Ocala Magazine’s Person of the Year

Story: Maritza Manresa | Photography: Chris Redd

Total and complete dedication and passion for what she does, not only for her school, but her community, is what makes Jayne Ellspermann a person to be admired, loved, and respected by so many – in essence what defines a Person of the Year. With her warm and caring demeanor, Ellspermann has touched the life of many high school students- and parents – in Marion County for the past eleven years as principal of West Port High School. However, her work with Marion County students began over thirty years ago when she had her first opportunity to work as high school social studies teacher.

Although education turned out to be her passion, Ellspermann did not graduate high school looking to be a teacher. In fact, Ellspermann attained her AA degree from St. Petersburg College, moved to Georgia graduating with a BA in psychology from the University of Georgia, to later attend the University of Florida where she received her Master’s in Education. After marrying David Ellspermann, the couple moved to Ocala where she worked for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department as a Director of Planning and Research. However, it was after the birth of her first child that her life with the public school system began. “I really have Mr. Keep [George Keep] to thank, the principal at North Marion High School at that time, who gave me an opportunity and blessed me with a career that I have such a heart for. I had no experience at teaching at all, and he gave me an opportunity to be in a position that I can in turn give back to so many people.” And she has giving back ever since in her own wonderful way.

Part of what makes Ellspermann such an exceptional individual is that she really likes to think outside the box, and still with a student body 2,600 thinking outside the box was one of the contributing factors in her becoming the nation’s principal of the year for 2015. In October Ellspermann was named the 2015 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). According to Ellspermann the process was extremely tough because it was a definite reflection of what she has done professionally. The process included input from students, parents, community leaders, and focus groups. “They wanted to know all about my leadership style as well as my involvement in community. It really took a 360 degree look at what I do here at West Port,” said Ellspermann. After being selected principal of the year for the State of Florida, she was then selected as one of the six finalists in the nation who would be further evaluated for the ultimate honor of being National Principal of the Year.

Although the highest so far, this has not been Ellspermann’s only achievement. Some of her many achievements include being named State of Florida High School Administrator Literacy Leader of the Year in 2014, receiving the School Administrator Leadership Award by the Florida Alliance for Arts Education, in 2013 the Florida Department of Education recognized her for with the Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership, and her most recent recognition in December 2015, was receiving the Distinguished Service Award from College of Central Florida. Additionally, the school was recognized as an Arts and Achievement School for its academic achievement and outstanding arts program. Ellspermann has certainly earned each and every one of the awards she has received. “Jayne is a very well respected principal among all her colleges. She is very knowledgeable and she truly is in for the sake of the kids – that is what makes a great principal, to remind us all that our role is to do what is best for the student,” said Lori Manresa, principal at Hillcrest Public School for Exceptional Children.

Ellspermann’s work at West Port has set the bar quite high when it comes to being a visionary and progressive thinker. For instance, the school’s dual enrollment program with the College of Central Florida gives students the opportunity to graduate with an AA degree from the College at the same time they receive their high school diploma. Additionally, the school’s “Power Hour” has received a lot of attention. “Power Hour” takes place in the middle of the day and all the students have a free hour to eat lunch and work on things that need attention such as getting help from teachers and even help each other with school work. “It is about empowering students. It is about giving students an opportunity to extend their learning time,” said Ellspermann. Just as Ellspermann has implemented a “Power Hour,” other schools in Marion County have something that makes them unique. “Marion County schools are very unique and they all have their own DNA. Every school offers something for everyone allowing people to choose what will meet their needs,” said Ellspermann. Adding that Marion County is fortunate to have such a diversity of schools and a school system that is always striving to be better.

According to Ellspermann, her passion is to provide young people with the opportunity to exceed their own perceived potential. Ellspermann’s philosophy is the work she, along with her staff, do is critical to the future of our community, State, and Nation. She strongly believes that everything they do in the school is working toward preparing those who will lead in the future. “I see my role to provide a school culture and environment where young people can thrive. It is important to make every student understand that they can be successful,” said Ellspermann.

All this success, however, has not changed who Ellspermann is who remains a faithful humble individual. “I am really driven by my faith,” she said. Adding, “I believe that we are all here to serve and that I am driven to serve others, that we are all placed here to give back and make this world a better place.” She considers herself to be blessed with the most amazing husband who is extremely supportive and understanding of her work. Ellspermann is also very thankful for her daughters, Lisa Lombardo and Erin Buss who have always been very supportive of her work. “We have enabled each individual in our family to become the servants that we need to be in each of our different positions,” said Ellspermann.

For Ellspermann, these recognitions, which embody who she is and all she has accomplished, are only the beginning of many more great things to come for her as she continues to encourage her students to succeed, telling them that “Graduation is not a destination, it is the threshold to your future.”

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