Lennard High teacher wins national $25,000 award

| The Tampa Tribune | Erin Kourkounis

Since she started teaching at Lennard High School seven years ago, the passing rate of Kelly Zunkiewicz’s students on the AP Calculus exam has skyrocketed from 11 percent to 80 percent.

Additionally, the number of girls enrolled in the course has jumped from just two to nearly half the class.

These are just some of the reasons Zunkiewicz is one of four recipients of this year’s $25,000 Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a national prize given by The New Teacher Project to teachers in high-poverty public schools.

Zunkiewicz heard the good news during a surprise visit to her classroom Monday morning by representatives from the organization, as well as district and school officials and family members. Her students watched from their desks.

“They’re such a big part of it,” Zunkiewicz said of her students. “It’s so exciting.”

Of the three other winners, two are from California and one is from Illinois.

In addition to the $25,000, the winners will go through a six-week summer residency program with the organization, during which they will interact with education leaders and work together to write a paper that includes their best teaching tips, focusing on helping fellow teachers improve their classroom practices.

“It’s going to give me an opportunity to expose the great things that are happening,” Zunkiewicz said.

Her parents – Eddie and Lauri Zunkiewicz – flew in from Ohio for the occasion.

“I think it’s wonderful they can reward good teachers to stay in the classroom,” said Lauri Zunkeiwicz, who taught first grade for 35 years.

Also there for the announcement were Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and Earl J. Lennard, the namesake of Lennard High School.

“You’ve done an incredible job raising the awareness of the students here of what they can do,” Elia said.

At Lennard High, located on East Shell Point Road in Ruskin, about 75 percent of the 1,860 students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches.

Zunkiewicz developed the school’s calculus program and serves as its math coach. In addition to AP Calculus, she teachers Honors Pre-calculus.

She spends her lunch break tutoring students, as well as time after school.

This school year, Zunkiewicz’s pre-calculus students performed better than those at any other Hillsborough County high school on their first-semester exam. Zunkiewicz said her students have been successful in part because she sets high standards for them and puts them in charge of their own learning.

“They understand why we’re doing what we’re doing in the classroom,” she said.

Formed in 1997, The New Teacher Project is a New York based organization that aims to provide great teachers to the students who need them most. It was founded by former Washington D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who ran the organization for its first 10 years.

The prize, which has been offered annually since 2012, is named for Shira Fishman, who currently teaches math at McKinley Technology High School in D.C.

This year’s four winners were selected from 820-plus applicants from 46 states and D.C. Of those, 100 were invited to submit teaching videos and reference letters, and 21 were selected as semi-finalists. Each was observed at work in the classroom by officials from The New Teacher Project before 10 finalists were selected for interviews before a panel of judges.

“It just comes down to great teaching,” said Dottie Smith, The New Teacher Project’s vice president for new teacher effectiveness, who presented the prize to Zunkiewicz Monday. “We look for a holistically excellent teacher. It’s very selective, very rigorous.”

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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