Sixty Philadelphia School District elementary-, middle-, and high-school teachers have won 2019 Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Awards. Each receives a $3,500 prize and will be honored Tuesday at a ceremony at the Philadelphia Film Society. These excerpts are from nominations submitted to the foundation, which celebrates excellence in education and has awarded teaching prizes since 2008.
Omar Ali, Northeast High School: Ali, a 14-year veteran, teaches video game development, web design, and communications technology. He holds multiple industry certifications. He brings a global perspective to the school, serves as a role model to his peers, and is an engaging teacher who works to get diverse students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Freda/Frankie Anderson, The U School: Anderson teaches a community activism class to sophomores and juniors. With Anderson’s guidance, U School students have planned, promoted, and hosted a town-hall event, developed a guerrilla art public awareness campaign, and more. Anderson founded the school’s first Queer-Straight Alliance and, is, in her principal’s words, creating the “type of learning that students remember for a lifetime.”
Catherine Baker, Ethel Allen Promise Academy: A third-generation Philadelphia School District teacher, Baker spent eight years as a social worker before joining the district, where she now teaches English and is Ethel Allen’s school-based teacher leader. Baker works with colleagues to build weekly professional development sessions, designs literacy games for students, and nurtures outside partnerships to enrich students’ learning.
Benjamin Blazer, Central High School: Blazer is the music department chair, orchestra director, and musical director for the school’s musical-theater program. He has taught in Philadelphia for 18 years, and has an approach to education that is “thoughtfully balanced, meticulously planned, and superbly executed,” his principal said. He also reestablished both a musical-theater program and a tradition of musical ambassadorship through travel.
Alexander Bouwman, High School of the Future: Bouwman, a math teacher, excels in the classroom and in the community as well. He works as assistant athletic director and helped start the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling Club at his school. He spends his lunch period providing office hours for students who need support, and thanks to Bouwman, many Future students are more confident in their math abilities.
Yoon Byun, Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary: Byun, a 13-year veteran, is committed to and passionate about educating a diverse group of students utilizing teaching methods that stimulate students’ social, emotional, physical, and academic growth. Now an ESL teacher, she has also worked as a general education teacher and a special-education teacher. She is a master at accommodating different learning styles.
Marie Clarke, Henry C. Lea Elementary: Clarke has spent most of her 23 years in the classroom as a first-grade teacher. She’s an instructional leader who takes on extra projects without ever being asked — honor-roll assemblies, staying after school with students, and more. She seeks out professional development opportunities to hone her craft and is beloved by children and parents alike.
Jan Cohen, Kensington High School: Students often ask Cohen why she’s smiling. “I tell them I can’t help but smile because spending time with them every day makes me happy,” says Cohen. A Spanish teacher with six years’ experience, Cohen takes all students as they are and sees the potential for them to grow and learn every day. Cohen is dedicated to an inclusive school environment and is an advocate for all students.
Jane Cordero, Hill-Freedman World Academy: As a special-education teacher, Cordero supports children with significant and often complex needs. She holds national board certification and has presented at national and international conferences in her area of expertise. She is a dedicated, caring, and motivating teacher who pushes everyone she works with to achieve greatness.
Janet Correa, Pennypack House: A Spanish teacher at Pennypack House, which sits inside a city prison, Correa brings her classroom to life with her love of language and culture. Learning there is not easy, one student said, but Correa tells her students, “We can do anything we put our mind to,” the student said. “I am happy to have met her and had her as a teacher, even if it is in a school where I never wanted to be.”
Kristen DeGregorio, Frankford High School: After working as a residential counselor for boys with developmental disabilities, DeGregorio became a School District teacher. She now teaches life skills at Frankford, where she helped students launch the Community Love Cafe, serving beverages to school staff. She creates learning opportunities that prepare them for life after high school and prepare them to be loving and caring citizens. “Mrs. D,” as she is known, led students in a winter-coat, hat, and glove drive and a recycling program; students use the money they raise from their cafe to assemble lunches for needy Philadelphians.
