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WJCT, American Graduate Honor Local Education Advocates

Rhema Thompson / WJCT

Public broadcasting and education have always had a close relationship, and WJCT highlighted that tight-knit dynamic Tuesday night with its first American Graduate Champion Awards dinner.

The station paid homage to a few local individuals who have become well-known for their work in education.

The night, emceed by WJCT'sState of the Re: Union host Al Letson, honored five community leaders: Betty Burney, Trey Csar, Gary Chartrand, Diane Kornegay, and Liz Duncan.

Burney is founder and executive director of the youth leadership and empowerment nonprofit "I'm a Star" Foundation.

Csar is president of education advocacy and policy research group the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and serves on WJCT's Community Advisory Board.

Chartrand is executive chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing agency as well as chairman of the State Board of Education. He was also recently chosen to head the WJCT Foundation.

Kornegay serves as assistant superintendent for Instruction in Clay County Schools, and is credited with spearheading effort to transform the district's high schools into career-themed academies.

Liz Duncan, who was not present Tuesday night, is a Chets Creek Elementary School teacher who serves as liaison between the school district and the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation. She helped establish the McKenzie Academic Resource Center, which provides tutoring services to the school's surrounding underserved community.

WJCT CEO Michael Boylan presented the evening's awards.

"The motivation for American Graduate Champion was to provide mentors for other people in our community to know that the rank and file from the Chairman of the State Board  to a local teacher can be impact our community in such a significant way," he said.

The special night was part of the “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen" national effort by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities find solutions to the dropout crisis.

The Corporation's Senior Vice President of Children's Content Debra Sanchez served as the evening's keynote speaker.

"The young people you help are the premise for a strong, competitive, and secure national and global future," she said, quoting the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.

WJCT has been involved in the American Graduate initiative for three years. Boylan said he hopes the evening's awards ceremony will be the first of many more.

You can follow Rhema Thomopson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.