2013 Rubenstein Awards for Highly Effective Teachers
The Rubenstein Awards for Highly Effective Teaching recognize the success of DCPS teachers with a $5,000 award. Award winners were nominated by DCPS educators, students, parents, and community members, and then selected by a DCPS central office panel.
The awards are funded through the generosity of David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group and chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Eligible teachers must earn a rating of Highly Effective under IMPACT.The Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching 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
Dowan McNair-Lee, School-wide Enrichment Model Resource Teacher, Stuart-Hobson Middle School
“I am a teacher-mama,” Dowan McNair-Lee declares. “I believe that teaching is both an art and a science. The artist in me sees the classroom as a stage where I use my own life and experiences as guides to help my students acquire knowledge. The scientist in me uses data to track students' progress and make adjustments to my instruction.” She has spent the past 10 years developing the art and science of her craft at Stuart-Hobson, appreciating her “supportive and collaborative” colleagues. During this time, Ms. McNair-Lee served as both a department chair and grade-level chair, and participated in the first cohort of D.C. Teach Plus Policy fellows. She is also an adjunct professor in the education department at Trinity University.
Katie Franklin, a former Assistant Principal at Stuart-Hobson, explains that building relationships with students is a must in middle school, but in Ms. McNair-Lee’s case, “she takes it to another level, with love and appreciation for each student.” Ms. McNair-Lee explains, “I've always been a teacher. I taught my stuffed animals. I taught the kids I babysat.” Her enthusiasm in the classroom pushes her students to “reach further and aim higher,” because they can expect to be supported and challenged at the same time. Ms. McNair-Lee draws her inspiration from her own 2nd and 4th grade teacher, who “pushed when I needed a nudge and pulled when I resisted.” Her son attends Watkins Elementary School.
Christine Willis-Bennett, Elementary Teacher, Capitol Hill Montessori School
Christine Willis-Bennett shapes her classroom to be warm and friendly, to encourage her students to perform at the highest level. “I love to meet them with a daily smile, a handshake or a hug to set the tone for the day,” she says. Ms. Willis-Bennett thinks of her school, where she has taught for three years, as a “haven for positive learning experiences.” The mutual respect between students and teachers creates a “winning environment” where she is unsurprised to hear that “children want to return to school early in the summer because they missed us!” Her principal, Brandon Eatman, notes the “quiet hum of activity” that can be heard in her room throughout the day. He says, “It is clear that she knows how to keep the classroom alive without overwhelming the children.”
Ms. Willis-Bennett drew inspiration from her mother who encouraged and celebrated all of her educational endeavors, in spite of not having a formal education herself, and from her own teachers, who mentored and encouraged her. “Through the selfless giving of their time, whether to comfort me when I couldn’t write in cursive or to show me how to solve a math problem, they shared a part of themselves on a daily basis,” she recalls. Ms. Willis-Bennett has also given much to her school community during her 35 years of teaching, serving as a mentor for new teachers and as a member of the Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet. But, as she explains, “I give a great deal, but I receive a great deal as well.” Ms. Willis-Bennett has three children that graduated from DCPS between 2001 and 2007. She has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Kalpana Kumar Sharma, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Brightwood Education Campus
In her 12th year teaching at Brightwood, Kalpana Kumar Sharma finds joy and happiness in working to shape the young minds in her classroom. She says that her mother’s ability “to guide, support, and inspire people to live a happy life made me aspire to bring these things to my students.” She differentiates her lessons to reach her students where they are, and engages them in hands-on activities. Capturing the key to their success, Ms. Kumar explains, “My positive attitude and sense of humor always encourages my students to try their best without any fear of failure. I create an environment where they feel safe and respected.”