Nikki Dunn, Kensington Health Sciences Academy: When she was a student, good teachers made Dunn feel seen and safe, which was not always the case for her at home; she has become the same kind of teacher for her students in her five-year career. At KHSA, she teaches physical science and chemistry and runs an after-school martial arts program. A gifted educator, “she fills her classroom with positive vibes,” one student wrote.
Denise Eiler, Baldi Middle School: An engaging social studies teacher with 26 years’ experience in the classroom, Eiler challenges her students to think critically and nurtures their growth. She’s a member of the school leadership team, and devotes significant time to activities that promote a sense of community. Eiler arrives at school early, stays late, is a mentor to other teachers, and builds strong relationships with students.
Dr. Elana Evans, Paul Robeson High School for Human Services: Evans, Robeson’s literacy coach and school-based teacher leader, runs an innovative school-wide initiative that provides at-risk students with interventions to narrow academic gaps. A 13-year veteran, Evans is the point person for many of Robeson’s partnerships. “Dr. Evans provides a strong culture of learning in her own classroom because she brings each and every one of her students up,” one of her pupils wrote. “She helps us to believe that we are the best, even when we have a lot of self doubt.”
Jonathan Feinman, G.W. Childs Elementary: After a business career, Feinman switched to teaching so he could directly impact students’ lives. He taught multiple grades at several schools before becoming an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher. “Perhaps his most important instructional practice is to show love and respect to the children, creating a culture of learning in which students thrive. Mr. Feinman is the students’ biggest cheerleader, encouraging and supporting students in whatever they need.”
Frank Fesnak, Roxborough High School: After spending more than 25 years as an executive, innovator, and entrepreneur in the technology industry, Fesnak switched to a teaching career. He excelled as a math teacher, but agreed to teach in Roxborough’s business and technology program. He has since reinvented and revitalized the program, teaching students both the hard and soft skills they need to succeed in the business world. His methods have been studied nationally, and his students routinely earn industry certifications, pass national exams, and win business competitions.
Marita Fitzpatrick, Bodine High School for International Affairs: Over a 19-year career, Fitzpatrick has worked to foster creativity and a love of learning. She often wins grants for materials, programs, and museum trips for her students. She is a member of the Bodine leadership team, and is a gifted, collaborative teacher who shares her good ideas with colleagues, and a sensitive teacher whose relationships with students often lead her to be the first to notice when a student is experiencing trauma.
Michelle Grey, Lankenau Environmental Science High School: Grey found her true calling in 2008, when she became a special-education teacher. She is a driven education leader skilled in providing specially designed instruction to students with a wide variety of disabilities. A Lankenau alumna, she has developed strong relationships with students and parents, and wears a number of hats at the school, including class sponsor. Her students lead Socratic seminars.
Erin Guilfoyle, The LINC: Guilfoyle, a teacher with five years’ experience, plans lessons and designs curricula that are student-centered and applicable to real-world scenarios, not always an easy task for algebra. She provides a sense of urgency for students to learn, but also gives off an air of calm and patience that makes students feel comfortable to ask questions and get help. She’s a collaborative teacher who takes on additional responsibilities outside of the classroom — Guilfoyle is senior class sponsor and also worked as yearbook adviser.
Rebecca Haldeman-Newschaffer, AMY Northwest: Haldeman-Newschaffer is determined to make math accessible for all students, even those reluctant to see themselves as having a mathematical mind. She provides warm, low-stress after-school tutoring clubs and peer-mentoring sessions for struggling students, and organizes activities to challenge high achievers. She builds strong relationships with students and peers, and is a mentor to her colleagues.
