Students, Families, Colleagues, and Community Members Submitted Over 3,000 Nominations. Twelve Winners Will Receive Classroom Grants and Serve as “Big Apple Fellow” During the 2014-15 School Year
NEW YORK—Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the winners of the second annual Big Apple Awards: Recognizing Teacher Excellence in New York City, which celebrate the incredible and life-changing work of public school teachers in New York City. The Big Apple Awardsis a citywide recognition program open to all full-time teachers in New York City public schools. Twelve award recipients, along with more than 100 finalists and semi-finalists, were honored in a ceremony at Gracie Mansion.
The twelve award recipients include eleven teachers and one arts educator selected through the Lincoln Center Arts Teacher Award. Winners were chosen from more than 3,000 school community nominations and were chosen based on their instructional practice, professional leadership, and focus on supporting students in and out of the classroom. Award recipients receive a $3,500 classroom grant to deepen their work with students. The awards are made possible by The Fund for Public Schools, the Centerbridge Foundation, and Lincoln Center, with additional support from the New York Mets, STATE Bags, and Modell’s.
“The Big Apple Teacher Awards are a celebration of the hardworking educators who have committed their lives to preparing our children for bright futures,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “No school can succeed without talented teachers, working together with school administrators and parents, to ensure every child has the opportunity to thrive. These honorees exemplify the tireless dedication, endless creativity, and exemplary professionalism New York City teachers bring to the classroom. Congratulations to this year’s winners and nominees and thank you to all of our teachers!”
“Teachers are the heart and soul of all our schools, and these awards recognize the transformational impact they have on our students and families every single day,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Each educator honored today brings passion and a mastery of the art and craft of teaching. These leaders are opening the door for our students to reach their greatest dreams, and pushing the boundary of opportunity to thrive both in and out of the classroom. These incredible teachers from a range of grades and subjects demonstrate the committed talent across our City’s schools, and I thank all teachers working tirelessly to help our students suceed.”
“We are pleased to once again celebrate arts education excellence in partnership with the New York City Department of Education with this year’s Lincoln Center Arts Teacher Award,” said Russell Granet, Executive Director of Lincoln Center Education. “Laurence Minetti’s passion and dedication to not only teach the arts but also to use the arts as an example for other disciplines and projects demonstrates what is possible with creative thinking. He has created a nurturing environment that enriches the lives of his students and inspires them towards a bright future. We’re honored to recognize his extraordinary work.”
“We have amazing, inspirational teachers in New York City. Our students and parents see this every day. It is wonderful that the city as a whole is recognizing the outstanding work these educators do,” said Michael Mulgrew, president, United Federation of Teachers.
“I want to congratulate all the teachers receiving Big Apple Awards this year, including a teacher from The Renaissance Charter School,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. “We do not, as a society, do nearly enough to recognize the teaching profession and particularly our most exceptional teachers within it. There aren't enough ways we can thank them for the hard work that they do day after day in our public schools but this award is a good start.”
The Big Apple Award ceremony is the culmination of a rigorous application process that includes community nominations, principal and colleague recommendations, applicant essays, an interview, and a classroom observation. Only in its second year, the Big Apple Awards program received more than 3,000 nominations from students, families, teachers, school staff, administrators, and other community members—a 50 percent increase from the number of nominations received last year. Across the City, 863 schools were home to at least one nominee. After an initial screening, 500 select nominees were invited to submit an application that included essays as well as principal and colleague recommendations. Following a review of the applications, 100 semi-finalists were interviewed, of which 40 advanced to the finalist round and received a classroom visit. A Board of Judges composed of Department of Education officials and a representative from the United Federation of Teachers selected the final 11 recipients, while Lincoln Center representatives selected the arts recipient.
The Big Apple Award recipients come from every borough, teach a range of subjects and grade levels, have a variety of experiences, and represent the diversity of schools available to New York City families. This year’s winners are:
· Phyllis Berk, a pre-kindergarten teacher at P.S. 188 Kingsbury in Oakland Gardens, Queens.
· Margaret Boyd, a seventh grade math teacher at the New York City Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies in Chelsea, Manhattan.
· Ramil Buenaventura, a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens.
· Nekesha Bynum, a third grade teacher at P.S. 310 in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.
· Doreen Donnelly, a third grade teacher at Tag Young Scholars in Harlem, Manhattan.
· Irina Gonzalez, a middle school social studies teacher at J.H.S. 123 James M. Kieran in Soundview, Bronx.
