Who Are the Fishman Prize Finalists?
It’s our favorite season at TNTP: We’re only a month away from announcing our new class of Fishman Prize winners, extraordinary teachers working in high-need public schools who are responsible for some of the best instruction happening in America’s classrooms.
We created the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice in 2011 to shine a spotlight on great teachers across the country and award $25,000 and a seat in a one-of-a-kind summer residency to four winners. This is our fifth year offering the Fishman Prize, and we think it’s our most exciting competition yet. We’ve reviewed nearly 800 teachers’ applications from almost every state across the country, and they’ve left us inspired.
Today, we’re excited to present the 10 finalists. They are one of the most diverse groups in recent years—in every sense of that word. They represent eight different states and Washington D.C. They teach a range of subjects like math and science, health and media literacy. And they range from four years in the classroom to as many as 25.
Later this month, we’ll convene the finalists for extensive interviews and celebrations of their achievements. We can only choose four winners in the end, but all 10 of these teachers deserve our recognition. Here’s an introduction. Get to know them. We think you’ll find that they have only one thing in common: They are everything but ordinary.
Carla McCall, 8th Grade Math, Crawford W. Long Middle School, Atlanta, Georgia
Carla McCall has been teaching in Atlanta Public Schools for the past decade. When you walk into her classroom, you know it’s special: Students are working nonstop, they’re fully engaged in rigorous content, and they’re having fun doing it. Though only half of her students come in on grade level, Carla moves that needle to 70 percent by the end of the year. In addition to her teaching duties, she has taken on numerous leadership positions in school including grade chair and department chair. Her assistant principal says the key to her success is that she “takes time to get to know each of the students that she serves, personally and academically.”
David Gesualdi, Pre-K – 8th Grade Physical Education and Health, The Walker Jones Education Campus, Washington, D.C.
You might not always associate health and physical education with challenging academics. But in David Gesualdi’s classroom, students engage in challenging texts, connected assignments, and self-directed instruction, all with the aim of understanding and attaining physical wellbeing and healthy habits to last a lifetime. It’s clear that David has had a major influence on his students’ lives—for the last three years of his (thus far) nine-year career, he has achieved a rating of highly effective by DCPS.
Emily Bonilla, High School Career and Technical Education-Media Production, Bloomfield Tech, Bloomfield, New Jersey
For Emily Bonilla, teaching media literacy means teaching students to think critically about the various forms of media they interact with every day and encouraging them to be active participants instead of passive consumers. Over the course of her eight-year career, 60 percent of her students have gone on to pursue communication-related majors in college, and 97 percent enroll in post-secondary schools. Which makes sense, considering the level of instruction in her classroom seems fit for a college course. Says her district superintendent, “In a district with many talented teachers, she stands out as one of our best.”
Eric Hale, 3rd Grade Math and Science, David G. Burnet Elementary, Dallas, Texas
In 2015, Eric Hale was named a Distinguished Teacher by Dallas Independent School District for ranking in the top one percent in district-wide teacher performance. Having seen his classroom, we know why. Not only is Eric successful at coupling a sense of urgency with the joy of learning, but (in the words of his principal), “Students look up to [him] as a mentor and a person who inspires them to have grit, and put forth the effort and achieve.” This year Eric was moved to third grade math and science from first grade to improve third grade student achievement. As a result, his students—many of whom entered his classroom behind grade-level—scored 35 percent higher in math and over 40 percent higher in science on a mid-year district assessment than the previous year’s class. These scores were a record for his school.
Erica Stewart, 4th Grade Math, KIPP Excelencia Community Prep, Redwood City, California
In Erica Stewart’s classroom, more than 90 percent of students pass their state math exam each year, and more than a quarter earn advanced status. You wouldn’t know that they typically enter her classroom two grade levels behind. To achieve such success, Erica, who has eight-years of experience in the classroom, cultivates a genuine love and enthusiasm for math in her students. In addition, she says her goal as an instructor is to help students internalize the belief that greater challenges yield greater personal rewards. “Ms. Stewart’s class is truly magical,” her principal says. “Over the past eleven years, I have never seen anything like it."
Evelyn Rebollar, High School English, Bronx Arena High School, Bronx, New York
Evelyn Rebollar credits her personal success to a great education and takes pride in giving her students in the Bronx similar opportunities to thrive. “Students from all economic backgrounds deserve to be inspired and to have the opportunity to inspire one another,” she says. Now four years into teaching, Evelyn creates a culture of revision in her classroom, where students consistently analyze, reflect, and revise their own work, taking ownership over the process of becoming stronger thinkers and writers. On average, her students enter with a grade point average of 53, but graduate with an average of 85.
Heather Howle, 8th Grade STEM, West Feliciana Middle School, St. Francisville, Louisiana
For the last 10 years of her 17-year career, Heather Howle has taught in St. Francisville in rural Louisiana with a population of 1,500. In that time, she has worked hard to advance the STEM subjects at her school and provide students with access to technology. She’s achieved great success: at the beginning of last year two percent of her students demonstrated basic or above average understanding of material on a Pearson earth science comprehensive exam. At the end of the year, that number increased to 90 percent. Heather attributes her success to giving students the opportunity to have “splendid failures.” To be successful, she says, “you must be willing to take the risk of public failure and you must be able to overcome and keep working towards your goal.”
Jason Catanese, 7th and 8th Grade Math, Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School, Phoenix, Arizona
In the last four years, Jason Catanese has had over 200 students pass an algebra end-of-year Arizona state assessment that qualifies students for high school credit. In the previous thirty-year history of his middle school, only eight students had passed this exam. Jason’s outstanding results are no doubt a testament to his excellent instruction. In his five years teaching, Jason has developed an intriguing use of cooperative learning strategies to elevate student voices and instill a sense of camaraderie over the work at hand. An administrator at his school writes, “When you step into Mr. Catanese’s room, there is no louder voice than those of the students (and I mean that in a good way).”
Lavinia Draper, 3rd Grade Gifted/Accelerated, U.B. Kinsey Palmview Elementary School of the Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida
With 25 years of experience in the classroom, Lavinia Draper is best described by the glowing words of one colleague: “One of those amazing teachers that you will never forget once you meet her.” It is Lavinia’s enormous passion for teaching and her ability to grow and evolve with ever-changing demands and rigorous expectations in the field that make her stand out. An advocate for social studies as a foundation for students to explore modern society, Lavinia empowers students to become active citizens in their school’s community. Although 85 percent of students at her Title I school classify as economically disadvantaged, her arts-integrated approach to social studies and literacy helps them surpass school, district, and state averages on both district and state reading and writing exams.
Matthew Patterson, 12th Grade English, Benjamin Banneker High School, College Park, Georgia
Teaching in one of the lowest-performing schools in Georgia, Matthew Patterson knows his students need access to engaging and challenging instruction in order to succeed at the college level after graduation. In Matthew’s class, students deconstruct Outkast lyrics, analyze literature through free-flowing Socratic seminars, and use classroom musical instruments to memorize literary techniques. A classroom Twitter feed allows students to correspond with journalists and novelists, and gives parents the opportunity to check-in on progress. Although Matthew has taught for 10 years, he says his classroom is “under constant revision.”