Kathleen Butler Hayes, South Philadelphia High School: Butler Hayes teaches the use of the library, research, technology, and information literacy skills to students and staff at South Philadelphia High School. When the school’s ninth graders needed a freshman seminar course, Butler Hayes took on the challenge. Many students lacked the foundational academic skills that would lead to high school success; Butler Hayes guided them to grow in research, writing, time management, and study skills. She is senior class sponsor, has organized food drives, and connected with alumni to work with students during their senior capstone presentations.
Deanna Henderson, Henry H. Houston Elementary School: Henderson is rarely alone in her classroom. Students typically gather there to get extra support and help during free periods and after school; her room is an accepting, lively space for students to shine. A sixth-grade English and social studies teacher, Henderson taught in the charter sector for two years before moving to the Philadelphia School District. “What stands out, above all else, is the way that Ms. Henderson employs culturally responsive pedagogy to engage with students, staff, and community members,” her principal said.
Janet Jackson, Lingelbach Elementary: A teacher for 39 years, 25 of those at Lingelbach, Jackson rarely raises her voice. “But don’t let her loving demeanor fool you — she has a deep and fierce commitment to the students in her classroom,” a parent said of Jackson, a third-grade teacher. She is a veteran, but still eager to improve her instruction. Jackson is known for her Author’s Teas, where families are invited to celebrate student writing, and she leads an after-school science, technology, engineering, and math program so students can explore content they might not otherwise experience.
Winifred P. Jenkins, Philadelphia Military Academy: The goal of Jenkins’ 36-year career is simple: to instill a love for mathematics in all students. With innovative ideas such as building bridges with toothpicks and using her own quilt squares and crochet needles, she brings real-world experiences and ideas into her classroom. She is an enthusiastic teacher who is always eager to support both her students and her school. She displays sensitivity to the many needs of students and families, and provides creative outlets for student expression.
Brittni Jennings, Constitution High School: Jennings, a social studies and African American history teacher with five years’ experience, creates an open but rigorous classroom environment through a dynamic and adaptive teaching style. She engages all students, and fosters a level of rigor that’s not limited to the classroom. She began an art club at Constitution and has led students in developing a Black History Expo, bringing in leaders and entrepreneurs from the African American community. She motivates students to be socially conscious and to thoughtfully engage in solving critical issues through her lessons and activities.
Pearl Jonas, Science Leadership Academy Center City: A tutor, teacher, and mentor for the past decade, Jonas joined SLA in 2012. She’s a valuable member of the school community, teaching history, coaching track, coordinating international trips, advising the National Honor Society and yearbook staff, and generally stepping up to meet student needs. Jonas leads her students in opportunities for inquiry, leadership and personal development. She fundamentally cares about the whole student, from academic record and college applications to social-emotional well-being.
Kim Joseph, Laura Wheeler Waring Elementary: Waring’s health and physical education teacher, Joseph goes above and beyond to make sure that staff and students have opportunities to participate in the arts and extracurricular activities. She chairs the school’s African American and women’s history committees; its theater and cheerleading programs; and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). She is a capable and dedicated teacher who motivates students and makes everyone at Waring feel appreciated, talented, and wanted.
Jennifer Spano Kalish, Penrose School: Kalish, a second-grade teacher, has worked at Penrose for 18 years of her 22-year career to bring stability to the community, and often earns hugs and high-fives from students passing her in the hallway. Kalish makes every child feel like an important part of the community and instills in her students a desire to spread kindness. She prepares challenging lessons that engage students with a variety of learning styles.
Richelle Kamper, Girard Academic Music Program: As the eighth-grade adviser and an English teacher at GAMP, Kamper works to ensure that all students meet and exceed their potential. She uses lively lessons and creative teaching methods to connect with children, and keeps in close contact with families. She advises multiple clubs, works with GAMP’s School Advisory Council, and takes on other roles for the good of her students.
Caitlin Kay, Academy at Palumbo: Kay is a talented English teacher driven by a deep love of her students. Each week her classes begin with young people sharing something personal that happened over the weekend, with others responding with positive feedback. Her instruction is rigorous, and she stresses creativity in her classroom. She is sponsor of Palumbo’s award-winning poetry team and education director for the citywide Slam Poetry organization.