Ms. Kumar has volunteered to serve DCPS and her school community as a grade level chair, member of the school Equity Committee, Teacher Selection Ambassador, LIFT Ambassador, Teaching In Action Consulting Teacher, and member of the Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet. She was also recognized with the Wolf Trap Best Teacher Award for two consecutive years in 2004 and 2005. Her biggest reward, though, is “the great energy, curiosity, and excitement I see in my students each day,” Ms. Kumar says. “Teaching gives me the power to help a student realize his or her innate potential.” Ms. Kumar has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Belinda Omenitsch, Read 180 Teacher, Truesdell Education Campus
Belinda Omenitsch claims that the first time she thought about becoming a teacher was watching To Sir, with Love. “I wanted to be Sidney Poitier,” she explains. After 19 years in the classroom, she knows that she made the right choice. “There are not many professions where you can wear so many wonderful hats and experience the excitement of seeing a child move from struggle to success,” enthuses Mrs. Omenitsch. “Teaching gives me more than I can put into words.” Her principal, Mary Ann Stinson, shares, “She goes above and beyond, engages families in their learning, and develops writers in each of her students. Her ability to build relationships with students is evident in the number of students who reach out to her for support.”
What she loves most about her work is the opportunity to build relationships with students, families, and colleagues. Mrs. Omenitsch acknowledges that “a teacher is invited into so many lives in so many ways,” and she works hard to show her students that she cares about them on both a personal and academic level. Though she expects all of her students to meet her classroom expectations, she works to find individual pathways for each student to succeed, encouraging students to develop their own academic goals and gauge their own progress throughout the year. Mrs. Omenitsch is currently the WTU Building Representative and the ELL and Intervention Lead at Truesdell.
Danyelle M. Kensey, Academic Resource Reading Teacher, Johnson Middle School
Danyelle Kensey comes from a family of teachers, but her mother, who taught pre-K special education at Gage-Eckington Elementary for over 20 years, particularly inspires her. Ms. Kensey would volunteer her time in her mother’s classroom during college breaks. She now teaches in the same neighborhood where her mother grew up, and uses that connection to motivate her students. “I explain to them that my family roots are in the same neighborhood as the school, so I am aware of many of the challenges they face,” Ms. Kensey says. “But I let them know that their challenges must never be used as excuses.” She has been a teacher for 13 years and at DCPS for five.
Prior to becoming a teacher, Ms. Kensey worked for the Smithsonian, but became interested in teaching when she had her own two children. “I was fascinated by how my own children learned, and wanted to foster a love of learning in other children.” She draws inspiration from current events to create literacy lessons that push her class to think and discuss critically, and uses her own passion for performing arts to expose her students to dance education, bringing them to Artistic Dance Academy’s Dancer for a Day workshops. Ms. Kensey is thrilled by “the infinite possibilities of teaching,” and loves having the opportunity to “prepare my students for life and make a difference in our world.”
Amador Jomuad, Secondary Math Teacher, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School
Amador Jomuad began teaching 20 years ago in his hometown in the Philippines, before coming to the United States to teach at Anacostia Senior High School for three years and, for the last eight years, at Banneker. He has been the math department chair at his school for the past five years, working with his colleagues to facilitate data initiatives and collaborative unit planning. Mr. Jomuad has also served as one of the TI-Nspire Teacher Leaders and as a member of the Common Core Math Corps. He was recently announced as a district finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Mr. Jomuad particularly enjoys utilizing technology in his lessons to motivate and attract his students. “I love to attend professional development sessions to continuously update myself with the new trends in education and technology,” he says. “I never stop learning new ways to improve my instructional program.” By carefully designing his lessons around data-driven analysis of student performance, he can push his students to their highest levels. Principal Anita Berger applauds his accomplishments, sharing that Mr. Jomuad’s class achieved 100 percent math proficiency on the 2013 DC-CAS, the second time he has reached that milestone during his time at Banneker. Mr. Jomuad shares, “I love the thought that, as a teacher, I am an instrument to help students to reach their dreams and goals.” He has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Nakia Espinal, Dance Teacher, Sousa Middle School
Nakia Espinal grew up attending Kimball Elementary and Carter G. Woodson Junior High School, so she fully understands where her students come from. “I often remind them that I was once them, I share their background,” she explains. “I always tell them that we come from the same neighborhood, therefore I take no excuses.
