At The Core of Schools

AT THE CORE OF SCHOOLS: Twelve winners of the 2015 Big Apple Awards prepare for a ceremony that honored the educators for their dedication to their students. All the honorees received $3,500 grants for their classrooms and will serve as advisors next school year to provide the Chancellor’s office insight into policies and programs.

Shani Perez, a Visual Arts Teacher at P.S. 51 Elias Howe in Manhattan, was hosting a citywide professional-development session for art instructors when she got a call from an unfamiliar number. “I thought it was the delivery person asking for them to get paid for the breakfast that we ordered, and it was the Chancellor,” she said.

She was on the phone with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who told her she was one of a dozen Teachers who would be honored June 15 as 2015 Big Apple Award winners. The Teachers, who gathered under the dome of Manhattan State Supreme Court with hundreds of family members and colleagues, were presented with apple-shaped trophies by Ms. Fariña, Mayor de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

‘An Amazing Process’

With eight years working for the Department of Education, Ms. Perez is the school’s UFT chapter chair and a member of the School Leadership Team. She said she was “humbled” by the award, which she accepted in front of her family and Principal.

“Like a work of art, the process has been amazing,” she said.

The educators will each get $3,500 classroom grants for projects and will serve as advisors to the Chancellor next school year. They were evaluated on their impacts on student learning, demonstrations of their practices and contributions to their school communities.

Mr. de Blasio remarked that his son, Dante, was due to graduate four days later from Brooklyn Tech, and said educators should be credited for children’s successes.

“It’s impossible to have your youngest child, to go to their high school graduation, and not think of the Teachers who made so much possible,” he said.

Continuing by calling education his “top priority,” he talked about his pre-kindergarten expansion and turnaround-schools initiative, and received some applause from the crowd as he urged the State Legislature to renew mayoral control, which will expire this month. He received more-robust cheers when he played down the value of testing to gauge instructors.

‘More Than Test Scores’

“These people are not just great Teachers because their kids got good test scores,” he said. “There is so much more than that.”

Mr. Mulgrew said educators prepare to constantly think on their feet.

“We all understand, as Teachers, that everyone’s an expert because one day they sat in a classroom and they think they know what you do,” he said. “But the fact is that they plan for each and every day knowing that our plan is not going to turn out the way we planned.”

Jonathan Young, a Social Studies Teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, decided to teach 12 years ago after graduating from college. He moved from Illinois to become a Teaching Fellow and now helps students prepare for job interviews, college applications and SAT tests. He also leads the Moot Law Team and is the Teacher Director for the Law and Forensics Learning Community, which he created to connect students to law-related internships.

‘Success Validates Me’

“I live and work in Astoria, so I get the beautiful thing of seeing my students all the time,” he said. “And to see my students who have graduated and [became] successful, that validates the work all my colleagues do.”

The ceremony was the third since the award was created in 2013 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This year, more than 4,500 Teachers were nominated by students, their peers, administrators and families, and a panel comprised by DOE and UFT officials ultimately selected 11 winners and 72 finalists. The 12th, an arts-educator, was selected by Lincoln Center, which funded the award along with Barnes & Noble founder and executive chairman Leonard Riggio and his wife, Louise, the Fund for Public Schools and HBO.

The remaining 10 winners were:

• Lauren Bakian, a fourth-grade Teacher at P.S. 110 Florence Nightingale in Manhattan, who wrote the school’s kindergarten-through-second grade curriculum and hosts the ELA club;

• Denise Clarke, a founding Teacher at Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy in The Bronx, who instructs eighth-grade math and tutors on Saturdays at the Melrose library branch;

• Rhonda Corin, a pre-k Teacher and UFT chapter leader at The School in the Gardens, in Queens;

• Margaret Diercks-Henfling, a 24-year veteran and early-childhood education Teacher at the LYFE Program, which specializes in instructing students with young children, at Beach Channel Educational Campus in Queens;

• Joan Fiorillo, a sixth-grade Teacher at J.H.S. 218 James P. Sinnott Magnet School in Brooklyn, who oversees the school newspaper and serves on grant-writing and curriculum-planning committees;

• Rick Ouimet, a high-school English Teacher at Millennium Art Academy in The Bronx, who credited Jonathan Kozol’s book, “Savage Inequalities,” for inspiring his 16-year career;

• Audrey Rabi Witaker, an Earth Science Teacher and science department chair at Brooklyn’s Academy for Young Writers;

• Samantha Schwartz, who teaches high-school juniors ELA special education at the J.M. Rapport School for Career Development in The Bronx;

• Melisa Stoller, an intermediate-school ESL and English Teacher at I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers in Manhattan; and

• Arts Education Winner Nicole Kasbar, a sixth-through-eighth-grade Dance and Movement Teacher at I.S. 98 Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn.


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