Rubenstein Awards for Highly Effective Teaching
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
Laura Amling, Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Powell Elementary School
Ms. Laura Amling began her teaching career four years ago as a pre-school/pre-kindergarten teacher. Ms. Amling was inspired to become a teacher because of the impact that her own teachers had on her when she was in school, and because of a desire to instill those same lessons in her students. Ms. Amling shares, “I love helping the youngest DCPS students find their own self-confidence, fostering independence, and promoting self-advocacy.”
Outside of the classroom, Ms. Amling continues to perfect her craft by taking advantage of professional development and teacher leadership opportunities.
She has served as the grade level chair for the Powell early childhood team, spent a summer as a training specialist for Teach For America's early childhood education pilot at the Chicago summer institute, and is currently the early childhood content specialist for Teach For America’s DC Region.
Tennille Bowser, Eleventh Grade English Teacher, Wilson High School
Ms. Tennille Bowser has been a teacher for eight years – six of which she has spent in DCPS. Ms. Bowser was inspired to become a teacher after growing up in a family of educators. She shares, “I grew up grading papers for my aunts, helping them decorate bulletin boards before the start of school, and working in their classroom to organize materials and supplies. I think it is in my blood.”
Ms. Bowser serves in a variety of leadership positions in the district including the English department chair at Wilson, a Teaching in Action consulting teacher, a Teacher Selection Ambassador, and a Common Core Reading Corps member. She describes her classroom culture as, “Fair and rigorous. I work hard to push my students to think outside of the box and demand that they think deeply about the literature they read in class.”
Bethany Bronson, Sixth and Seventh Grade English Language Arts Teacher, Wheatley Education Campus
Ms. Bethany Bronson has spent the entirety of her eight-year teaching career in DC Public Schools. She started her career at Horace Mann Elementary School and moved to Wheatley Education Campus three years ago. Ms. Bronson is an active teacher leader both in her school and the wider community – she has led professional development for teachers in the DC Collaborative for Change, served as a Teacher’s Institute Lead Teacher, and helped lead the implementation of readers’ and writers’ workshop at her school. She has also served as a Girls on the Run coach and the track and cross country coach for her middle school students.
Ms. Bronson believes in a classroom that is built on relationships and says, “Trust is a key element in my classroom. As I grow in knowledge of my students’ strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and passions, I am able to meet them where they are and help them grow individually as readers, writers, problem solvers, and citizens.”
Melissa Bryant, Fourth Grade Math and Science Teacher, Stanton Elementary School
Ms. Melissa Bryant has been teaching for eight years – first in New York City before coming to DCPS to join the Stanton Elementary School staff three years ago. Ms. Bryant has always enjoyed working with children, but it was only after she graduated with a degree in journalism that she realized that teaching was the career for her. She says, “I decided to give teaching a try and haven’t looked back. Teaching is something that ignites a fire in me.” At Stanton, Ms. Bryant is the lead for student and family engagement, helping to manage all family engagement projects including the Academic Parent Teacher Teams, home visits, and the Parent Teacher Organization.
When asked to describe her teaching style, Ms. Bryant is straightforward: “No excuses. I know that my students have a lot of obstacles to overcome, but they can’t use that as an excuse to not learn, or to not come to school and try their best. I would like to think that I send the message to my students that I care about them, and I will work with them no matter where they are, but they have to come in ready to work hard.”
Kristofer Comeforo, Academic Dean (Previously Chemistry Teacher), Anacostia Senior High School
Before moving into an academic dean position, Mr. Kristofer Comeforo taught chemistry for three years at Anacostia Senior High School. Mr. Comeforo was placed at Anacostia through Teach For America and after completing his two-year commitment, felt compelled to stay at the school. He says that education is the most important civil rights issue of our time, and believes it is a fight that can and must be won. Mr. Comeforo describes his students as the brightest he has ever met, and his colleagues as “doggedly dedicated” to the success of their school.
Mr. Comeforo has taken on many leadership roles at Anacostia, including serving as the science department chair, founding and mentoring the school’s robotics team, and coaching varsity football.
As a teacher, Mr. Comeforo kept his students engaged by using labs, experiments, and demonstrations in his classes. He says that his students rarely felt like they were doing work. He believes that science is the great equalizer in education, as it gives all students the opportunity to think critically and succeed in the classroom, regardless of their proficiency in other subjects.
Drew Gallagher, Third Grade Teacher, Bruce-Monroe Elementary School @ Parkview
Mr. Drew Gallagher has been named DCPS’s 2012 New Teacher of the Year. Mr. Gallagher joined DCPS last fall as a third grade teacher at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School. He was drawn to the district because he wanted to make a difference and “could think of no better place to teach than the public education system of our nation’s capital. Teaching in the city where change is made every day, I constantly feel empowered by this politically and socially charged city. For someone who is passionate about our country, Washington, DC is the perfect place to be.”