Gail Koskela, W.B. Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences: From the classroom to the sheep barn at Saul, where Koskela has taught animal science for 21 years, students in her classes are thoroughly engaged. She helps students build leadership skills at the school and state level as sponsor of the Future Farmers of America club, serves as a mentor, and shows young people pathways to success. She manages an urban sheep facility and fully incorporates students into its operation.
Mikaela Lerer, Masterman: Lerer is a capable and well-prepared educator who teaches multiple grade levels of digital literacy at the school and leads through example. She has launched coding workshops for middle school girls and run the school’s Hour of Code program. Students run to Lerer’s class, eager to dive into their lesson. She is a valuable member of the school leadership team and contributes by collaborating with other faculty members and looking for the best, democratic decision possible. She’s made herself an invaluable part of the community.
Lisa Lynch, Swenson Arts and Technology High School: Lynch’s passion for providing equity and access for all students has driven her work during a 15-year career. A product of Philadelphia public schools, Lynch is now the special education liaison at Swenson, where she collaborates with others to advocate for students with special needs. She has a “can do” attitude that instills confidence in her students and works wonders with a never-ending stream of educational service coordination, legally binding paperwork, and peer mentoring. She has repeatedly proven herself to be a skilled educator and also serves as co-adviser of Swenson’s Allies Gay-Straight Alliance.
Megan McNamara, Philadelphia High School for Girls: McNamara is a member of the Girls’ High leadership team, the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program and a valued colleague. She is also a revered English teacher who engages and motivates students to do their best work. “She acts as a guide when students are in need, and always keeps her door open when a student needs to talk,” one of her students wrote of McNamara, an 11-year veteran.
Meg Merlini, McCall Elementary: Merlini, a fourth-grade teacher, believes her job is in service to each child’s emotional, social and intellectual growth; she honors each child’s individuality and listens to his or her voice. She is passionate about social justice, guiding a diverse group of children in exploring the world around them and facilitating a yearlong inquiry into a social issue of their choosing. She has served as a member of the building committee, mentored student teachers, coached a running club, and has taught an after-school yoga program.
Lorenea Meskill, Francis Scott Key Elementary: A fifth-grade teacher and Francis Scott Key’s math lead, Meskill values wrong answers and encourages her students to listen to each other and engage in critical thinking. She is a natural problem solver, measured, fair and committed. Meskill, who has worked as a teacher for seven years, is supportive, firm, and fair with her students, holding them accountable but always looking to lift them up and catch them doing something good.
Dr. Brandon Miller, The Workshop School: Miller, an English teacher, “is fiercely intelligent and has a work ethic to back it up,” said his principal at the project-based school. He is passionate about creating opportunities for all students, especially those born into challenging circumstances. He has won grants that have allowed students to learn how to produce documentary films; forged partnerships with universities and civic organizations; and designed curriculum for juniors and seniors, including internships and classes at Community College of Philadelphia.
Janel Moore-Almond, George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science: A graduate of Ivy League universities and of Carver, Moore-Almond believes in students’ infinite capacity to learn and succeed. She is a creative history teacher with 18 years’ experience. Many of Moore-Almond’s students have never taken an Advanced Placement course before, but under her tutelage, Carver had more students pass the AP U.S. History exam than ever. As middle-school coordinator, she supports struggling students and has created a lunchtime tutoring program that uses high school students to mentor their younger classmates.
Patrice M. Morris, Potter-Thomas Promise Academy: Morris remains planted in her native city and school district because she feels the need to give back as a change agent. She is a dedicated, focused educator who puts students’ needs first and emphasizes relationships. Now a sixth-grade English teacher who has also served as Potter-Thomas’ dean of students and climate coach, Morris is a natural leader but also a team player.
