Every May, we celebrate a special holiday here at TNTP. It’s Fishman Prize Announcement Day, when we reveal the four phenomenal educators who are winning the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. Today, we’re thrilled and honored to introduce you to them.
In addition to receiving $25,000 each, our winners will take part in a one-of-a-kind, six-week summer residency with TNTP, during which they’ll reflect on their teaching, meet education policymakers and leaders across the country (previous winners have met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, representatives in Congress and even President Obama) and collaborate with each other on a collection of essays capturing their insights as expert classroom practitioners.
Choosing the four winners is always tough. This year, we received nearly 800 applications from talented teachers in district and public charter schools across 46 states and Washington, DC, giving us a glimpse into a diverse array of dynamic classrooms nationwide. Reading the applications of so many dedicated teachers is humbling and inspiring, which is why we’re celebrating not just our winners, but our finalists, semi-finalists and “Honor Roll.” They all deserve a lot more attention than they tend to get.
You can learn more about our winners and finalists’ work in the classroom on our website. Here, we’ll introduce you to this year’s four winners through the eyes of some of the people who work closest with them—their principals and school leaders.
Kindergarten, KIPP East Community Primary, New Orleans, LA
When given a goal, Erica ensures it is met. Erica is one of the most outcome-oriented teachers I have ever had the privilege of coaching. She knows exactly what she expects from students and what it looks like for them to show mastery.
The way Erica drives towards goals may give the impression that she is pushing students towards a higher ACT score, but instead, she is preparing her kindergartners for first grade and beyond. By focusing on her young students’ academic data, she truly puts them on a different life path and works to fulfill our school mission of preparing students to go “to and through college.” This year Erica's class came into KIPP East Community Primary performing at about the 24th percentile in both reading and math. Students are leaving performing on average at the 56th percentile—with 36 percent of them performing above the 75th percentile!
While she pushes students to perform academically, Erica also goes out of her way to ensure strong relationships are built with her students and their families. This means having a nickname for almost every student in her class, attending dinners and family karaoke nights with a particularly close family, being called on when a mother of one of her students is going into labor—the list goes on and on. She is there for her students in the long run by ensuring they are able to fulfill their hopes and dreams, and she is there in the day-to-day to be part of their lives, both at school and at home.
—Jenny Dennis Carey, School Leader, KIPP East Community Primary
6th grade science, Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School (Boston Public Schools), Roxbury, MA
Erin is a teacher and leader in every sense of both words: an outstanding classroom teacher who packs every lesson with opportunities for students to take academic risks, collaborate with each other and build skills that serve them in every class and at every grade level. There is an energy to Erin's teaching that makes it impossible not to learn while in her presence. She keeps her students on their toes and inspires them to take on big questions and challenges with confidence.
Erin brings that same energy to her leadership role. She is an expert facilitator, thought partner and coach. She builds capacity in others and helps them tackle challenges within their own classrooms and across their own teams. She is that rare kind of teacher who can simultaneously run an amazing classroom and lead school-wide initiatives that improve instruction and culture from grades K-8.
In a word, Erin in powerful. She improves our school every day through her tireless commitment to both students and staff. We are lucky to have her and we are thrilled to be celebrating her today!
—Megan Webb, Principal, Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School
5th grade English language arts, Achievement First Brownsville Middle School, Brooklyn, NY
Stephanie Sun is the definition of “joyful rigor.” She is incredibly warm to all of her students and exudes a deep care for each of them. Her students, in turn, are positive, kind, enthusiastic and driven. Many come to her with a wide range of writing skills and some are not yet able to write in complete sentences. But by the end of the year, all of her students easily write full five-paragraph essays on topics as complex as Polynesian navigation.
Steph is not just a great teacher, but a great leader as well. She models respect and care for our students and families; she is relentlessly optimistic and has unwavering faith each of our students can reach the goals she sets for them; she is incredibly dependable and follows through on all her promises. She also leads professional development for teachers at other schools across our network and guided reading for our lowest performing readers.
Of all the teachers I’ve coached throughout the years, Steph stands out to me as the best of the best. She has had an impact on so many kids throughout her time in the classroom, and I know she will have an impact on many more throughout her career.
—Katherine Roger, Academic Dean, Achievement First Brownsville Middle School
5th grade English language arts, Excel Academy — Chelsea, Chelsea, MA
Zeke Phillips exemplifies what it means to be an exceptional educator. Within the first minutes of being in his classroom, students are introduced to the idea that anything is possible, which Zeke truly believes for his students. Zeke’s classroom is the epitome of what an exceptional classroom should look and sound like. It is joy combined with structure that makes students feel welcome, motivated and successful, while at the same time being pushed to grow at an exponential rate. It is the balance of rigor and support that is necessary for students, most of whom enter his classroom two to three grade levels behind in reading.
Zeke has grown to be the incredible teacher he is because of his hunger to implement feedback. He is reflective on his own practice and does everything he can to improve his instruction. Whether rewriting a unit plan, or analyzing video of his lessons, he implements all feedback, small and large, so that his practice improves and he continues to grow and learn.
Outside of the classroom, Zeke is a leader in our school in formal and informal ways. From running our school newspaper to coaching our cross country team, he takes on extra commitments so that he can spend time with his students outside of the classroom and see them grow into well-rounded individuals. He is truly exceptional and we have been incredibly lucky to have him as a part of our team.
—Stephanie-Lee Morgan, Principal, Excel Academy-Chelsea