2013 Excellence in Teaching Awards
The Excellence in Teaching Awards recognize the outstanding achievement and dedication of seven DCPS teachers with a $10,000 award. Winners are nominated by DCPS educators, students, parents, and community members, and then selected by a central office panel. Eligible teachers must earn a rating of Highly Effective under IMPACT.
Excellence in Teaching Award winners are recognized at the annual Standing Ovation for DC Teachers, hosted by DC Public Education Fund and held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Learn more about the 2012 Excellence in Teaching recipients.
2013 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners:
Asonja Dorsey, First Grade Teacher, Maury Elementary School
Currently in her 21st year at Maury Elementary, Asonja Dorsey loves her school’s genuine, family-like atmosphere, calling it her “own little piece of heaven on earth.” Her enthusiasm has led her to serve on numerous committees at Maury, and to mentor student teachers and new teachers as they join the school’s faculty. This same communal spirit informs Mrs. Dorsey’s efforts in her classroom. “We are a team! We rise together, and pick each other up when we fall,” she describes. Mrs. Dorsey particularly appreciates the opportunity to work with first grade students, who amaze her with their eagerness to learn. By identifying students’ prior knowledge, frequently checking for progress, and monitoring growth, Mrs. Dorsey is “aware of where the students are every given minute,” and adjusts her instruction to meet their needs. As a result, more than 90 percent of her students meet or exceed reading benchmarks every year. Carolyne Albert-Garvey, the Principal of Maury Elementary, praises Mrs. Dorsey’s commitment to student achievement. “It’s impossible for students to not be successful in her class,” she says. “She works with students every minute of class time. This shows how much she values her students—kids always come first.”
Mrs. Dorsey has deep family ties to the D.C. Public Schools—she attended Woodson Senior High School, and her children studied at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and McKinley Technology High School. Her mother, a Spingarn Senior High School graduate, was also a DCPS teacher and inspired Mrs. Dorsey to become an educator. Recalling the hundreds of hours her mother devoted to students, Mrs. Dorsey says, “I stand in awe of her mastery and commitment in the classroom. She was the greatest teacher I have ever known.”
Davey S. Yarborough, Director of Jazz Studies, Duke Ellington School of the Arts
During his 30 years of working with music students at Duke Ellington, Davey S. Yarborough has been recognized nationally for his contributions to jazz education. This past year, he was the Jazz Education Network’s John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year and a quarter-finalist for the Grammy Music Educator of the Year Award. But in reflecting on his students, Mr. Yarborough’s perspective extends far beyond music. “I try to put my students in an environment of success and achievement, while giving them the tools, resources, and nurturing needed to inspire them to dream, act, and attain, and to contribute back to the community that produced them,” he explains. He measures success by his many students who have earned college degrees and become music educators themselves, and by the seniors from his jazz studies program who graduate in the top tiers of their class—including valedictorians and salutatorians. Principal Rory Pullens praises his tireless commitment to arts education and his “ability to inspire young musicians to believe that they, too, can make their mark on this industry.”
Mr. Yarborough has called Washington, D.C. home for his entire life; he attended Whittier Elementary, Paul and Rabaut Junior High Schools, and Coolidge Senior High School, and received degrees from Federal City College, University of the District of Columbia, and Howard University. His daughter, Davie Celeste Yarborough, grew up attending DCPS schools, including Duke Ellington, before returning to her father’s school as an English teacher. His wife of 35 years, Esther Williams Yarborough, is his partner in many extracurricular music initiatives, and Mr. Yarborough insists that he couldn’t do what he does without her support. Looking back at his 37 years in DCPS, Mr. Yarborough recalls, “The first time that I saw the light in the eyes of a student who made a major breakthrough, I was hooked.”
Fran McCrackin, First Grade Teacher, Janney Elementary School
Fran McCrackin began teaching in the D.C. Public Schools in 1997, after a career as an anthropologist, and joined the faculty at Janney a year later. She appreciates the school’s busy but caring atmosphere, and praises her colleagues as a “community of learners—extremely hard-working, dedicated, and eager to explore how to become better at what we do.” All three of her children attended Janney, going on to Deal Middle School and Wilson Senior High School. Ms. McCrackin has contributed to teacher development throughout her career, participating in teacher advisory groups with the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian, serving as a mentor teacher with the Carnegie Academy for Science Education to promote science education in early childhood classrooms in DCPS, and traveling to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Fund teacher in 2003.
Ms. McCrackin focuses her students on real-world connections to make their curriculum more meaningful, such as bringing them outside to trace how shadows change during the day. She says, “I like to get to know families, woo siblings, and see the child as a whole person, not just as my first grader.” Part of the strategy to motivate her students involves her classroom’s pet mice, which she uses “to lure reluctant children in and to teach them to be calm and gentle, so they can hold a small animal.” Norah Lycknell, Principal at Janney Elementary, raves about Ms. McCrackin’s contributions to the school community. “In many ways, Fran has a magic about her. She respects her first graders, and they adore her, thriving in a place of joy and belonging. She sees them as learners and pushes their thinking, but she also sees them as people, pushing them to be better citizens, classmates, and friends.” As Ms. McCrackin explains, “You can never be bored, and if you are tired, you forget it in the presence of children.”
