ESE 2020 - 2021
SLA, PLA, OHI, and PI Teachers
Janice Covert serves as the Physically Impaired teacher for third, fourth, and fifth graders at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School. Janice grew up in Dawson, Pennsylvania and graduated from Slippery Rock University. She has taught in Duval County for 32 years and has certification in PreK-3rd, Kindergarten-6th grade, and Exceptional Student Education K-12. She is one of the original teachers that opened up Mandarin Oaks in 1989. She was the recipient of Mandarin Oaks’ Teacher of the Year award in 2008. Her teaching experiences include Participatory Level Academics, Supportive Level Academics, Learning Disabilities, Pre-K Physically Impaired, and Students Taking Academic Responsibility (S.T.A.R.) 2nd and 3rd grades. She served as a scout leader for classroom scouting and mentors new teachers. Mrs. Covert enjoys spending time with her husband and son, gardening, and doing jigsaw puzzles.
Mrs. Elizabeth Cunningham has 26 years of teaching experience in Exceptional Student Education and General Education. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from Harris-Stowe Teacher’s College in St. Louis, Mo. After successfully teaching 2 years in an Emotionally Disturbed classroom in the St. Louis Public School system, she journeyed to Ft. Worth Texas and taught Language Arts for one year at the middle school level and 7 years in an Emotionally Disturbed elementary classroom in the Everman Independent School District (EISD). At the completion of 8 years in the EISD, she moved to Jackson, Mississippi. She was a 3rd grade teacher and a Literacy Coach for 5 years in the Jackson Public School system (JPS). During her tenure at JPS, she earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and moved to Jacksonville, Florida and continued her passion for teaching Exceptional Education students. Mrs. Cunningham has taught 14 years in Duval County Public Schools and currently teaches Intellectually Disabled students at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. Her motto is “Every Student Can Learn.”
Linda FitzGibbon is an Exceptional Student Education Teacher. She works with students who have Intellectual Disabilities on a Supported Level in a self-contained setting. She grew up as a “Marine Brat” and has enjoyed living all over the United States, including overseas. She also has a twin sister! Mrs. FitzGibbon graduated from Florida State University with a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. After graduation, Mrs. FitzGibbon counseled adolescents who lived in a short- term group home and enjoyed working with young adults with disabilities in a job coaching capacity. With a child of her own attending Mandarin Oaks Elementary, she became passionate about working with younger children in a classroom setting and set her career in a different direction. Starting in 2003, she became certified as an ESE Teacher and has loved working at Mandarin Oaks ever since! She is also certified in PK-3 and has an ESOL endorsement. In 2016, Mrs. FitzGibbon collaborated with the Duval County Public Schools District ESE Department to develop and rewrite baseline tests for K-2 students with disabilities. While working at Mandarin Oaks, Mrs. FitzGibbon has volunteered as a Patrol Sponsor and enjoyed taking groups of fifth grade students to Washington D.C. for weeklong patrol trips in 2005 and 2006. She was recognized as Mandarin Oaks’ Teacher of the Year for the 2013-2014 school year. Mrs. FitzGibbon loves to see her students growing and learning inside and outside of her classroom every day!
Marla Hollan has been a teacher for over 10 years and has taught students from ages 4-12. She graduated from Montclair State University, in New Jersey, in 2005 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. Mrs. Hollan graduated from the University of North Florida in 2013 with her Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership with a focus in technology. In 2012, Marla Hollan was awarded the Gladys Roddenberry Fellowship for teaching excellence. Marla Hollan is certified to teach Exceptional Student Education (ESE) K-12, General Education K-6, and English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) K-12. Mrs. Hollan has experience teaching general education in all grades from Pre-K to 2nd grade, teaching ESE for all grades K-5, and has experience teaching English online to ESOL students. She has extensive experience in developing communication systems, using physical therapy equipment throughout the educational environment, and enhancing student independence. She believes that it takes a village to raise a child, thus she strongly believes in collaboration and team work to meet the needs of each student. Mrs. Hollan has had the opportunity to contribute to the profession of education by having many pre-interns and an intern. Through grants, she has successfully secured items, such as iPads and a whole classroom speaker system, to enhance student instruction.
On a personal note, Marla Hollan is happily married to John with two children. Her daughter is a kindergartener at MOE and her 2 year old son is a future student of MOE. In her free time, she likes to travel, go to community events, and exercise.
Rebecca Mackin is the Pre Kindergarten teacher for the ESE Physically Impaired class. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rebecca moved to Jacksonville to escape the snow. She attended Jacksonville University where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She has been with Duval County Public Schools as an ESE Teacher since 2003 and is certified in ESE K-12th grade and PreK-3rd grade. Rebecca has taught Physically Impaired, Participatory Level Academics, Supported Level Academics, and Communication and Social Skills classes in the self-contained setting. She has her National Board Teaching Certification and is working towards her ESOL endorsement. Rebecca graduated from Nova Southeastern University in 2014 with her Master’s Degree in Developmental Disabilities. She has two children, ages 5 and 10, and loves to play with them in her free time. She also loves to exercise, enjoys the beach and the pool, and is an enthusiastic New England Patriots fan.
