, but she loved me every day anyways.”
'She brings the light'
Being among the 72 nominated Teachers of the Year across Volusia was an honor for Stumpf, who is in her 17th year of teaching. Making the top five finalists for the award blew her away.
Hearing her name called during the celebration at Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort on Friday, Jan. 17, in front of a crowd of over 900 — she said she was in disbelief.
The Teacher of the Year for 2021. It's a title she never thought she'd hold.
On Friday, Jan. 24, in front of the students and faculty of the Holly Hill School, along with community members, Stumpf was treated to pomp and circumstance (including air horns and flashy 70s disco outfits) as she walked the red carpet toward her new Mitsubishi Outlander, one of the perks for being Volusia's Teacher of the Year.
"She brings the light and the passion to our classrooms every single day," Holly Hill School Principal Jason Watson said. "Ms. Stumpf makes her teammates better. She makes her principal better. She makes everyone around her better, and I think that’s why her lasting, lasting legacy for our school is going to be felt for years to come.”
School Board Member Carl Persis said the District recognizes how much effort all the teachers in Volusia put into their difficult jobs.
“But at Holly Hill School, you have the best of the best," Persis said.
Ringing the bell
With all the pressures teachers face in today's age, Stumpf said sometimes you get wrapped up in all the standardized assessments. However, as educators, she said they have to remember they're teaching human beings.
“We need to teach love and respect for one another, and tolerance of one another," she said.
Students need to feel that their teachers believe in them, Stumpf added. That's when growth in the classroom happens. It's why, after a couple years as an academic coach at Tomoka Elementary, Stumpf switched back to working in the classroom and started working at Holly Hill School.
She missed working with students daily and witnessing that "aha" moment. She missed experiencing life lessons with them, and guiding them through their journeys.
In her classroom, they celebrate those moments. They stop what they're doing and ring a bell. Sometimes, those moments make Stumpf cry, and her students might laugh a little, she admits, but they'll also hug her and thank her for caring.
"And I feel it in my bones because I know what it was like for me to struggle, and how important those ‘aha’ moments are," Stumpf said.