We can and we will execute excellence.” She remembers her own dance teacher at Kimball, Ms. McQueen, who encouraged her and took her to her first performance at the Kennedy Center. “I knew then, in the 1st grade, that my life would be surrounded by dance.” Mrs. Espinal has brought this excitement to her school community, one of the few schools that even have a dance program.
Mrs. Espinal serves as a team leader at Sousa, where she and her colleagues consider themselves a family. “We eat together, we hang out together, we share ideas, and we assist each other,” she says. She praises her students’ dedication, impressed that they show up even when they are tired or sick. George Hill, a Master Educator with DCPS who has observed Mrs. Espinal on several occasions, adds, “She will admit that she is tough while teaching dance, but she also teaches pride, poise, self-respect, character, and perseverance.” Mrs. Espinal promotes self-confidence, telling her students upon entering her room, “You are a dancer, even if you do not think you are a dancer.”
Lulla Abraham, 3rd Grade Math Teacher, Harriet Tubman Elementary School
“I go to sleep each night brainstorming ways to become a better teacher,” says Lulla Abraham, “and I wake up every morning thinking about ways to empower my students.” For 15 years, the past four of which have been spent at Tubman, she has pushed herself and her students to achieve. Part of her approach is convincing each child that success is attainable with hard work and dedication, and holding them to appropriately high expectations. Her former principal, Harry Hughes, witnessed her students’ ability to clearly articulate how to apply math concepts to the real world as they engaged in projects and performance assessments. “Most importantly,” he adds, “Ms. Abraham’s students love math and they are excited to participate.” Leveraging her abilities, Ms. Abraham has served as an instructional coach, lead teacher, resource teacher, and a member of this year’s Leading Educators cohort.
Ms. Abraham follows in the footsteps of a long line of teachers in her family, and is inspired by her students’ tenacity—despite many language and economic challenges they come to school every day eager to learn. “There is nothing more important to me, as an educator, than to make a difference in the lives of my students,” she says. The Achievement Network has recognized Ms. Abraham for Outstanding Data-Driven Instruction in Mathematics, and she received NASA’s Sunbeam Math and Science Award. Mr. Hughes declares, “Ms. Abraham is an exceptional teacher whose impact on her students cannot be captured on paper. Rather, it is evident on the faces of the students whom she has imparted a love of math and a desire to be successful.”
Carolyn Nash, 3rd Grade Teacher, C.W. Harris Elementary School
Carolyn Nash tells people, “I have the best office ever!” In her fourth year at C.W. Harris, she explains how fulfilling it is “to see my students grow academically, socially, and emotionally,” and appreciates both her students’ eagerness to learn and her colleagues’ continued efforts to go above and beyond. At her school, Ms. Nash serves as the teacher lead for their partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation and as upper-grades chair. Last year, C.W. Harris recognized her as Teacher of the Year. Alyson Roberts, her colleague at the school, shares, “If you look at her student data last year, you will see dramatic gains for every student. She is an example for others—she treats her students with mutual love and respect, and seemingly works 20 hours a day!”
Ms. Nash was inspired by her mother, who moved to New York City from Cuba at the age of three, learned English as a second language, and went on to ultimately earn her master’s degree. “I knew that if she could do it, anyone can,” says Ms. Nash, who pushes her students to set goals for themselves and track their progress towards being successful. Her hope is that by emulating her mother, her students “can reach their goals, just like she did.”
Melody Maitland, Special Education Teacher, Ballou Senior High School
Melody Maitland is the DCPS New Teacher of the Year, arriving at Ballou last year from the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work through Teach For America. She teaches students with intellectual disabilities in a self-contained classroom setting, ensuring that they have the basic skills necessary to live an independent, functional life. Ms. Maitland knows that her job “is to prepare students for their future, which means learning occurs every minute.” She unites her class with the mottos “no excuses” and “think: work smarter, not harder.”
