Standing with TJ Sanders, center, are, clockwise from lower left: son seventh grader Anthony III; aunt Stella Bryant; cousin Delmon Sanders; cousin Talitha Robinson; grandmother Willie A. Williams; and son fourth grader Stephen. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Atlanta restaurateur keynotes education banquet

At the Franklin County Education Foundation’s annual Teacher of the Year banquet last week, attendees celebrated the teachers and staff who have all year long made education happen for students.

And they celebrated someone for whom it happened 17 years ago.

Anthony “TJ” Sanders, Jr., partner, co-owner and executive chef of the Atlanta Breakfast Club, flagship of the five restaurants he owns in the metropolitan area, came back to his hometown to speak at the May 7 gathering.

“Food was my way in, and education was my way out,” Sanders told the gathering, referring to how his passion for culinary arts led to his learning all he could on how to turn it into a profitable career.

He had initially planned on becoming an engineer but discovered that he had a gift for hospitality, and said he owed much of that influence to the small town kindness he grew up in Apalachicola.

“This place is blessed,” he said. “You can’t get this anywhere else. The foundation here gave me a lesson on how to be a critical thinker, and in learning how to treat people.”

Sanders recalled particularly encouraging words he heard from Eva White, his first grade teacher and it stuck with him.

“I remember somebody told me that about myself,” he said. “My neighbors taught me things. There’s something to be learned from every single person in this room.

“I knew I would be back someday,” Sanders said. “This county can always reach out to me.”

The fifth annual education banquet, sponsored by the Franklin Education Foundation, Inc. attracted not only a record crowd, but more than $25,000 in donations, both cash and in-kind. Much of that will be used for scholarships and other efforts throughout the year, but a large chunk went to a slew of gifts awarded its honorees.

District Teacher of the Year Kathy Strunk, center, stands with husband Dirk, and daughter Jana Beth, a student at Florida State University. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

The district’s Teacher of the Year, Kathy Strunk, teaches economics and American history at Franklin County High School, where she is now in her fourth year. In addition to teaching all the social sciences, she has been National Honor Society and yearbook advisor as well as treasurer of the Seahawk Booster Club. 

Following her college graduation, Strunk taught in Kentucky and throughout Alabama before coming to Franklin County.

As a group leader for Education First Tours that takes students abroad and immerses them in another culture, last year she went to Italy including Rome, Naples, and Capri and this year to France, including Paris, the Loire Valley, and Normandy where she and the young people visited Utah Beach where the the 4th Infantry Army division landed on D-Day. They also went to the American Cemetery to pay respects to Apalachicola native 1st Lt. Julian Rex Buzzett who died on D-Day at Utah Beach. 

“I am so honored to have been chosen as the Franklin County School District Teacher of the Year,” said Strunk. “I became a teacher because I was passionate about my content, but I stayed a teacher because I am passionate about my students.”

The other teachers honored were the Apalachicola Bay Charter School’s Jessica Ammons, who teaches seventh grade civics and eighth grade English and serves as media specialist; and Franklin County elementary teacher Adrienne Croom, now in her fifth year.

ABC School Teacher of the Year Jessica Ammons, right, stands with the school’s assistant principal, Katie Bergthold. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

School-related Employees of the Year were Melissie Ray Smith, the head custodian at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School; Morgan Mock, a middle school phys ed paraprofessional at Franklin County School; and Laurel Frye, in charge of human resources at the Franklin County district office.

The two Rookies of the Year were Franklin County Schools’ Taylor Stalnaker, a teacher who also helps coach softball; and the ABC School’s Michaela Cassidy, a teacher in the third grade classes.

The two retirees honored were Karyl Gavigan, who left as media specialist after 25 years as a teacher, and Joy Towns, who left after more than 21 years in the profession.

Denise Butler, who serves as secretary of the foundation, introduced Sanders as one of her former students when she taught, and was later principal, at Apalachicola High School.

“Our kids are everywhere,” she said. “His grandmother ran a restaurant and his mother was a good cook. His teacher (Eva White) told him he was going to be an artist.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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