Mr. Gallagher enjoys creating an enthusiastic and imaginative classroom. He shares, “I appreciate the diversity, talents, enthusiasm, and curiosity that my young scholars bring to class every day. I feel honored to be given the trust and confidence to make the transformational change that my students deserve.”
Paul Gerber, Sixth and Seventh Grade English Humanities Teacher, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School
Mr. Paul Gerber came to Oyster-Adams Bilingual School four years ago after spending five years teaching in New York City and abroad in Colombia and Mexico. Mr. Gerber comes from a family of teachers and cites his own tenth grade teacher as the inspiration for his career choice – “His classroom was a combination of high standards and enthusiasm for the subject. I want to show that to other kids as well.”
At Oyster-Adams, Mr. Gerber has coordinated the annual dance program, which has included ballet and Flamenco classes. He also served on the DCPS Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet during the 2010-11 school year. In his classroom, Mr. Gerber’s high expectations and love for teaching are evident. He encourages students to set a high bar for themselves and challenges them to meet it every day.
Scott David Harding, Jr., Preschool Teacher, Maury Elementary School
Mr. Scott David Harding, Jr. began his career seven years ago as a preschool teacher in the Teach For America early childhood initiative pilot. After teaching for two years, Mr. Harding left the classroom to serve as an Early Reading First Literacy Coach. However, he missed having his own students to work with and so he quickly returned to his previous role as a classroom teacher. This year, Mr. Harding is entering his third year as a teacher at Maury Elementary School where he is heavily involved in the school community – he has served as the Family Engagement Fellow for the Flamboyan Foundation and the LIFT ambassador.
As a preschool teacher, Mr. Harding says “everyday in the classroom is truly a combination of all of my passions: performing, planning events, building relations, and having fun.” Using the Reggio principles and culturally responsive curriculum, his goal is “to make each child a researcher—a true scientist, as they take ownership of their own educational process.”
Yolanda Johnson, Second and Third Grade Dual Language Teacher, Cleveland Elementary School
Ms. Yolanda Johnson has spent her 18-year teaching career at Cleveland Elementary School and is a product of DCPS herself, having attended Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, Garnet-Patterson Middle School, and Dunbar High School. Her career choice was inspired by her sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cox: “She made me want to come to school and learn. She had a way of making all students feel like they were her favorite.”
At Cleveland Elementary School, Ms. Johnson serves as the yearbook coordinator, the Fundations lead, and a member of the Local School Advisory Team. She has also volunteered at DonorsChoose.org and worked as a Teacher Selector Ambassador. She is a proud member of the Cleveland school community and enjoys keeping in touch with the students she has taught over the years. Ms. Johnson shares, “The thing I love most about teaching is when former students visit me and share what an impact I’ve made on their lives.”
Jennifer Kate Krystopowicz, Second through Fifth Grade Self-Contained Special Education Teacher, Tyler Elementary School
Ms. Jennifer Kate Krystopowicz began teaching at Tyler Elementary School six years ago after realizing, as an undergraduate tutor at School Without Walls, that she wanted a career that allowed her to make a difference in the lives of the District’s youth.
At Tyler Elementary School, Ms. Krystopowicz serves on the Academic Leadership Team and the Local School Advisory Team. She also serves as the school’s LIFT (Leadership Initiative For Teachers) Ambassador and is a former member of the DCPS Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet.
Ms. Krystopowicz shares, “Since I have a wide spectrum of grades and learning needs in my classroom, there is no one teaching style that I follow. My job is to find the style that works best for each individual student. Whether that’s done kinesthetically or visually, I am constantly thinking of new ways to reach every single student in my room.”
Josie Malone, English Language Arts Teacher, Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School
Ms. Josie Malone has spent her five-year teaching career in DCPS, the last four of which have been spent at Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School. Phelps’s emphasis on rigorous instruction and the dedicated staff create a positive instructional environment in which Ms. Malone and her students excel.
Ms. Malone was inspired to teach as an undergraduate while volunteering with children, and she now teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English as well as AP English Language. Ms. Malone chose to teach in DCPS because of the opportunity to facilitate positive growth in the community. She shares, “I want to continue to improve our schools until DCPS is a system where anyone would love to have their child learn every day. I want this school district to be a place where rigorous instructional opportunities are available to every child.”
Last spring, Ms. Malone collaborated with the DCPS Office of Curriculum and Instruction to write the eleventh grade English curriculum, and this summer she represented the district at the prestigious National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE) Conference in Chicago.
