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Philadelphia School District High School Lindback winners

Distinguished Teachers

The following excerpts are from the nominating information submitted to the Lindback Foundation for the winning Philadelphia high school teachers. These teachers will be honored Tuesday at ceremonies at the Prince Music Theater. The Christian R. and Mary S. Lindback Foundation celebrates excellence in education and has been awarding the teaching prizes since 2008. There is one winner from each school.

Academy at Palumbo

James W. Dyke

James W. Dyke received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1997 and master's degree in educational technology in 2010. This is his 15th year as a teacher and fifth year at Palumbo. Currently he teaches AP chemistry and chemistry. Besides teaching, Dyke is co-moderator of the National Honor Society, in charge of Red Cross blood drives, and part of the dean's office.

Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush

Lorraine A. Ustaris

At Rush Arts, Lorraine A. Ustaris teaches a 21st-century literacy curriculum, balancing literary and cultural studies with justice themes. She completed undergraduate studies in English, gender studies, and pre-medicine at St. Joseph's University, and earned her master's degree at Villanova University. Ustaris is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Philadelphia Writing Project. She shares her work at local and national conferences on education.

Bartram High School

Amy R. Foster

While working at her family's moving business, Amy R. Foster saw the needs of many of the children she was relocating. Her interactions led her to become a Philadelphia teaching fellow. She believes that infusing a sense of relationship, community, and respect between teachers and students will provide them with a positive educational experience that promotes student achievement.

Bodine High School for International Affairs

Kelli MacKay

In her time at Bodine, Kelli MacKay has fostered a love of reading by creating an extensive classroom library. She has been trained in the IB and AP and CFA programs. She created a club to support women's global education. MacKay is a trusted colleague, a motivator, and a champion of children who expects a great deal from her students.

Bok Technical High School

John A. Ryan

John A. Ryan has taught in the Philadelphia School District for 35 of his 37-year career. He began as an automotive-mechanics instructor at South Philadelphia High School. He transitioned to a computer-science teacher in 1990 and to Bok Technical High School in 2004.

Creative and Performing

Arts High School

LaDeva Davis

LaDeva Davis has been teaching in the Philadelphia School District for 40 years. Her energy and enthusiasm for dance can be seen in the studio at the Creative and Performing Arts High School and is reflected in the students of the dance department. Davis can be seen choreographing the Thanksgiving parade, graduation ceremonies, and many dance recitals year after year, in and out of school.

Carroll High School

Kristen Harris

Kristen Harris teaches chemistry with enthusiasm, passion, and rigor, and is held in high esteem by both the faculty and her students. Her lessons are scaffolded to meet the needs of students and provide rigorous inquiry-based activities. Her classroom has served as a model for quality and engaging instruction. She understands that teaching is an art that requires careful study and dedication to professional development.

Carver High School for Engineering and Science

Nancy Juka

In her 19 years at HSES, Nancy Juka has been an exemplary classroom teacher, volleyball coach, track coach, class sponsor, acting assistant principal, and athletic director. She has received numerous awards for coaching and has ushered students into stellar collegiate careers in both academics and athletics. Her dedication to her students and their futures is truly inspirational.

Central High School

Benjamin Walsh

Benjamin Walsh can best be described as an art educator, illustrator, and designer. He is the chair of the art department at Central High School and teaches art history, graphic design, Web design, international baccalaureate art, and AP art. He is described as an incredibly creative teacher who inspires students to go far beyond what they bring to the classroom. His principal says he never says no to a student, a teacher, or administrator.


Technology High School

Craig Carracappa

Cinematography teacher Craig Carracappa's well-rounded radio, television, and film career began more than 30 years ago. He graduated from Temple University with a bachelor of arts with an emphasis on film production. After graduation, he became a director for large-scale corporate events, working in 15 states and five countries directing shows for 100 to 10,000 people. He pioneered the cinematography program at Communications Technology High School and has built a state-of-the-art digital video production facility from the ground up over the last eight years.

Constitution High School

Alison McCartney

Alison McCartney is a sixth-year English teacher at Constitution High School. She taught for three years at Roxborough High School before joining the staff of Constitution in 2009. Currently, she serves as a cosponsor of the junior class, a co-adviser of the Spanish Club, PFT building representative, and a classroom mentor for the Teachers Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project.

Dobbins Technical High School

John Sullivan

A Temple University graduate, John Sullivan began his career with the Philadelphia School District in 1999 and has taught every history course that is offered, most recently world history. He is also the head football coach and has led the team to the 2011 PIAA Division 3A championship. He brings the same dedication to athletics that he does to academics.