Ms. Maitland believes that honesty encourages her students to do their best. “I have daily conversations about where students are, what their differing ability is, and ways to build on overall strengths,” she explains. “If we cannot be open and honest about these real issues, we cannot take the learning risks necessary to achieve at high levels.” She considers herself a “tough love” teacher, holding her students to a rigorous standard. Ms. Maitland finds encouragement in her colleagues who invest so much of their time in helping their students overcome challenges, and is motivated by her wonderful students who display “resilience” and “always approach obstacles with a smile.”
Amy C. Wertheimer, 2nd Grade Teacher, Watkins Elementary School
Amy Wertheimer is celebrating her 10th year as an educator at Watkins, after seven years of prior teaching experience. Her Assistant Principal, Vanessa Drumm, says, “She is beloved by parents, because she has so much patience for even the most challenging students. Some teachers even send their kids to her when they are misbehaving, and students excel in her classroom thanks to the warm, but rigorous, environment.” Miss Wertheimer has represented her colleagues on the Personnel Committee, as PTA liaison, and as LSAT teacher representative. She has also mentored several student teachers, and is proud of earning her National Board Certification in 2008.
Miss Wertheimer is particularly concerned about teaching citizenship to her students. In addition to her high academic demands, she establishes “expectations of thinking and caring for others in our world,” something she considers an important part of her job as a teacher. Miss Wertheimer recalls watching Watkins’ 5th grade students stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and recite Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and being reminded that her students’ diversity of background is what makes Watkins “such a challenging and rewarding place to work.” She explains, “We try every day to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.” Miss Wertheimer particularly enjoys witnessing the moment when a scholar’s “light bulb” goes off – “their faces light up and there is such pride.” But she acknowledges, “When my students return to say hello to me years, or even decades, later, they do not speak of the way I taught them to multiply or add. Instead, they talk about how I taught them to think, and to think of others. That is what inspires me!” She has been rated Highly Effective on all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Greg Dohmann, 7th Grade Math Teacher, Jefferson Middle School Academy
Greg Dohmann is devoted to building student investment and confidence in math. “I encourage my students by highlighting even their smallest achievements and letting that success build momentum and confidence,” he says. “I take that opportunity to break down insecurities.” Mr. Dohmann is methodical in his instruction, aiming to develop his students’ skill proficiency and conceptual understanding, and planning high-energy lessons to keep them engaged. Jefferson’s principal, Natalie Gordon, calls Mr. Dohmann “one of the strongest teachers I’ve ever worked with—period.” She praises him for going above and beyond for his students, doing lunch duty every day to play basketball with the kids, tutoring on Saturdays for students who need extra support, and supporting his colleagues as a grade level and subject lead teacher. He spent this past summer working as a Teacher Development Coach for DC Teaching Fellows to further develop his leadership capacity.
In his second year at Jefferson, Mr. Dohmann particularly appreciates the school community’s vision—shared by administration, staff, and families—of high expectations and rigorous academic work. Mr. Dohmann became a teacher four years ago, compelled by his experience growing up in the D.C. area “and being aware of the massive inequities between my schools in Northern Virginia and the public schools in the district,” he explains. The more I learned about this achievement gap, the more I wanted to be a part of the change.”
Michelle D. Smith, 4th Grade Math Teacher, Drew Elementary School
Michelle Smith, a former student at Marie Reed Elementary, has spent the past 19 years teaching elementary students in Washington, D.C. “I love the students of DCPS,” she marvels, “because every class I have ever had has met or exceeded my expectations year after year.” Mrs. Smith attributes this success to her inclination to celebrate all successes, big and small. “I want my students to know that at least one person believes in them, and that the sky is the limit.” Mrs. Smith’s former principal at Browne Education Campus, Na’imah Salahuddin, shares, “She is data-driven, and can tell you the strengths and areas of development for all of her students at any moment. Beyond this, she grew student achievement from two proficient students to 16 proficient and advanced children.” For Mrs. Smith, the best reward for her as a teacher is “the look of determination in my students’ eyes as they move on to the next grade.”