· Laurence Minetti, a high school art teacher at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science in Allerton, Bronx.
· Joseph Pesqueira, a tenth and eleventh grade social studies teacher at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics in Claremont, Bronx.
· Jessica Russo, an elementary school special education teachers at P.S. 55 Henry M. Boehm in Annadale, Staten Island.
· Jacqueline Stokes, a District 75 special education teacher for students aged 16-21, at the Richard Hungerford School in Stapleton, Staten Island.
· Kathryn Vitale, an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School in East New York, Brooklyn.
· April Yee, bilingual first grade teacher at P.S. 105 The Blythebourne in Borough Park, Brooklyn
Phyllis Berk, pre-k teacher at P.S. 188 Kingsbury, Queens
Phyllis Berk is a passionate advocate for pre-kindergarten because, as she says, “this is where it all starts.” From exploring the type of cloud that will hold the most water to using a Vaseline-covered leaf to make predictions (along with a game of telephone), Phyllis mixes creativity and rigor to create a classroom environment where each child is valued and challenged. She also helps her students see beyond their classroom by engaging in a pen pal program with students in Botswana. (Her students have corresponded with pictures and letters, and led a fundraising drive for a new library). As an active UFT delegate, Phyllis facilitates dialogue between faculty and school leadership, leading to solutions that support the entire school community.
Margaret Boyd, 7th grade math teacher at the New York City Lab Middle School, Manhattan
Margaret Boyd “is passionate about math, and her love of teaching comes across in lessons which make learning math fun,” a parent of a student in her class writes. Her classroom exudes joy; students recently passionately debated which polygons would have the greatest area (no rulers allowed!). Margaret also provides opportunities for her students to demonstrate their expertise as “mathletes” in the Continental Math League, the AMC8, and the New York Math League. In addition to her responsibilities as the math chair, Margaret is committed to providing a safe space for all students to learn, including serving as a school-wide dean and helping craft the school’s anti-bullying policy.
Ramil Buenaventura, 7th and 8th grade math teacher at Renaissance Charter School, Queens
Ramil Buenaventura moved to New York after 13 years as a school teacher and administrator in the Philippines. With ten years under his belt working here, his classroom provides exceptional examples of integrating mathematical practices and Common Core standards into math lessons. Ramil uses project-based learning, "pi" challenges, and student-created videos to help his class achieve. He continues to maintain a close relationship with his country of origin: After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines last fall, he coordinated a School Relief Drive for victims with his advisory class. All of his efforts, Ramil says, are worth it for the success he sees in his students: “This is the essence of why I am a teacher. As I see these gains and successes, they challenge me to gain more so I can give more.”
Nekesha Bynum, 3rd grade teacher at P.S. 310, Brooklyn
“In this class, one of the important lessons we learn every day is the importance of sharing,” explains one of Nekesha Bynum’s students. Indeed, excitement was abounding on a recent morning when students were able to mix and mingle to Pharrell’s “Happy” and then asked to freeze to share a new learning with a partner. Nekesha’s enthusiasm and expertise has led to great gains for her students, with 86 percent of her students advancing more than four reading levels during each of the last four years. She says her nine years in the classroom has led to her finding additional ways to support the learning of her colleagues; Nekesha serves as a member of the Core Instructional Team, a mentor teacher, and an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College.
Doreen Donnelly, 3rd grade teacher at Tag Young Scholars, Manhattan
Colleagues describe Doreen Donnelly’s classroom as “a mecca for teacher training.” She invites her students to make their thinking visible, often through a shared text. (A recent class involved her third graders looking at figurative text in Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” and then creating their own poems). In addition to this shared inquiry approach, Doreen has leveraged her previous experience managing a media company to collaborate with a non-profit theatre troupe, “The Story Pirates,” to encourage more creative writing at her school. She also designed and launched a morning and afterschool program for students who needed additional support. Her investment in her school community has paid off: This past year, TAG Young Scholars was named one of the top-performing 25 schools in all of New York State.
Irina Gonzalez, middle school social studies teacher at J.H.S. 123 James M. Kieran, Bronx
Her principal says that Irina Gonzalez “works tirelessly on behalf of her students and our entire school community.” Her nominator, a colleague at her school, says she is a “prototype of what an exemplary teacher should be.” In just two years, Irina has contributed in significant ways to her school and her classroom: leading and chairing the social studies department, creating new document-based questions to support her English Language Learners, and coaching her students to a third place victory at the National History Day Regional Competition. In addition, Irina continues to pursue her own professional development by representing her school at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which is committed to the improvement of history education.
