With a lifelong desire to become a teacher, USF alumna Francesca Perrone-Britt eventually found her passion in working with elementary-aged students. Today, the soon to be three-time graduate of the university teaches at a school less than 10 minutes from USF’s Tampa campus, and the achievements she’s made so far in her career led her to become the 2020 recipient of the College of Education’s Young Educator Alumni Award.
From an early age, Francesca Perrone-Britt, `10 & MA `12, knew she wanted to make a lasting difference.
Growing up in the world of dance, Perrone-Britt initially envisioned a career path as a dance instructor. Yet after realizing her desire to empower students academically, Perrone-Britt felt inspired to become the kind of educator that actively “brings learning to life.”
Having graduated from USF in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Perrone-Britt began her career as a third-grade teacher at Palm River Elementary School and later transitioned to Mort Elementary Community Partnership School, a Title 1 school located less than 10 minutes from USF’s Tampa campus, where she currently teaches as a fifth-grade English language arts (ELA) teacher.
Throughout the 10 years she’s spent in the classroom, Perrone-Britt has worked towards helping her students excel while also focusing on furthering her education to better serve her students’ learning needs.
Sticking by her alma mater, Perrone-Britt went on to pursue her master’s degree in reading education from USF during her first year as an educator, a decision that was fueled by her interest in understanding the literacy struggles faced by students at her school.
“Third grade is a benchmark year for reading, so at that point if (students) don’t pass the Florida State Assessments (FSA)…they would automatically be retained,” Perrone-Britt said. “I always wanted to know what the ‘breakdown’ within the reading process was because reading is a big area of concern.”
Following her graduate studies, in 2013 Perrone-Britt was selected to participate in the first cohort of the Mort Teacher Leader Academy (TLA), a program launched by the College of Education to replace the traditional university classes with a clinically-centered learning model that’s based on the needs of the school’s community. The Academy allows teachers at Mort Elementary to attain a Teacher Leadership for Student Learning graduate certificate or an advanced degree from USF’s elementary education program.
Along with refining her own practice, Perrone-Britt was given multiple opportunities throughout the TLA for professional development, which include attending teacher development conferences and joining USF Associate Professor Rebecca Burns, PhD, who serves as coordinator for the TLA, to coach a group of educators in the Bahamas.
As an individual who has seen Perrone-Britt thrive in the various leadership roles she’s taken, Dr. Burns says Perrone-Britt holds the characteristics of an educator who goes above and beyond.
“Francesca (Perrone-Britt) has an approach for teaching that truly embraces problems. Rather than say, ‘I can’t’ she says, ‘let’s figure out how,’” Dr. Burns said. “She is one of the most passionate, dedicated and hardworking educators that I know.”
Among the experiences she’s had, Perrone-Britt says the biggest one was conducting research with her peers and the College of Education’s faculty to study the effectiveness of the partnership between Mort and USF. In 2017, this collaborative project earned her and her team the Claudia A. Balach Teacher Research Award from the American Education Research Association’s Professional Development Schools Special Interest Group.
“For me (the TLA) was just an opportunity to learn something new,” Perrone-Britt said. “Never did I think that when I entered into this program or even into the teaching field that I would get to present my research and the work that I do in my school.”
In 2015, after attaining her certificate from the Mort TLA, Perrone-Britt was driven by the mentoring of Dr. Burns to continue her studies with the Academy by pursuing her education specialist (Ed.S) degree at USF. She will graduate this May from the program, making her a three-time graduate of the university.
Thanks to her continuous dedication to the field of education and her passion for helping students grow, it was not long before Perrone-Britt was recognized for her efforts both in and out of the classroom. That same year, she earned the title of Teacher of the Year at Mort, and in the year that followed she was named as Hillsborough County’s Reading Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Perrone-Britt continues to be recognized for her success today as the 2020 recipient of the College of Education’s Young Educator Alumni Award, an honor presented to a graduate of the College who demonstrates exemplary leadership in the field of education with their peers and in their communities.
Through her studies at USF, Perrone-Britt says she’s taken on the mindset of a researcher, which gave her the confidence to approach learning issues with incorporated strategies that didn’t just improve academic performance, but also created a student-driven atmosphere. In one example, Perrone-Britt shared how she began to elevate student voice in her classroom by encouraging her fifth graders to express their concerns on how they are being taught.
“I have given (my students) the tools and the power to say: ‘No, this strategy doesn’t work for me,’ because I think it’s important that they walk away from a school year saying: ‘I didn’t just learn something academically, but I also learned something about myself,’” Perrone-Britt said. “Only then would I feel like I’ve done my job.”