Mrs. Smith especially likes to hear from her colleagues that her students are ready when they come to them the following year, and she has dedicated herself to collaborating with her school’s faculty to ensure that their educational progress continues. She has served on her school’s Personnel Committee, Teacher/Admin Team, IB Steering Committee, and PTA. Last year, Mrs. Smith was awarded a grant to open a teacher resource room, named the Apple Grove, at Browne Education Campus, providing teachers with games, manipulatives, activities, and ideas to enhance mathematics and reading instruction. She feels like her classroom success comes naturally. “I think that teaching is my gift,” she explains. “I always knew I would be a teacher.”
Emily Olobatuyi, 4th Grade Math and Science Teacher, Leckie Elementary School
“Teaching is a part of my life,” says Emily Olobatuyi, who has been teaching for 38 years, the last 14 of which have been spent at DCPS. She started her career as an elementary school teacher in Nigeria, then spent a decade working at a structured day care center before joining the district. She holds her students to high expectations, striving to make sure that all of them meet their goals by the end of the school year. Mrs. Olobatuyi offers rewards for every small achievement in order to encourage her students to continue making progress. Her classroom thrives on mutual respect. “I request that my students respect me and I respect them as well,” she explains.
Mrs. Olobatuyi devotes hours after school every day to helping her weaker students. In particular, she remembers a student who did not participate in an after-school program and did not have anyone at home to help him with homework. “I asked for his mother’s permission to let him stay with me after school for help,” she recalls. “Sometimes, a teacher must take a role that is absent in a child’s life.” Mrs. Olobatuyi has received avid praise, particularly from the former principal of Leckie, Jermall Wright. “She is driven solely by the needs of her students, and is a living example of what’s possible when high expectations influence beliefs and classroom practices,” he says, pointing to Mrs. Olobatuyi’s IVA ratings, consistently the highest of any teacher at Leckie. “If every teacher were like Mrs. Olobatuyi, DCPS would be the first school district to eliminate the achievement gap.”
Christopher Best Sr., Custodial Foreman, Columbia Heights Education Campus
Christopher Best has spent 28 years working at DCPS, and the past eight years at CHEC, ensuring that students are able to come into a clean and safe environment each and every day. He takes pleasure in the different challenges he encounters on a daily basis, and enjoys preaching the value of hard work to students. He credits his work ethic to his parents, who taught him that, “hard work will not hurt anyone.”
In addition to his maintenance duties, Mr. Best served as a track and field coach at CHEC, and is a well-recognized and beloved figure among the campus’s many faculty and students. He appreciates working at a multicultural school, and observing how all of the different cultures interact with one another. Mr. Best says that he loves having the opportunity “to continue to make this building a safe place to work, teach, and learn.” Mr. Best attended Ballou High School from 1978 to 1980.
Myrilyn A. Barr, Technology Teacher, Stoddert Elementary School
When Myrilyn Barr first arrived at Stoddert in 1986, she set up the technology lab program that she still manages today. Ms. Barr hopes to instill all her students with a level of comfort and literacy using technology, saying, “I want to prepare students for meeting the challenges they face in the larger world.” Early in her career, she frequently participated in education technology pilot programs. Ms. Barr was excited by “the potential to motivate students to stretch their thinking and problem-solving skills in many directions, from logical to creative.”
Ms. Barr has volunteered for a variety of initiatives at Stoddert, including organizing an after-school graphic arts program, coordinating writing contests and helping students to be published by the National Poetry Society, serving on the Personnel, Principal Hiring, Stoddert Modernization, and Hospitality committees, and co-chairing Stoddert’s annual talent show. Her principal, Donald Bryant, commends her performance, saying, “She collaborates well with her colleagues, she has excellent communication skills with parents, and is receptive to suggestions for improvement. Most importantly, she is truly committed to student success.” Ms. Barr has learned to appreciate her young students “for their unbridled enthusiasm for life and learning,” and enjoys continuing to help them gain confidence, discover new approaches, and “think out of the box.” She has been rated Highly Effective in each of the four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Katie Bunger, English Humanities Teacher, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School
Katie Bunger joined Oyster-Adams through the DC Teaching Fellows program, and has continued to work there for the past six years. She is particularly appreciative of her students’ families, who provide her whole team with unlimited support and encouragement. As a Flamboyan Fellow, Ms. Bunger helped to develop a school-wide family engagement plan to include more stakeholders into their educational program. She also coaches the track and cross-country teams, is a member of the Local School Advisory Team, co-directed the school’s first musical production, and developed middle school workshops for families. Her principal, Monica Liang-Aguirre, explains, “She is a teacher who I know will make a difference with all of her students. She is an advocate for her kids and tireless in her efforts to meet their needs.”
