Top Teachers

Annual awards honor math, science teachers at city high schools

A science teacher helping students study the East River, a mathematician teaching immigrants in the South Bronx and a teacher who raised test scores despite students being displaced by Hurricane Sandy were among seven city educators honored Wednesday.

The sixth-annual Sloan Awards recipients, who have been teaching math or science in city high schools for at least five years, were chosen by a panel of scientists, mathematicians and educators. The Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gave the winners an individual prize of $5,000 and $2,500 for their school’s math or science department.

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

Aristides Uy

Aristides Julmarx Galdones Uy

School: International Community High School (ICHS), Bronx
Subjects: Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Geometry
Why his school thinks he’s great: A skilled mathematician originally from the Philippines, Uy could have taught at a specialized school but he chose the South Bronx high school to have a greater impact on students who are all recent immigrants.

 

Jennifer Cordi

Jennifer Cordi, PhD

School: Bard High School Early College, Manhattan
Subjects: College-Level Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Living Environment, Chemistry, Botany
Why her school thinks she’s great: Cordi creates field projects for her students to teach them the scientific method. Her students are studying the East River ecosystem by collecting samples of plants and insects, analyzing DNA and making observations.

 

Kerri Naples

Kerri J. Naples

School: The Scholars’ Academy, Queens
Subject: Algebra II/Trigonometry
Why her school thinks she’s great: Naples’ students achieved some of the highest state exam scores in the school’s history despite many students losing their homes during Hurricane Sandy and the school having to relocate to East New York.

 

Lauren Brady

Lauren Brady

School: Park East High School, Manhattan
Subjects: Integrated Algebra, AIS Instruction for Integrated Algebra, College Statistics
Why her school thinks she’s great: Brady’s “approach to teaching helped transform the school” from being monitored for producing low state exam scores to seeing 98 percent of freshman pass the Algebra Regents exam last year.

 

Malcolm Hill

Malcolm Hill

School: The Brooklyn Latin School
Subjects: IB Biology Higher Level, IB Biology Higher Level Lab
Why his school thinks he’s great: Hill designed the school’s biology curriculum to meet the requirements of the International Baccalaureate degree program. By the time students are seniors, they independently create and run their own experiments.

 

Megan Berdugo

Megan Driscoll Berdugo

School: Brooklyn International High School
Subjects: Algebra, Geometry, College-Level Calculus
Why her school thinks she’s great: Berdugo creates personalized lesson plans for each of her students at the Brooklyn school that is made up of students who speak 35 different languages and have a wide range of educational backgrounds.

 

Theresa Kutza

Theresa Dunlap Kutza

School: New Dorp High School, Staten Island
Subjects: Anatomy & Physiology, Neuroscience, Living Environment, Medical Issues
Why her school thinks she’s great: Kutza is well-known for her enthusiasm for science and innovative student projects, including overseeing oysters in Great Kills Harbor, observing thoracic surgery and studying the collapse of honey bee colonies in hives.

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.