New York

City honors 11 teachers with Big Apple awards

The city has named the first 11 teachers to receive Big Apple Awards, a new prize designed to reward teachers who make an “exceptional impact” on student achievement.

The city announced the creation of the awards in February, shortly after negotiations between City Hall and the UFT to create a new teacher evaluation system ended spectacularly.

The winners were selected from more than1,500 nominees, of whom 500 were invited to submit essays and 50 were interviewed and observed in the classroom. The UFT, New York City Charter School Center, and other education groups played a role in the final selection, according to the city’s press release. Each winner will get $3,500 to use on classroom supplies — roughly 90 percent more than teachers received from the city last year.

The winners are

  • Silvestre Arcos, a fifth-grade math teacher at KIPP: Washington Heights Middle School in Washington Heights, Manhattan
  • Patrick Berry, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at J.H.S. 057 Whitelaw Reidin Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
  • Erika Bogdany, a high school English Language Arts teacher at Brooklyn Bridge Academy, a transfer school  in Canarsie, Brooklyn
  • Damion Clark, an11th- and 12th-grade English teacher at Democracy Prep Charter High School in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Catherine Downey, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at P.S. 128 Bensonhurst in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
  • Kristin Ferrales, an 11th-grade social studies teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in downtown Brooklyn
  • Marietta Geraldino, a 10th- and 11th-grade math teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Stephen Jackson, a middle school science teacher at P.S./M.S. 278 Paula Hedbavny Schoolin Inwood, Manhattan
  • Deborah Laster, a special education teacher for autistic students (ages 14-21) at P.S.176 in Co-op City, Bronx
  • Kimberly McCorkell, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher who provides academic intervention services at P.S. 222 The Katherine R. Snyder School in Marine Park, Brooklyn; and 
  • Melissa Salguero, a general music teacher at P.S. 48 Joseph R. Drake in the South Bronx.

More details about each winner’s contributions to the classroom, as described in a Department of Education press release, are below.

Silvestre Arcos, 5th grade math teacher at KIPP: Washington Heights Middle School

Culturally relevant pedagogy is the cornerstone of Silvestre Arco’s teaching vision.  The Southern Poverty Law Center awarded him with the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching in 2011.  Silvestre’s diverse teaching experiences – in two urban school districts and in both a district and charter schools – have given him significant experience in this area and made him a model educator.  Before he began his teaching career in New York City, he worked with emergent bilinguals in Los Angeles for three years.  Upon moving to New York, Silvestre led a transitional bilingual classroom and created a dual language program at M.S. 223 in the South Bronx, which resulted in his school receiving the Spanish Embassy’s School of the Year Award.   After spending five years at M.S. 223, he was asked to join the founding staff of a new KIPP Charter middle school in Washington Heights this school year and is already stepping into a new role as grade level chair and math department head.  

Patrick Berry, 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher, Whitelaw Reid Junior High School

“I have never seen a teacher who is so committed to the achievement of his students,” says Principal Celeste Douglas.  Ninety seconds after the first student walks in the door of Patrick Berry’s 8th grade class at Whitelaw Reid Junior High School, all 29 of his students are on task. Patrick’s high expectations for his students translate to a classroom of respect and inquiry where students are asked to question and discuss their own thoughts and those of their peers.  Patrick began his teaching career in the Peace Corps in South Africa and came to New York City through the NYC Teaching Fellows program five years ago. 

Erika Bogdany, English Language Arts High School Teacher, Brooklyn Bridge Academy

Through a partnership with Brooklyn Academy of Music, Erika Bogdany has helped her students learn to write and perform their own poetry.  This is an example of how, as the ELA Department Team Leader, Erika has infused the team with a problem solving mindset. Erika challenges her students to become successful literary academics.   She spent five years at Automotive High School prior to joining the Brooklyn Bridge Academy community, which is a transfer school in Canarsie with over-age and under-credited students who are facing tremendous challenges in their academic careers.  During her two years teaching ELA at Brooklyn Bridge Academy, 85% of Erika’s students have passed the Regents, contributing to a 35% overall improvement in passage rate for the school’s ELA department.

Damion Clark, 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts, Democracy Prep Charter High School

Having previously taught college as an English professor, Damion Clark knows exactly what his Democracy Prep juniors and seniors need to be ready for their freshman literature seminar.  His daily Socratic seminars are genuine exchanges of intellectual discourse – Plato’s The Cave, the cultural legacy of African imperialism, and Ellison’s Invisible Man were just a few of the connections made by his students in a recent class.  This type of rich debate and attention to text pays off: All of his juniors passed the Regents last year (with 60% scoring an 80 or higher), and all are on track this year as seniors to excel on the English AP exam. After only two years at Democracy Prep, Damion’s influence extends beyond the classroom – as a faculty sponsor for the Latino Caucus, as the chair of the school’s literary magazine, and as the English Department Chair.  As his principal notes: “Our teachers rave about how he has transformed their teaching.” 