Ms. Bunger strives to hold herself to the same high standards that she has for her students, to constantly improve her craft, and to do everything in her power to support them both in the classroom and beyond. “Teaching is a job where I can come in having the worst morning and leave having had the best day ever,” Ms. Bunger enthuses, crediting her student’s unending energy, creativity, and confidence. “Teaching has changed my life.” In particular, Ms. Bunger expresses amazement at her students’ ability to rise to any challenge. “They push themselves to work harder, think more deeply, and surpass expectations,” she says. “Having these relationships pushes me as a teacher in the exact same way.”
Crystal Balogun, Business Manager, Stanton Elementary School
“As a proud product of DCPS, it has always been my inspiration to give back to the community through my service, where the important work of education reform is greatly needed,” says Crystal Balogun. Ms. Balogun’s mother, who was an educator for many years in DCPS and Prince George’s County, taught her to pride herself on working in education. During her four years at Stanton, she has contributed to the school as a member of the Executive Leadership Team, and as the Homeless, Community Partnerships, and Food Service Liaison. Ms. Balogun also had the opportunity to sponsor an excursion trip for several students to South Africa.
Ms. Balogun knows that her work as Business Manager is essential to student achievement. “Student success is dependent upon having adequate resources for teachers and ample instructional supplies for all scholars,” she says, explaining that she admires her colleagues’ willingness, dedication, and commitment to their students. Ms. Balogun says she loves the work she gets to do at Stanton. “This opportunity brings me joy, but most importantly, I derive personal satisfaction from the warm smiles on the faces of my scholars.” Two of her children graduated from DCPS; her oldest daughter, Danielle Dortch, currently teaches 5th grade at Barnard Elementary, while her youngest daughter, Toyin Balogun, graduated from McKinley Technology High School in 2012 and currently attends Virginia State University.
JoAnn Hill, 3rd Grade Teacher, Brent Elementary School
JoAnn Hill’s parents, both immigrants from Italy, never graduated from high school, but they taught her the value and necessity of education, which drove her to share this value with others. She has spent the last 11 years teaching at Brent, pushing her students take pride in their work, and to promote and enhance their social and academic community. “All of my students learn that they are indeed skilled scholars who can achieve anything they set their minds to and are willing to work hard for,” Mrs. Hill explains. “They realize that they are all mathematicians, readers, writers, scientists, historians, artists, and musicians.”
Mrs. Hill has served as a Teaching In Action Consulting Teacher, has been included in the TLF Align Video Project to help train evaluators, and participated in an educational leaders’ trip to China. She appreciates how actively invested her school community is in student success, saying, “We are all committed to helping one another be the best we can possibly be.” Of her own role in that community, Mrs. Hill enthuses, “I love that every day is new, exciting, and challenging! There is no job better than teaching!” Mrs. Hill has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Kathleen Sheehy, Instructional Coach, Hyde-Addison Elementary School
Kathleen Sheehy has spent 11 years at Hyde-Addison, serving as an instructional coach for the past four. Ms. Sheehy works with her school’s faculty to improve their teaching practice and help develop their curricula and lesson plans. She knows that when teachers are constantly working to get better, “it inspires their students to set their own goals and work hard to achieve them.” As an instructional coach, she sees her impact on students through her impact on their teachers. “Having a colleague whose job is to both support teachers and help them grow as professionals is so vital to making sure that every classroom has an exceptional teacher,” she says.