Kate Mullen, Overbrook Educational Center: Do you think math is boring? Then you never had Mullen as your teacher. If the seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher is tackling something that involves graphing or is slope-related, she clears the desks from the center of her room, creating an open floor space to make a graph using masking tape for the x and y axes and the tiles of her classroom floor as a grid. Mullen has taught for six years, and, as two students wrote, she “gives her students a voice in class and she gives us great feedback. This helps us to know if we are on target, or if we need to work a little harder.”
Anne Nachman, John F. McCloskey Elementary: Nachman has taught in Philadelphia public schools for 32 years, 31 of them at McCloskey. She’s a long-tenured teacher, but open to new experiences. And because her students trust her, they are willing to take academic risks that often lead to academic growth. She’s the teacher parents request for their children (including “grandstudents,” as she calls them, her former pupils’ children), the one who attends their sporting events and high school graduations.
Anne Olvera, E.M. Stanton Elementary: Olvera is a master teacher who has not missed a day of work in 14 years and rarely leaves the building until the lights are turned out. She nourishes partnerships that give her students access to civics and writing and art instruction they might not otherwise have; coordinates Stanton’s school government; and is a member of the Stanton Community Partners, a group organized to bolster the school with outside resources.
Tonya Oniyama, West Philadelphia High School: “Mrs. O," West’s social studies department chair and a teacher of U.S. and African American history, teaches at a high level and forms strong relationships with students. She especially enjoys motivating those with challenges because of her personal experiences growing up in the foster care system. A teacher for 10 years, Oniyama is a leader who goes beyond the call of duty for young people. “She has instilled in us that knowledge is power and it will take you around the world,” one of Oniyama’s students wrote.
Kathleen Paul, George Washington High School: A health and physical-education teacher for 28 years, the past 10 of them at George Washington, Paul has coached myriad sports, including Washington’s Special Olympics unified teams. Under her leadership, Special Olympics teams have competed around the country. Paul is able to work with every kind of student, encouraging them to reach their full potential, and she has cultivated a positive and nurturing community.
Nicole Paulino-Trisdorfer, C.W. Henry School: In Paulino-Trisdorfer’s music class, students have the opportunity to learn guitar, keyboard, and DJ techniques, and under her direction, Henry has bloomed with musical productions, dance festivals, and choral concerts. Her students are always actively engaged in making and learning about music, often by using equipment that she wrote grants to purchase. Paulino-Trisdorfer creates positive behavior plans for students who love her class but struggle in other environments, and she makes every student feel like a star.
Carlos Peterson, Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center School: Peterson loves and supports all of his students; when they’re in his classroom, Peterson prides himself on being a mentor and beacon of hope for them. Peterson, a social studies and technology teacher, motivates students who are uninterested in school and serves as a mentor to new teachers. He helped establish a Men’s Empowerment Summit to bring successful men from all walks of life into JJSCS, the district’s school housed in a juvenile detention facility. “He doesn’t give up on us students,” one of his pupils wrote.
Caroline Pomrink, George W. Nebinger Elementary: A dedicated, thoughtful educator of 14 years, Pomrink is ESOL teacher, roster chair, and teacher leader at Nebinger. She’s a role model for colleagues and students, the first teacher in the building, a team-first employee whose students show great growth as they learn English. Pomrink has a strong rapport with faculty and students, teaches in a creative and engaging way, and is a valuable resource both for her students learning English and to the teachers and community members who work with them.
Rachael Pringle, Fitler Elementary: When Pringle walked into Fitler in 2006, she was her class’ third teacher in six weeks, and students were wary of her. “They pulled out all the stops, but we finally came to an understanding: I was going nowhere, and they were going everywhere.” High expectations are her hallmark, but so are strong supports and a recognition that children don’t all learn in the same way. Pringle’s middle-school English students soak up what she offers, even those who tend to be reluctant to participate in other settings. Families, colleagues, and young people alike flock to Pringle.