Asha Mathur, Math Teacher, Murch Elementary School
Mrs. Asha Mathur has taught in DCPS for nearly all of her more than 20-year teaching career. She joined Murch Elementary School after completing a practicum there while working toward her master’s degree at American University, and has taught there ever since.
Driven by her students’ eagerness to learn, Mrs. Mathur spends a great deal of time researching and planning lessons that best serve their needs. Above all, Mrs. Mathur seeks to provide her students with a caring and supportive environment and cherishes the daily moments when she knows that she is making a difference in someone’s life.
She is supported by her husband of 31 years, two adult children, and loving pug, all of whom have never failed to appreciate and encourage her each day as she goes to work.
Karen McDowell, Second Grade English as a Second Language Teacher, Thomson Elementary School
Ms. Karen McDowell began her teaching career eight years ago, and this is her third year at Thomson Elementary School. She chose to work in DCPS because of a desire to be part of positive changes taking place in an urban school setting.
At Thomson Elementary School, Ms. McDowell serves as the chair of the Family and Community Engagement Committee and is a member of the Academic Leadership Team. She is also a former member of the DCPS Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet.
Ms. McDowell loves watching her students grow and transform in her classroom. She says, “One of my hobbies is gardening – I love to watch living things grow and develop. One of the most rewarding things about teaching is that I am able to create an environment in which my students are able to grow in knowledge and confidence.”
Rebecca Millner, Ninth Grade World History Teacher, Eastern Senior High School
Ms. Rebecca Millner is currently in her seventh year as a DCPS teacher; before coming to Eastern, she spent six years at Ron Brown Middle School. Ms. Millner was drawn to teaching in Washington, DC because of her love for the city and her belief that all children deserve a quality education. She says, “I love kids, and I love history. Teaching history in DC is like teaching on a yearlong field trip!”
While working at Ron Brown Middle School, Ms. Millner served as the department chair, team leader, and founder of the Reading Rockets Literacy Program. She attributes her success as a teacher to the strong example set by her parents, also teachers – “Coming from a home where education and learning were so valued, continuing that legacy of helping students to discover their own passion for learning was a natural path for me.”
Cynthia Mostoller, Social Studies Teacher, Alice Deal Middle School
Ms. Cynthia Mostoller came to Deal Middle School 25 years ago and never looked back. She describes her teaching style as “structured optimism” and works to bring a sense of wonder and excitement to every lesson. When teaching United States history and geography, Ms. Mostoller uses DC’s rich history to augment her lessons; her students routinely visit the surrounding museums, archives, and universities.
Ms. Mostoller sees her career choice as an act of faith. She shares, “Some changes are seen, others unseen, but if you stay in the profession long enough, you start to hear from all of the students whose lives you’ve touched, and that faith is rewarded a hundred-fold.”
Ms. Mostoller is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Richard Ferrell Award for Outstanding History Teachers, the History Channel Award for Outstanding Work with National History Day, and the Patricia Behring Award for Teaching History.
Stephanie Page-Baxter, Second Grade Teacher, Raymond Education Campus
A native Washingtonian, Ms. Stephanie Page-Baxter wanted to give back to her hometown, and has done so in her 26-year teaching career. She taught for 23 years at Aiton Elementary School, and has worked at Raymond Education Campus for the past three.
Ms. Page-Baxter is inspired daily by her school leaders and colleagues, who take an “all hands on deck” approach to educating. And despite her students’ living, learning, and language challenges, Ms. Page-Baxter says that they continue to strive for excellence, no doubt because of her rigorous and hands-on approach to teaching. Ms. Page-Baxter wanted to be a teacher even as a young child, and she credits her parents’ unwavering love and support in helping her to achieve her goal.
Ms. Page-Baxter serves her school in many capacities, including as grade level chair, Teaching In Action Consulting Teacher, LIFT (Leadership Initiative For Teachers) Ambassador, and Spelling Bee Chair.
Kenneth Robinson, Fourth Grade Teacher, Hendley Elementary School
Mr. Kenneth Robinson has spent his entire 20-year teaching career at Hendley Elementary School. Before teaching, Mr. Robinson graduated from Bowie State University with a degree in business but knew he couldn’t be happy working in a small cubicle and wanted to do more for his community.
Mr. Robinson was inspired to become a teacher by his wife, a teacher herself at the time, who highlighted his talents as an artist and his ability to explain concepts to children. He was placed at Hendley through Teach For America in 1993 and shares, “I fell in love with the community and the kids, and I knew I could teach for the rest of my life. I felt more respect for being a teacher than I could ever imagine.”