Douglas High School

Mary Creighton

Mary Creighton has been a health and physical-education teacher at Douglas High School for five years. Over the years, she has coached the girls' soccer team, coed bowling team, and boys' soccer team. This year, she accompanied a group of students on a five-day Outward Bound wilderness expedition on the Appalachian Trail, and secured a $1,000 grant to focus on nutrition and physical activity at Douglas.

Edison High School

Jason Carrion

Jason Carrion has taught at Edison High School since 2004. He is an exceptional educator who has led professional development sessions on differentiating mathematics lessons with technology. He is also a compassionate educator who has established trusting relationships with everyone. Carrion coaches boys' and girls' tennis and boys' junior-varsity basketball.

Fels High School

Carol Pancoast

Carol Pancoast has taught at Fels for the last 21 years. She has run the business academy for the last 10 years. In this work she sets up mock interviews with law firms, and has placed numerous students into internships with various high-profile businesses in the Philadelphia area. Carol also works on the roster and is in charge of Title I.

FitzSimons High School

Kristian Ali

Kristian Ali grew up in South Philadelphia and graduated in 2003 from Germantown High School. She graduated cum laude from West Chester University with a bachelor's degree in secondary English education in 2008. Currently, Ali serves as the English teacher leader, the Middle School Academy leader, and seventh-grade English teacher at Thomas FitzSimons High School. She has served the North Philadelphia community as a teacher since 2008, all of which she spent at Thomas FitzSimons.

Frankford High School

Beth Ziegenfus

Beth Ziegenfus is a Temple University graduate. She earned her master's degree at Arcadia University. She has taught English at Frankford for nine years. She has served as an academy coordinator, senior sponsor, and yearbook committee member. Ziegenfus is dedicated to her students and works to ensure that they receive the best education. She is well-respected by her colleagues and students.

Franklin Learning Center

Michelle B. Smith

During her career as an educator, Michelle B. Smith has worked as a classroom and resource teacher, and job-training coach for students with disabilities. As a special-education liaison, she provides accommodations and educational supports for students. Her vision is to enable her students to access the general education curriculum, become self-advocates, and independently transition into adult life upon graduation.

Franklin High School

Esther Green

Esther Green exhibits extraordinary skill and creativity in her approach to education. She sets the academic bar high for both herself and her students by working hard to broaden students' knowledge of the musical arts. She continuously encourages student exposure to the musical arts by arranging educational outings to cultural events and community-service endeavors, organizing professional and student musician performances, and incorporating technology in the classroom.

Furness High School

Michelle V. Thornton

Michelle V. Thornton, a science teacher, is the sponsor of the mentally gifted program and cosponsor of the senior class. Thornton is a recent graduate of the master's of chemistry education program at the University of Pennsylvania. She received a master's degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and a bachelor of science degree from Johnson C. Smith University.

Girard Academic Music Program

Mac Holcomb

Mac Holcomb has been a dedicated member of the GAMP staff for nine years. In his role as instrumental music and theory teacher as well as band director, he has inspired students from grades five to 12 to find appreciation and love for the art of music. In his other roles as roster chair and member of the school leadership team, Holcomb works collaboratively with all staff members.

Germantown High School

Joan Bommentre

Joan Bommentre has worked for the School District of Philadelphia for 33 years. She has worked as a special-education teacher and has shared her love of learning with her students daily since that time. She continues to support not only her students but her colleagues by sharing best practices during professional development sessions.

High School for Girls

Xueling Qu

Xueling Qu designed and developed the Chinese program, from Level 1 to AP and IB, at the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She initiated the grant program to enable her program to become one of 100 Confucius Classrooms in 2009 and the grant was successfully renewed in 2011. She plans field trips to China with students to increase their understanding of Chinese culture.

High School of the Future

Ashley Hunter

Ashley Hunter has been an autistic support educator at School of the Future for four years. She is a graduate of Temple University and holds certifications in special education, elementary education, and early childhood education. Hunter earned her graduate degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Scranton and is pursuing her special-education supervisory certificate with Pennsylvania State University.

Kensington Urban Education Academy

Aileene Halligan

Aileene Halligan is a native Philadelphian who attended Friends Select High School and the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for the international nonprofit Women's Campaign International for two years before joining the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows. She has taught Spanish, world history, and African American history within the School District of Philadelphia.