Catherine Downey, 5th grade Science and Social Studies, P.S. 128 Bensonhurst

It’s clear something special is happening in Catherine Downey’s fifth-grade class at P.S. 128 in Bensonhurst when 31 students are able to simulate the Mayan social caste structure using candy – and not one student sheds a tear when their entire collection is lost to the ‘warrior’ caste above them.  Catherine employs a variety of scaffolds and differentiated activities to engage her students, which include a significant number of English Language Learners and newcomers.  A colleague says that she “exhibits the confidence of a seasoned teacher who knows exactly what each individual child needs to succeed.”  After five years at P.S. 128, Catherine remains a constant learner and leader – seeking feedback from peers using the Danielson Framework, participating in after-school and network study groups with other teachers, leading the P.S. 128 School Leadership Team, and organizing a multitude of school community events. 

Kristin Ferrales, 11th grade Social Studies, Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice

 “Students are truly generating the questions and ideas that lead the learning [in her classroom],” says Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice Principal Shannon Curran.  In her nine years of teaching with the NYC DOE, the high-level discussions that Ms. Ferrales’s students have experienced have prepared them for college and to be successful in life.  Her students make significant academic gains, including an 86% pass rate last year on the Global History Regents Exam.  Kristin also creates a classroom where her students feel valued as individuals and respected as learners.  During a particular lesson on historical research, she provided numerous opportunities for all students to be involved and allowed their discussion to move the lesson in different directions.  Kristin has demonstrated the need for peer collaboration to be an excellent teacher, and acknowledges her colleagues and administrators at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice as reasons for her success.  A colleague noted that the emotional and academic support that she gives her students changes their lives forever. 

Marietta Geraldino, 10th and 11th grade Geometry Teacher, Fredrick Douglas Academy II

How does Lincoln Center Institutes’ Striking Sounds relate to Geometry? Ask Marietta Geraldino, a 10th and 11th grade Geometry teacher at Fredrick Douglas Academy II, who designed an entire unit to use this music to teach graphing based on the waves of sounds.   Marietta provides students with the opportunity and expectation that they will master content in order to learn about the world around them and develop the confidence necessary to succeed in life.  As explained by her principal, “[Marietta] is able to deconstruct the most complex mathematical concepts and make them palpable to even the most resistant students.” During her 24 years of teaching, nine within the New York City DOE, she has constantly searched for ways to grow as an educator and seeks out professional development opportunities to improve her practice. 

Stephen Jackson, 7th and 8th grade Science, P.S./ M.S. 278 Paul Hedbavny School

Prior to coming to New York City public schools nine years ago, Stephen Jackson was a teacher in Jamaica.  In his current role, Stephen has created a middle school science classroom in the Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhood where students feel empowered to explore scientific concepts through a variety of creative outlets – T-charts, oral arguments, and audio presentations through digital “avatars,” to just name a few.  And his students are excelling as a result: after his first year at P.S./M.S. 278, there was a 21% increase in eighth grade students scoring a level four on the science exam.  Along with a meticulous dedication to data (he is the Data Specialist at the school), Stephen also knows what it takes to get his students smiling and engaged – whether it’s by playing music, throwing in a joke, or even physically spinning around in class to demonstrate a scientific concept.  As a former colleague notes, Stephen “has consistently inspired students to achieve their best even when the odds dictate otherwise.” 

Deborah Laster, Special Education Teacher for students ages 14-21, P.S.176

“Long before laws protecting students’ rights to an education in the least restrictive environment were enforced, Ms. Deborah Laster was at work improving the lives of students with special needs and their families,” says P.S. 176 Principal Rima Ritholtz.  Born and raised in the Bronx, Deborah is a proud alumna of New York City public schools.  During her 24 years of experience teaching the children of New York City, she has proven herself to be a model educator.   Deborah sets the standard at her school through her assessments, lesson planning, and implementing rigorous instructional activities. She is an active member of the P.S. 176 community, and has served in many diverse capacities including directing her school’s student chorus and creating curriculum maps as a former member of the School Leadership Team. Ms. Laster  has also designed four enterprises, including “It’s a Wrap,” a school business program that prepares personalized candy bars in a step-assembly method and allows students to apply their Common Core learning skills. 

Kimberly McCorkell, 4th and 5th grade Math, P.S. 22 Katherine R. Snyder

Kimberly knew from a young age she wanted to be a teacher.  As a struggling student herself, she felt the difference that teachers made in her own confidence and ability to excel.  She now instills that same confidence and skills in her students every day.   Kimberly always gives her 4th and 5thgrade math students the hardest problems first so they can learn not only the math behind the problem, but also so they can build the confidence to solve anything put in front of them.  She tracks her students closely and measures their day- to-day gains in Common Core aligned math work.  Every one of her students scored a 4 on the 2012 state exam. In addition to her academic success with her students, she measures her own success based on the emotional and social growth of her students over the course of the year. 

Melissa Salguero, General Music Teacher, P.S. 48 Joseph R. Drake

The sound coming from down the hall is the impromptu concert practice for an upcoming student orchestra performance.  As a first year teacher, Melissa Salguero has given the students of P.S. 48 something they have not had in more than 50 years- the gift of music.  She has built the music program from the ground up.  Out of 500 entries into the Glee “Give a Note” Contest, she and her students won the $50,000 grand prize.  With these funds, P.S. 48 was able to purchase all of its music essentials.  She has also built a relationship with The Hunts Point Alliance for Children to create a group called SongCorps, which is designed to reach out to at-risk 4th grade boys through music.  Through music, Melissa teaches life skills such as teamwork, humility, leadership and respect. Her mission is to make students into lifelong music lovers so that they become community members who appreciate music and support the arts. 

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. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.