Mr. Robinson loves seeing his students learn to respect the power of education. Even when they fight his efforts at first, he knows that eventually they’ll be fighting him to teach them more and more. The real payoff comes when students come back to visit—especially those who have enrolled in Bowie State!
Jacqueline T. Smith, English Language Learner Special Education Inclusion Teacher, Hart Middle School
Ms. Jacqueline T. Smith is a proud DCPS alumna – having attended LaSalle Elementary, Rabaut Junior High School, and Wilson High School – and is honored to teach in the system that educated her. She first aspired to become a teacher in third grade, and has been an educator for 33 years – 24 of which have been spent in DCPS.
Ms. Smith was inspired to work in special education when she witnessed some of her classmates making fun of an adult with disabilities. She decided then that she was going to work to help disabled students. She makes her lessons relevant to her students by acting out anecdotes from her life, and she finds happiness in seeing students discover their love of learning. She says, “I love teaching because it gives me joy to see a student blossom from not thinking they can learn, to being a student who loves to learn.”
When she is not teaching, Ms. Smith enjoys traveling and has made recent trips to Australia, China, and Hong Kong.
Kelly Vergamini, Special Education – Autism Program Teacher, Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School
Ms. Kelly Vergamini has taught for three years at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary in intermediate special education – autism program classes. When her previous career left her feeling removed from the daily lives of those for whom she worked, Ms. Vergamini looked for a change. She shares, “I felt that it was time to start giving back to the community I live in and help create the future for the city and the people who have given so much to me.” She found that opportunity in teaching and has never looked back.
Ms. Vergamini says that she loves watching students surprise themselves with their own abilities, learn to advocate for their needs, make meaningful choices in their lives, and learn to take pride in in themselves and what they can achieve.
When she isn’t in the classroom, Ms. Vergamini is busy with additional leadership roles, including serving as chair of the special education department, a member of the Arts Integration Committee, and a LIFT (Leadership Initiative For Teachers) Ambassador. Ms. Vergamini enjoys being a part of the Washington, DC community, and celebrates her role in helping students and families achieve their goals.
Jimmie Roberts, Math and English Teacher to English Language Learners, MacFarland Middle School
This year is Mr. Jimmie Roberts’s first year at MacFarland Middle School, but his fourth year in DCPS and his sixth as an educator. Throughout his career in the district, Mr. Roberts has held numerous leadership positions, including working with the Academic Leadership Team and chairing the Local School Advisory Team. Mr. Roberts currently serves as a teacher lead at MacFarland.
Mr. Roberts decided to become a teacher when he was a middle school student, and he continues to teach today because he understands the impact that an effective teacher can have on a student’s life. His students achieve at high levels due to his high expectations, and due to the joy and sense of urgency he infuses into his daily lessons.
Rubenstein Awards for Highly Effective School-Based Staff
Lisa M. Davis, Kindergarten Paraprofessional, Marie Reed Community Learning Center
Ms. Lisa M. Davis is in her fourth year as a classroom paraprofessional at Marie Reed Community Learning Center. She greatly appreciates her school’s culture, delights in the fascinating things her students teach her each day, and takes great pride in the positive relationships she has formed with her students and their parents.
Ms. Davis is known for doing whatever it takes to ensure her students’ success. At one point in her career while living in Pennsylvania, Ms. Davis obtained her bus driver’s license in order to support local children because the community had a hard time finding drivers for students.
After moving to Washington, DC in 2008, Ms. Davis took several months off from working with children, but she couldn’t stay out of the classroom for long and soon began studying to take the Praxis exam. She cherishes the “aha” moments when her students’ faces light up with knowledge, and she is proud to be a stable figure in the classroom. Ms. Davis is happy to be a part of the Reed family and grateful that her students’ families have entrusted her with the honor of teaching their children.
Eric Taylor, School Maintenance Worker, H.D. Cooke Elementary School
Mr. Eric Taylor is the school maintenance worker at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, where he has spent 14 of his 29 years in DCPS. He admires his administrative leaders and teaching colleagues for the positive learning environment they provide for all students.
Mr. Taylor credits his dedication partly to his father and stepfather, who both taught him the importance of strong ethics, and who helped him develop a sense of ownership and pride in his work. He shares, “I am proud of the work I do, and I know that providing a safe and clean environment in the schools means that teachers can teach and students can learn.”
Mr. Taylor says that the knowledge and skills he has acquired during his tenure with DCPS afford him the ability to perform numerous tasks inside and out of his job description. His colleagues note that he continually goes above and beyond for the students, often performing tasks that are neither required nor expected of him. Students, teachers, administrators alike adore him for his dedication, high-quality work, and willingness to help in whatever way he can.
Learn more about past Rubenstein Award winners.