Ms. Sheehy enjoys working at Hyde-Addison, where she praises the “culture of constant learning and tireless dedication,” and where her colleagues are receptive to innovation and new ideas. Her warmth reassures teachers and students that they can rely on her to be an understanding ear. Ms. Sheehy was honored in 2008 as the OSSE D.C. Teacher of the Year, but explains that she is thrilled about the opportunity to be in a coaching role. Dana Nerenberg, Principal of Hyde-Addison, says, “Ms. Sheehy is an exemplar of all an instructional coach should be.” She has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Deyon M. Johnson, Adult Basic Skills and English Language Arts Teacher, Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School
Though she acknowledges that working at Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. is unlike working in a traditional school, Deyon M. Johnson insists, “students will be students regardless of age.” She truly appreciates her adult students’ thirst for knowledge. “I like to push the boundaries of my students,” Ms. Johnson explains. “If they are not huffing and puffing, the work is not vigorous enough.”
Ms. Johnson loves the reward that comes from “got it” moments, “when a student really understands something or is truly proud of the work they didn’t think they could do.” She calls her coworkers “supportive, creative, humorous, and intelligent,” and appreciates her principal’s trust and involvement in their work to ensure that students are happy and successful. Principal Sean B. Yisrael says, “Ms. Johnson is admired by her colleagues and adored by her students. She not only understands her content, but she is able to teach it in a way that students can understand.” Ms. Johnson currently serves as lead teacher for Roosevelt S.T.A.Y., and has been awarded Rookie Teacher of the Year, Most Inspirational Teacher, and Teacher of the Year over the past three years.
Keisha Henderson Owens, 5th Grade Teacher, Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School
A product of Park View Elementary, Shaw Junior High, and Dunbar Senior High, Keisha Henderson Owens went on to earn her BA in English and a Masters of Education at Howard University before returning to DCPS as a teacher at Ludlow-Taylor. Sixteen years later, Mrs. Owens shows her students every day that she believes in them and will not accept any excuses for not putting their best foot forward. “When they tell me they can’t, I show them they can,” she says. She tries to emulate her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Williams, by making every student feel like they are smart, special, lovable, and able to conquer the world. Mrs. Owens is committed to doing whatever it takes to encourage her class, explaining, “I will sing, dance, and try my hand at rapping if that’s what it takes to get the message across.”
Mrs. Owens says that Ludlow-Taylor feels like one big family, where “everyone knows everyone, and we all work together” to ensure students’ success. She has made herself an active part of this community, serving as teacher lead, WTU Building Representative, Afterschool for All Coordinator, and as a member of the School Chapter Advisory Committee and the Local School Advisory Team. Mrs. Owens insists that her favorite part of her job is “seeing my students’ faces when they realize they can no longer say, ‘I can’t do it,’ because they are doing the very same task they said they couldn’t complete.”
Rebekah Israel-Belk, Educational Aide, Mamie D. Lee School
Rebekah Israel-Belk has spent her entire 10-year educational career at Mamie D. Lee, starting as a dedicated aide and now working as a classroom aide with a group of nine students between the ages of nine and 12. “I look forward to coming to work every day,” she says. “I love working with these kids. The more love you give them, the more they give back.” Mrs. Israel-Belk still vividly remembers her first day arriving at the school, new to working with a special-needs population. “I was sitting in the cafeteria, waiting for my student. I saw all of the children come in and it brought tears to my eyes,” Mrs. Israel-Belk recalls. “This school is where my heart is. I cannot see myself doing anything else or working anywhere else.”
Mrs. Israel-Belk grew up in Washington, D.C., and her four children all graduated from DCPS schools. Mrs. Israel-Belk has participated on her school’s Thanksgiving Committee, Winter Celebration Committee, Special Olympics Committee, and PTA. “I work around great people, and we love to see the students grow,” she explains. Despite the challenges, she feels blessed to be able to do her job every day. Mrs. Israel-Belk has been rated Highly Effective in all four years of IMPACT evaluations.
Learn more about past Rubenstein Award winners.