merit pay

Annual awards fete math, science teachers at array of schools

At a time when the Obama administration is rewarding efforts to improve math and science instruction, seven city math and science teachers are being lauded for the work they already do.

For the third straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are giving city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. The teachers will receive their prizes — $5,000 each — at an award ceremony tonight and their schools will celebrate the awards, and the $2,500 that their math and science programs receive, at a series of assemblies tomorrow.

The teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students’ achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom. The recipients’ high schools range from the city’s highest-performing to some of the weakest, including one that the city is trying to turn around using federal funding.

Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards:

Teacher: Kate Belin
School: Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Subject: Geometry, Functions
Why her school thinks she’s great: Belin makes math relevant and interesting for students at Fannie Lou Hamer, where 90 percent of entering freshman are below grade level in math or English, by connecting math to the world outside the classroom.


Teacher:
Marissa Bellino
School: High School for Environmental Studies
Subject: Environment Seminar, Global Environment, Environmental Science Research
Why her school thinks she’s great: Bellino has stretched the already strong science program at the High School for Environmental Studies by facilitating a revamp of her school’s science facility and arranging trips for her students to visit Japan to discuss cutting carbon emissions.


Teacher: Jim Cocoros
School: Stuyvesant High School
Subject: Honors Pre-Calculus, Calculus BC, Math Team
Why his school thinks he’s great: The sole male recipient this year, Cocoros is known as a dedicated teacher who makes every effort to tailor instruction to students’ needs and goals.


Teacher:
Margaret DeSimone
School: Midwood High School
Subject: Living Environment (and Lab), Anatomy and Physiology
Why her school thinks she’s great: DeSimone’s former students and colleagues say that she is a master at being able to reach all of her students and converting even the most uninterested students to engage with science.


Teacher:
Maria Cheryl Diangco
School: Sheepshead Bay High School
Subject: AP Biology, Science Research
Why her school thinks she’s great: Diangco has helped create a reinvigorated science program at Sheepshead Bay, which began undergoing federally funded “restart” this year, and she developed a science research program at the school.


Teacher:
Alia Jackson
School: Curtis High School
Subject:Physics (including IB Physics), Earth Science
Why her school thinks she’s great: Jackson has infused her physics course with fun trips (to Six Flags) and fun projects (rubber band-powered cars, water-powered rockets), and she’s gotten some fun outcomes: Her students have a near-perfect pass rate on the Physics Regents.

Teacher: Eliza Kuberska
School: Hunter College High School
Subject: Algebra II/Geometry, AP Statistics, Problem Solving
Why her school thinks she’s great: Even in a school with a 99 percent graduation rate, where many graduates go on to Ivy League colleges, Kuberska manages to challenge her students with complex problem sets and to pique their intellectual curiosity.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.