Kensington International Business

Sarah Valdez

Sarah Valdez has taught at Kensington International Business for the last six years and is teaching 11th-grade Algebra 2. She is also involved in various leadership roles: school-based teacher leader and math content leader. She received her bachelor's in mathematics at San Francisco State University and her master's in education at Gratz College.

Kensington CAPA

Anthony M. Guidice III

Anthony M. Guidice III has been a teacher in the Kensington community since 2004. During his tenure, he has served in various leadership positions and has been a key factor in increased academic success. Guidice's teaching philosophy is one that demands academic rigor. He challenges his students to think critically and discover their own personal truths in the process.

Kensington Culinary

Michele Beach

Michele Beach graduated from Rutgers University and is enrolled in a master's program in educational leadership. She is a math teacher leader and a member of both the instructional leadership and school climate teams. Beach is also a participating teacher in the Classrooms for the Future grant that brings technology into the classroom.

Lamberton High School

Joseph Mussari

Joseph Mussari has been a dedicated English teacher for the last 38 years in the Philadelphia School District. During his career, Mussari has had the pleasure of teaching students at Wanamaker, Beeber, Shoemaker, Sulzberger, Benjamin Franklin High School, West Philadelphia High School, and Lamberton High School, where he has taught for the last 16 years. Mussari is a firm believer that education is communication.

Lankenau High School

Thomas Wolfinger

French teacher Thomas Wolfinger is a graduate of Holy Family and Susquehanna Universities. He sponsors the French club, environmental science/recycling club, and junior class. The French club has traveled to Quebec and France, and Wolfinger is organizing an environmentally themed Costa Rica trip that was featured in a January 2012 edition of WHYY's Newsworks.

Lincoln High School

Jacqueline Burton

Jacqueline Burton is the math department chair, the Law Academy coordinator, testing coordinator, National Honor Society sponsor, and AP coordinator. She tutors students during their lunch periods. Burton is greatly responsible for the rise in PSSA scores at Lincoln High School. When everyone else says no, she says yes.

Martin Luther King High School

Jack Brown

Jack Brown is an outstanding English and social studies teacher. Brown spends his time, talents, and energy molding young people's dreams and aspirations. Brown introduces young people through global perspective on how to construct a careful observation of the world, causing each to care more deeply.

Mastbaum High School

Lisa Dias-Zeiger

Lisa Dias-Zeiger attended the Philadelphia public school system and obtained a degree in health and physical education from Temple University. She left education to operate her own jewelry business for 20 years. Dias-Zeiger returned to teaching in 2000 and earned her master's degree from Gratz College. Dias-Zeiger has taught at Mastbaum since 2007 and is the varsity cheerleading coach.

Masterman High School

Kathryn Smith

Kathryn Smith is a demonstration mathematics teacher who spends a great deal of time and care planning and preparing for her classes at Masterman High School. She currently teaches precalculus and AP Calculus B-C. Her lessons challenge students to think deeply about mathematics and develop their ability to express themselves mathematically. She fosters a love of mathematics both in the classroom and through the extracurricular activities that she sponsors.

Motivation High School

Jessica Coldren

Jessica Coldren is a dedicated teacher who demonstrates a sense of urgency on a daily basis regarding the care, instruction, performance level, and support of her students. She addresses their issues and concerns. She will tackle anything to support her youths. She is the sponsor for the National Honor Society and she provides instruction on Saturdays for PSSA boot camp.

Northeast High School

Deborah Michaux

Deborah Michaux, a special-education teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for the last 30 years, has been teaching at Northeast High School since 2002. Michaux had an incredible impact on the students from the moment she crossed the threshold. Some of her accomplishments include: writing a grant, and implementing the Student Voice Project, which partners with local businesses to provide students with hands-on work experience and training that can lead to paid employment.

Overbrook High School

Margery C. Willis

Margery C. Willis is a National Board-Certified Teacher and a graduate of Temple University, and spent 10 years teaching at Temple before returning to her alma mater as an English teacher. The staff soon recognized the caliber of instructor that our students would be fortunate to have, as well as someone who unselfishly shared her expertise through professional development with fellow colleagues. The staff has benefited greatly from her knowledge in integrating technology into our instruction and the effective implementation of co-teaching to support student success.

Philadelphia Military Academy

at Leeds/Elverson

Maureen Carey

Maureen Carey graduated from West Chester University with a bachelor's in history and will receive her master's in history this year. Carey has been the social studies chair for five years and the senior class sponsor for five years. She teaches AP government and politics, social science, American history, and world history and has been a member of the Teaching American History Grant program.

