Friends, colleagues reflect on Lake County teacher Tammy Jerkins’ legacy | #students | #parents

LEESBURG — Tammy Jerkins was legendary. 

Not just in Leesburg or Lake County, either. 

Jerkins was named Florida’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, a title locals knew she deserved well before her big win. 

Ask anyone who knew Jerkins and they’d tell you the faithful, dedicated, supportive, community-oriented and loving woman was born to be a teacher. 

Jerkins died on Wednesday after a battle with breast cancer. She was 62. She leaves behind her husband, Forrest, sons Robbie and Ross and daughter Rebecca. 

Honoring Tammy: Parade held for 2018 Teacher of the Year battling cancer

Continuing Tammy’s legacy: Leesburg High names building after top teacher Jerkins

More: Leesburg High’s Tammy Jerkins is Florida’s best teacher

Jerkins was a math teacher at Leesburg High School. But LHS wasn’t just Jerkins’ place of employment. Jerkins herself was a grad — the valedictorian of the class of 1977, then Tammy Ross. 

She worked there until a few months ago, teaching during the day and traveling to UF Health Shands Hospital in the evenings for her cancer treatment. 

Just last weekend, the community came together to honor Jerkins. Jayme Johnson, a family friend and former student of Jerkins’, helped organize a “π-rade” for Jerkins.

Cars paraded down a quiet street Saturday morning decorated with LHS’ school colors: black and orange. 

“LHS #1 FAN” one sign said. 

“We love your Mrs. Jerkins!” another said. 

One, which donned a pair of Leesburg High Yellow Jackets, said: “Teacher of the Universe.” 

We reached out to folks we know Jerkins inspired, and their statements are below. But we’re sure there’s many more. If you’d like to share your story about the “Teacher of the Universe,” comment below or send an email to 

“At Lake County Schools we are honoring the life and legacy of Tammy Jerkins, as we remember the many students and staff members whose lives she touched. She was an exemplary educator, a veteran teacher who mentored students and new teachers year after year. She was a leader and an expert in her field, and so it was fitting that she was named the Florida 2018 Teacher of the Year. I’m so glad she had the opportunity to see her life’s work celebrated in such a grand way! She was a product of Lake County Schools, graduating in 1977 as valedictorian of Leesburg High School, and she returned to our schools, dedicating her life to helping students excel. She will be missed, but the impact of her legacy will be felt for generations to come.” — Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay 

“I’ve known Tammy Jerkins my entire life. Our families are long time friends. We went to church together, I grew up with her kids, she was my math teacher and I’m certainly blessed because she was in my life. Tammy to me has always been different. She glowed. I think it’s because of how strong her faith in the Lord. She loved God, her family, and her community with no doubt. She was at every Leesburg High School game she could go to. She supported her students in the class room and in their extracurricular activities. She truly cared for the well being of her students. Always going above and beyond no matter what it took. She showed us all that even in tough times you can always find the good. She was a true pillar in this community and Leesburg is a better place because of her. We are all better people because of her. I’m going to miss her smile, hugs, her rice crispy treats and those home-made chocolate chip cookies.” — Jayme Johnson, a former student and longtime friend 

“I have a lifetime of memories of her. She was such an overwhelming good person who had a gift of being able to mesh her passion and love for math with her passion and love for her students. She was blessed with the gift to teach and she never stopped striving to help her students become the best they could be. If you could ask her if she could do one more thing what it would it be, I guarantee you her answer would be to teach one more day. She didn’t lose her fight with cancer. At worst, it was a tie.” — Chuck Johnson, longtime friend

“Mrs. Jerkins is the epitome of all we should strive to be. Her legacy will live on forever through the Tammy Ross Jerkins Learning Center and through the students she taught. I can’t think of a better – and more appropriate – legacy than that.” — Tyler Brandeburg, a former student

“I met Tammy shortly after she won the Teacher of the Year, and I had the opportunity to hear her speak twice. She was one of the most inspiring people that I have ever met, and her absolute passion for her chosen field, teaching, was an absolute inspiration to those that listened to her speak about her experience.” — Bill Mathias, a Lake County School Board member

“Tammy was such a pillar in our Leesburg community, and she will truly be missed by our Jacket family. She embodied what we want a Yellow Jacket to be, on a daily basis.” — Leesburg High School Principal Mike Randolph

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