Chenise Richards, Twelfth Grade English Teacher, Coolidge Senior High School
Describing herself as “an iron fist dipped in honey,” Chenise Richards pushes her students to take responsibility for their education, rather than waiting for her to give them the answers. “I am tough, strict, and to the point. But love encompasses every lecture, every disciplinary action, and every lesson,” Ms. Richards explains. She has taught English across all grades, as well as Debate, SAT Prep, and African-American Literature during her five years at Coolidge, where she currently is responsible for 12th grade English and Advanced Placement English Language. Bregeneve Ocansey, a DCPS Master Educator, observed that Ms. Richards “sets very high expectations for her students and engages them by providing relevant and challenging materials.” In 2010, Ms. Richards and her 10th grade students were awarded a TEAM award for demonstrating more growth in their reading proficiency than the 10th grade students at any other high school in DCPS. She previously taught high school in Brooklyn, New York, where her students achieved the second highest performance in all of New York City on the rigorous New York State Regents Examination.
Ms. Richards does not accept excuses in her classroom. “Every day, students recite a quote about excuses before we start the lesson,” she says. “I stand before them as a person who had the odds stacked against her, only to succeed in the end. I am a constant reminder of what can be done.” Ms. Richards recognizes the incredible opportunity she has as an educator to have an impact on her students. “Teaching is a song and dance that, when performed correctly and energetically, can impact, awaken, and change a life,” she says. She considers her placement at Coolidge a blessing and admires the lengths to which her colleagues are willing to go “to make the impossible possible.” Ms. Richards is dedicated to motivating her students so that they “electrify the room together.” “They are a tough crowd,” she admits, “but so am I.”
William A. Taylor, Secondary Mathematics Teacher, Wheatley Education Campus
One of the biggest rewards that William A. Taylor can imagine will come in June of 2015, when DCPS's graduating seniors will include students from his very first 5th grade class. "Even now, it fills my heart with joy to see former students being successful in all aspects of life after they have left my classroom," he says. Mr. Taylor has already been widely recognized for his teaching practice, winning a Rubenstein Award in 2011, serving as a grade level chair and lead teacher, and being featured in the recent book, The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way, and in the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman. The education journalist Amanda Ripley observes that, “Mr. Taylor is never satisfied. Every school year, he stretches himself—trying new roles and experimenting with new incentives, lessons, number games, and strategies. That restlessness, that desire to do more, better, is the mark of a truly outstanding professional. Speaking as a resident of the District and a parent of a child in DCPS, I wish Mr. Taylor could be in every math classroom in the city.”
Mr. Taylor grew up in Washington, D.C., attending Gage-Eckington Elementary, Shaw Junior High School, and M.M. Washington CSHS. He recalls influential teachers and principals whose guidance inspired him to pursue education as a profession. "They helped to shape who I am today," he says. He focuses on grooming his class to become self-governed, and believes in equal accountability for all stakeholders. Mr. Taylor’s classroom is a dynamic place, where every student eagerly participates and the excitement around learning is palpable. By his third year as a teacher, Mr. Taylor already ranked in the top 5 percent of all D.C. math teachers, based on his students’ performance, and he has achieved perfect or near-perfect scores on the district's measure of student growth in each of the past four years—meaning that he leads his students to greater academic gains than almost any other teacher in DCPS. "The credit for these gains cannot be solely bestowed on me," he says. "My students' commitment is what makes them a reality."
Hardett Taylor-Brown, Elementary Science Resource Teacher, Cleveland Elementary School
Following her summer job as a 13-year-old teacher’s aide with the D.C. Department of Recreation, Hardett Taylor Brown knew she wanted to teach young children. After attending Park View Elementary, Banneker and Lincoln Junior High Schools, and Cardozo Senior High School, and earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Howard University, Ms. Taylor-Brown chose to return to DCPS, where she has taught for nearly 24 years. Working with classes from pre-K to 5th grade, she pushes all of her students to achieve, telling them, “Your attitude determines your altitude,” and is encouraged by how many of her students go on to be successful in advanced science courses at the secondary level. She also promotes curiosity by leading hands-on activities that challenge students to formulate questions and then seek their own answers. Ms. Taylor-Brown has established partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, local meteorologists, and other nature-based learning programs to enrich her students’ science education.
Ms. Taylor-Brown thinks of her school as an “efficient machine,” and says that the entire staff—administration, support staff, teaching colleagues, and building maintenance— follow a professional motto adopted by a former principal, Mrs. Annie Mair: “We don’t look good unless we all look good.” Ms. Taylor-Brown has also been an active participant in shaping the district’s science education program, helping to select textbooks and write elementary science curriculum. Throughout her career she has designed extracurricular opportunities and science fairs for her students, initiating programs like the Science Challengers, the Young Inventors Club, and the Electric Race Car Club. Ms. Taylor-Brown proudly considers herself a “drum major for elementary science instruction,” because “it positions our children to be the next set of movers and innovators!”