Laurence Minetti, high school art teachers at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, Bronx
“My school is my home,” Laurence Minetti says. Laurence has the unique opportunity to be teaching at the same high school campus from which he proudly graduated, and to follow the footsteps of his mother, who was also an educator. His nominator describes his classroom as a “laboratory for his colleagues to visit.” Indeed, it’s a place where self-expression is encouraged and where students learn to be “constructive critics.” As a result, his students see art as a way to build self-confidence, motivation, and courage. His students’ masterpieces are exhibited throughout the entire building. Laurence takes on leadership roles outside of the classroom, training staff on the Common Core shifts, helping to launch an AP Art Studio class on the campus, and organizing a $10,000 beautification initiative. The Big Apple Arts Award is made possible by generous funding from Lincoln Center.
Joseph Pesqueira, 10th and 11th grade social studies teacher at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, Bronx
One of his students describes Joseph Pesqueira as the “most dedicated person I know…not only is he there as a teacher, but he is a great man overall.” His student-centered classroom is often “flipped,” which means students take notes on pre-recorded online lessons at home and then come to class ready for rich classroom discussion. (To ensure access, Joseph comes to school early every morning to provide computers to students who do not have Internet at home). A recent discussion on which piece of literature was most important in the development of America included a comparison to the Declaration of the Independence as a ‘break-up letter.’ His work has led to great success for his students: His principal noted that an unprecedented 96 percent of Joseph’s U.S. History students passed the Regents exam, with three out of four students passing with an 80 or higher.
Jessica Russo, elementary special education teacher at P.S. 55 Henry M. Boehm, Staten Island
“Jessica is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met,” writes a parent. “She taught my daughter, who has Down syndrome, things that I only dreamed she would be able to do.” Jessica Russo carefully matches the needs of her exceptionally diverse set of learners to an expansive repertoire of instructional strategies. Her positive classroom environment, the real-life connections she makes with her students, and the seamless integration of paraprofessionals in her classroom together provide tremendous support to her students. She is also a resource for colleagues, serving as a mentor, a member of the RTI team, and a model classroom for other special education teachers in the district.
Jacqueline Stokes, special education teacher (District 75, students aged 16-21) at the Richard Hungerford School, Staten Island
Jacqueline Stokes has been a valued part of the Richard Hungerford School since she asked to be a volunteer there at the age of 11. She kept coming back—first as a sign language paraprofessional for seven years and now as an educator who is known for her passion and her partnerships with her students’ families, including daily phone calls to discuss her students’ successes. Outside of the classroom, Jacqueline continuously seeks opportunities to develop her professional skills to ensure she meets her students’ needs; she attended the TEACH program at Duke University, is ABA trained, and supports new teachers at Bank Street who are working with students with autism. Her dedication to her students’ success has resulted in the highest scores on Alternative Assessments at her school.
Kathryn Vitale, 8th grade English language arts teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School, Brooklyn
The sign on her door explains why Kathryn Vitale is admired by both her students and fellow teachers. “Welcome. Take off your shoes and stay a while. This place is HOME. Here, your voice matters. Here, you are part of something special, and it is only special because you are here.” It’s in that classroom where students are thriving. At the time of her application submission, her students’ mastery grew from 20 to 80 percent. Her students participate in NYC Urban Debate League, poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and writing retreats at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Kathryn not only teaches her students, but her fellow teachers as a Peer Instruction Coach. She has revamped the Saturday Program at her school, and her work has meant that teachers now have an opportunity to teach together and learn from one another’s practices.
April Yee, bilingual 1st grade teacher at P.S. 105 The Blythebourne, Brooklyn
When you walk into April Yee’s classroom, you can feel the positive energy as you see her first graders take on leadership roles—coordinating transitions, giving each other constructive feedback, and even rewarding each other with stickers. As an English Language Learner herself, Chun Yan knows what it takes to support each and every one of her 32 students, many of whom are newcomers to the United States. Her students benefit greatly from her dedication: they have the greatest NYSESLAT growth in her school, with 80 percent of students exiting her class on or above grade level. Her commitment to her school extends beyond her classroom too: Chun Yan engages in professional learning, writes curriculum maps, and mentors novice teachers. As she describes it: “Teaching is not a job or even a career; it is my life.”