Philadelphia Military Academy/Leeds

Suzana Dobi

Suzana Dobi received her undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Tirana in 1984 and has been teaching mathematics and physics at the high school level for more than 26 years. Her commitment to her students goes beyond her classroom, as she provides after-school tutoring for those who need additional support. She provides assistance to her colleagues in all content areas.

Parkway Center City

Caroline Neville

Caroline Neville has a bachelor's degree in Spanish and a master's in education and attended the University of Wisconsin, University of Cincinnati, and Holy Family University. After working in business and for nonprofits, Neville made a career change to teaching and has been a successful Spanish teacher at Parkway Center City since 2003. She also serves as the world language department chair, peer mediation group leader, and a senior sponsor.

Parkway Northwest

Christina Puntel

Christina Puntel began teaching learning support at Sheppard School in Kensington in 1998. Her practice has been strengthened through her involvement in Philadelphia Teachers' Learning Cooperative and the Philadelphia Writing Project. She values collaboration and seeks to teach in ways that celebrate her students' strengths.

Parkway West

Gino Nicholas

Gino Nicholas is a 25-year-old social studies teacher from Hazleton, Pa., who graduated magna cum laude in 2009 from East Stroudsburg University with a bachelor's in history and a bachelor's in secondary education. He has lived in Philadelphia since 2009 and enjoyed working with the city's extraordinary youth. He plans on gaining principal's certification in the future.

Pennypacker House

Maria Grafton

As a special-education teacher, Maria Grafton displays the qualities that make a teacher successful. She demonstrates knowledge content and pedagogy as well as understanding the needs and abilities of the students in her classroom. Her lessons engage the class in a variety of activities and provide opportunity for positive feedback to students.

Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology

Colin Chrestay

Colin Chrestay has had the privilege of teaching on a wide range of topics in English for the last three years. The topical units have given him the freedom to teach not only the grammar, literature, and writing skills that are so important in the English program today, but also the critical thinking and moral-reasoning skills that are vital to life, regardless of future hopes and dreams. He spends a lot of personal time giving back to the students as an English tutor after school and the faculty adviser for the school's student-run newspaper.

Philadelphia Learning

Academy North

Andrea M. Woodard

Andrea M. Woodard initially did not go to college to become a teacher. After working for a nonprofit, she was given the opportunity to work with city youth and fell in love. From there, she moved to Philadelphia and obtained a degree in urban education. Motivated by her own learning disability as a child, she believes that with a great leader, all children can learn.

Philadelphia Learning

Academy South

Robin Flynn

Robin Flynn started her professional career in the for-profit world at Sunoco and, after being downsized, she enrolled in Cabrini College and is completing her master's in education with a secondary education teacher certification in mathematics. In January 2010 she was hired by the School District of Philadelphia to teach precalculus, geometry, and algebra II at West Philadelphia High School for the remainder of the year while the teacher was out with a long-term illness. For the last two years she has taught at Philadelphia Learning Academy South. She has a keen love for math.

Randolph Career

and Technical Academy

Timothy Woods

Timothy Woods is a social studies teacher at Randolph and has served as teacher technology leader, baseball coach, mock-trial coach, and department head, and has sat on numerous committees. In addition, he continues to lead professional development, coaching teachers around the district on creative ways to use technology in the classroom.

Rhodes High School/Washington

Kenesta Mack

Kenesta Mack has been a member of the Rhodes family for eight years, working to support our students in the goal of achievement. As special-education liaison, Mack works directly with teachers, counselors, parents, psychologists, and the district's special-education personnel to ensure that our students with special learning needs receive the services and support they require.

Paul Robeson High School

Andrew Saltz

Andrew Saltz has taught English 3 at Robeson for the last five years, and his students are experts in literature circles. In addition to teaching English, he facilitates the school's PSSA plan, morning basketball programs, and assemblies. He loves his job and creates many activities in the school to motivate student achievement and learning.

Roxborough High School

Stephen Weber

For 21 of his 34-year career, Stephen Weber has been a valued member of Roxborough's special-education department. He is currently the autistic support teacher and has served as special-education liaison, Special Olympics coach, and Autism Awareness Club sponsor. He voluntarily works with students after school and is working toward an autism certificate at La Salle University.