Karen Reina, Randolph Career and Technical High School: As an English teacher, Reina fosters strong student engagement with creative lessons that come alive. She meets all young people’s needs, and “has created a positive, supportive learning environment every day I have attended school,” one student said. “She puts all of her kids in an environment where they never have to be afraid to be wrong or be corrected.” Her students show consistent growth and benefit from her warmth and good nature.
Alicia Rosman, Chester Arthur Elementary: A third- and fourth- grade English teacher with 19 years experience, Rosman is a legend at Arthur. Hers “is the class that kids can’t wait to be in, and never forget once they leave,” a colleague said. Her lessons are engaging, and she makes learning fun for her students. She’s a champion of partnerships, and a fixture at Arthur fund-raisers and community events. Children feel safe and supported in Rosman’s class, and colleagues value her input as well.
Louis Russo, South Philadelphia High School: After teaching K-8 music in New York City, Russo moved to Philadelphia to restart a music program at South Philadelphia High, a school that had a rich but lapsed musical tradition. (Among the school’s alumni are Marian Anderson, Chubby Checker, and Mario Lanza.) Russo has formed partnerships, written grants, and the school now boasts a band, drum line, musical theater, and more. He has a strong rapport with students, and is committed to letting them express themselves through performance.
Nicole Sabatino, Julia de Burgos Elementary: A special-education teacher in an autistic support classroom, Sabatino believes that success is not an option in her classroom, but a necessity. On her watch, students make strides both academically and socially. She values home and school collaboration, supports families and organizes an annual coat drive for those in need.
Suzanne Spencer, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush: An experienced teacher, Spencer designed and built Rush Arts’ acclaimed vocal music department. Spencer’s students explore social-justice issues through the arts, and she encourages them to use music to reach across cultural and social divides. Spencer is also passionate about mental health advocacy and mentors many students suffering from depression and anxiety.
Maria Stevens, Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts: Stevens believes the arts hold the keys to all education, unlocking the doors to understanding culture, society and the human condition. A dedicated 15-year veteran of the district, she is the sculpting and ceramics teacher at CAPA, where she also recently introduced stone cutting. She is an advocate for all students and encourages them both academically and artistically.
Bernard John Stuetz, Mayfair Elementary School: Stuetz is the eighth-grade ESOL teacher at Mayfair Elementary. He teaches speakers of more than five languages, and he has developed proficiency in Portuguese and Spanish. He focuses on social justice issues and strives to support families in very practical ways, such as texting updates to students’ parents about everything from homework to mental health resources in the community — all translated into their native language.
Ryan Sullivan, James R. Ludlow Elementary School: Sullivan nurtures a love of math and science in his fifth graders through engaging lessons and fosters personal connections with students, their families and outside partners that enrich kids’ lives. If he’s not organizing or creating a school event, he’s part of the team that supports it. His passion and dedication has helped to revitalize the Ludlow school community.
Amanda Thornton, Joseph Greenberg School: Thornton was inspired to become an educator by one of her Philadelphia School District teachers. Now a first-grade teacher at Greenberg, Thornton seeks to find ways to better her craft and to change as education changes. She is tireless in her commitment to students’ academic progress, achievement, and her own growth and development.
Darryl Walker, Crossroads Accelerated Academy: A native of North Philadelphia, Walker started his teaching career there 18 years ago at the now-closed Gillespie Middle School. Now a science teacher at Crossroads, Walker strives to inform, inspire, and ignite a passion for learning in his students. Under his leadership, Crossroads has established partnerships that bring programming from the Kulumele African Dance and Drum Ensemble and the Philadelphia Police Department, among other organizations, to students.
Gina Weightman, Anne Frank Elementary: Weightman is the most-requested teacher, year after year, at Anne Frank, and Weightman is beloved by parents and students. She excels as a kindergarten teacher, welcoming both typically developing students and those with learning differences into her classroom. “Mrs. Weightman has a talent for creating a joyful learning environment for all,” her principal said.