V.E. Resource Teachers
Ms. Ashby is one of our Exceptional Student Education teachers. She was an Air Force “brat” and spent much of her childhood overseas in places like RAF Lakenheath England and in San Vito, Italy before returning to the States to attend high school in Rapid City, South Dakota. In her travels she learned French and considers herself intermediately fluent. She has been at Mandarin Oaks as a full time teachers for three years and was a substitute for two years prior to that. Ms. Ashby is a proud graduate of Georgia State University with degrees in Biology and Anthropology. After enjoying her time as a volunteer and homeroom parent, she decided to pursue a career in education. She earned her Middle School Science certification first, and then became certified in ESE and Elementary Education. As a facilitator of learning, she loves it when students “get it”. She considers herself a better teacher and human being from what her students have taught her. In her spare time she enjoys knitting, crochet, and reading anything she can get her hands on.
Venita Harris is a Varying Exceptionalities Teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. Mrs. Harris grew up most of her life in Gainesville Florida. She graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Florida. She later received her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Walden University while teaching full time as a teacher. Mrs. Harris is acknowledged as a Highly Effective teacher by Duval County Public Schools. She has been teaching for the past 10 years. She is currently certified as a Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade Special Education teacher as well as a Kindergarten through Third Grade General Education teacher. Mrs. Harris has been married for 29 years and has 2 grown children. She loves to spend time with her family and friends. Her hobbies include baking, sewing, and traveling with family and friends.
Chris Kern is an ESE inclusion teacher for Mandarin Oaks Elementary and goes into classrooms to provide support to students in order to help them be successful. She grew up in Wisconsin, moved to Washington D.C. during high school, and then to the Jacksonville area after she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in both Elementary Education and Special Education from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. She also has a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of North Florida. She is certified in K-12 Varying Exceptionalities and 1st – 6th General Education. Mrs. Kern has been teaching since 1998 and has been at Mandarin Oaks since 2006. She has been acknowledged by the State of Florida and Duval County as a High Impact Teacher in 2017. She volunteers as treasurer for Mandarin High School Athletic Boosters as well as with Buddy Break, a monthly child care service for parents with special needs. Ms. Kern enjoys watching softball games, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and attending church.
Teresa LoMurro has been a member of the faculty at Mandarin Oaks Elementary for the past 16 years. She has one son and one daughter, both of whom attended Mandarin Oaks Elementary. Growing up in Ocala, she moved to Orlando, FL to attend college at the University of Central Florida. GO KNIGHTS!!! After completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Communicative Disorders, she continued at UCF obtaining a Master of Arts in Varying Exceptionalities. Mrs. LoMurro is dual certified in both Exceptional Child Education and General Education and is currently working towards obtaining her ESOL endorsement. She has taught English Language Arts and Mathematics in 1st through 5th grades in Clay and Duval county schools as both an inclusion and self-contained teacher. While at Mandarin Oaks, she was in the Top 5 for Teacher of the Year and recognized by Duval County Public Schools as a Highly Effective Teacher for 5 years. She has served in many capacities while at Mandarin Oaks with one of the most fun being her time as Patrol Sponsor with fellow teacher Vicki Lappen. Mrs. LoMurro, enjoys traveling the world with her family, reading, crafting, and outdoor activities. She strives to educate, motivate, and inspire her students “to be your best self, because everyone else is already taken.”
Mrs. Mackay was born and raised in Jacksonville, FL. She has been at Mandarin Oaks for 10 years, and has been a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) since 2003. She has certification from the American Speech and Hearing Association and state licensure in Speech-Language Pathology. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Florida, and received her Master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Prior to becoming an SLP, she worked for several years with adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings. It was during this time that she had the chance to work alongside an SLP who inspired her to improve the lives those with communication challenges. She has extensive experience working with children and adults on the autism spectrum, and has a background with ABA therapy. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, outdoor activities, watching Jacksonville Jaguars football, reading, and family time.
My name is Karissa Gussmann, I have worked as a Speech Language Pathologist for the past 4 years in Mandarin Oaks Elementary. Prior to that, I lived in New Jersey and worked there for about 6 years as a Speech Language Pathologist working with adults and children. I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Manalapan, New Jersey. I went to school in New Jersey for Psychology and Criminal Justice for my undergraduate degree and went back for my masters in Communication Sciences. I am married and we have 2 kids, Joey (who is 5) and Bobby (who is 2). We love living in Florida and try to find new adventures when we can. O.T. and P.T. Teachers
Mrs. Griffenkranz is from upstate New York but has called Florida her home since 1987. She started working as a PT in 1984, and has been with the school system for 8 years. She has been married for 32 years and has 3 grown children. One is a genetic counselor, one a lawyer and one who is in grad school for occupational therapy. She enjoys watching soccer and her favorite team is the Women's National Team. Additionally, she also enjoys being outside and has run several half marathons and has done a couple of sprint triathlons.
Orientation and Mobility Teacher
Ms. Daniel, RN