Saul High School

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson is a graduate of West Chester University and teaches world history, African American history, and social sciences at W.B. Saul High School. He enjoys teaching and is always looking for more creative ways to help his students learn. After school he serves as the varsity bowling coach, where the team has made it to the playoffs over the last eight years, and also serves as the assistant baseball coach working to help lead the team to the playoffs over the last eight years.

Sayre High School

Donna Saunders

Donna Saunders attended the Philadelphia public schools and received a bachelor of science degree in social studies from Cheyney University. She was a substitute teacher for the Philadelphia School District from 1978 to 1984 and later received a degree in elementary education and her master's degree from Cheyney. At the beginning of her teaching career she said that she knew she had chosen the right profession and that her greatest joy in teaching is watching children achieve their goals and students saying that she has helped them achieve their goals.

Science Leadership Academy

Larissa Pahomov

Larissa Pahomov teaches students English at Science Leadership Academy and specializes in using digital tools to promote authentic learning. She founded the school's online journalism program, hosted at She helps manage SLA's Literacy Lab, which offers students personalized tutoring. She also coordinates the school's alumni relations, community events, and diversity programs, which includes running all-staff professional development sessions.

South Philadelphia High School

Frances Wilkens

Frances Wilkens teaches writing to ELL students at South Philadelphia High School and serves as the mentor for senior projects. She is a graduate of St. Joseph's University and is pursuing a degree from Drexel University in global international education.

Strawberry Mansion High School

Marjorie Gaskin

The academic and continuing education of students has served as Marjorie Gaskin's motivation for the serious and important business of educating today's youth. As a mathematics instructor, her practice has intentionally integrated her students' knowledge with new concepts, terms, symbols, and skills that empower her students to construct knowledge with an underpinning of academic standards to endorse their continued education. This effort is further reflected in her co-facilitation of the Sankofa Passages Program at Strawberry Mansion High School. Specifically, this partnership has established the tradition of the annual health fair.

Swenson Arts and Technology High School

Lynn Susan Nai

Lynn Susan Nai, SEL, helps students who have learning and behavioral issues access and excel in specially designed instruction. She is passionate about career and technical education and leads the senior project committee directly assisting students with their projects. She spends numerous hours at night and on weekends answering parent e-mail and handling special-education paperwork.

University City High School

Lindsay Kahn

Lindsay Kahn is a second-year teacher at University City High School. She graduated with a master's in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, and is pursuing a degree in special education from Drexel University. Kahn is a dedicated and passionate teacher who maintains high expectations and challenges her students to examine history though multiple perspectives.

Vaux High School

Acotirene Abrena

Acotirene Abrena dedicated herself to a career in teaching in 2009 when she began her master's in math education at the University of Pennsylvania. Since that time, she has been a committed teacher in the Philadelphia School District, choosing to work in high-risk schools with underserved students. In addition to teaching, she has served Philadelphia's students as a class sponsor, a teacher leader, and a cheerleading coach.

Washington High School

Jenna Bowe

Jenna Bowe can be found in her classroom at George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia teaching chemistry, physical science, and advanced-placement chemistry. She pursued a career in education in order to make chemistry less abstract to students; she believes people snarl when they hear the word chemistry because they do not understand the subject. In her four years at the school, Bowe has helped form the Washington chapter of the program Students Run Philly Style, and has run two full marathons with over 30 students from the school.

West Philadelphia High School

Albert Sniezevage

Albert Sniezevage has been a teacher for the last nine years and considers the profession to be nothing short of a dream. He has created relationships with students at West Philadelphia High School that are more fulfilling than he could have even imagined. He is a team player and likens his colleagues to family.

Widener Memorial

Leslie Strothers

Leslie Strothers began her education and career in Pittsburgh, and while she still roots for the Steelers, her presence in Philadelphia has been a win for the School District. She has focused on students who have complex physical needs and cognitive challenges. Her experience has been expansive, from the lower grades to the upper grades at Widener Memorial School. In addition, Strothers has supervised high school students in job placements across South Philadelphia, is director of the summer day camp, and collaborated with Drexel University, BuildOn, Variety Club and the Arthur Ashe Foundation to partner for an afterschool program.

Youth Study Center

Patrick Crowe

Patrick Crowe has transitioned from the world of chemical engineering to an SDP classroom, bringing real-life applications to youth in detention. He has developed procedures for implementing A-plus computer instruction. He also has supported the implementation of K'Nex Education, and has worked in collaboration with colleagues to implement a robotics program for youth.