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.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.