NEW YORK – Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the winners of the third annual Big Apple Awards: Recognizing Teacher Excellence in New York City, which celebrates the incredible and life-changing work of public school teachers in New York City. The Big Apple Awards is a citywide recognition program open to all full-time teachers in New York City public schools. 12 award recipients, along with an additional 72 finalists and semifinalists from a pool of over 4,500 nominees, were honored in a ceremony at Manhattan Supreme Court.
The 12 award recipients include 11 teachers and one arts educator who was selected through the Lincoln Center Arts Teacher Award. During all stages of the process, candidates were reviewed based on their ability to demonstrate exceptional success in three key competencies aligned to the Framework for Great Schools: impacting student learning, demonstrating instructional practice, and contributing to their school community. Award recipients receive a classroom grant of $3,500 to deepen their work with students. The awards are made possible by Leonard and Louise Riggio with additional support from The Fund for Public Schools, Lincoln Center, and HBO.
“Great educators change their students’ lives forever,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Every one of us remembers that one teacher who opened our mind and inspired us to do better. The Big Apple Awards recognize teachers that go above and beyond, and through their work with students and engagement with parents make this City a better place. We’re honored to have these winners, and all the nominees, in our classrooms helping them improve every day.”
“These awards recognize the transformational impact great teachers have on our students and families every single day,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Big Apple Award winners are helping New York City students reach their greatest dreams both in and out of the classroom. These remarkable teachers have all demonstrated a passion and mastery that is at the heart of what it means to be a great teacher. I want to congratulate them – and all the outstanding educators in our City – for their tireless work to help our students succeed.”
“I want to congratulate – and thank – the Big Apple Award winners. They inspire and motivate. They give their students an understanding of the larger world and the confidence to navigate it. They make a difference, in ways big and small, in their students’ lives. And they do all this without a fuss – because that’s just what teachers do. To the winners: Thank you for the work you do and everything you have given our students,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
“I congratulate all 12 educators who are Big Apple Award recipients, especially those from Queens,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee. “It is wonderful to see those who make a difference in the lives of children every single day through their hard work get that attention and applause they deserve.”
“NYC public school teachers are New York’s brightest and they deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm, who was a New York City public school teacher for 25 years. “The Big Apple Awards highlight the best and serve to encourage others to achieve high standards. I congratulate the winners and thank the Department of Education and Chancellor Fariña for acknowledging these outstanding educators.”
The Big Apple Award ceremony is the culmination of a rigorous process that includes community nominations, principal and colleague recommendations, applicant essays, an interview, and a classroom observation. The 4,500 nominations from students, families, teachers, school staff, administrators, and other community members represent a 40 percent increase from the number of nominations received last year. Nominees came from over 1,200 schools across the City. After an initial screening, 500 nominees were invited to submit an application that included essays as well as principal and colleague recommendations. Following a review of the applications, 84 semifinalists were interviewed, with 40 advancing to the finalist round and receiving a classroom visit. A Board of Judges composed of Department of Education officials and a representative from the United Federation of Teachers selected 11 of the 12 award winners, with Lincoln Center representatives selecting the arts winner.
This year’s Big Apple Award recipients come from four boroughs, and teach a range of subjects and grade levels. The winners are:
• Lauren Bakian, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 110 Florence Nightingale, Manhattan
• Denise Clarke, an 8th-grade math teacher at Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, Bronx
• Rhonda Corin, a pre-K teacher at The School in the Gardens, Queens
• Margaret Diercks-Henfling, an early childhood education teacher at the LYFE Program at Beach Channel Educational Campus, Queens
• Joan Fiorillo, a 6th-grade teacher at J.H.S. 218 James P. Sinnott Magnet School, Brooklyn
• Rick Ouimet, a 12th-grade English teacher at Millennium Art Academy, Bronx
• Shani Perez, a visual arts teacher at P.S. 51 Elias Howe, Manhattan
• Audrey Rabi Whitaker, a 10th- and 11th-grade Earth Science teacher at the Academy for Young Writers, Brooklyn
• Samantha Schwartz, an 11th-grade ELA special education teacher at J.M. Rapport School for Career Development, Bronx
• Melisa Stoller, a 6th-8th grade ESL and ELA teacher at I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers, Manhattan
• Jonathan Young, a 10th-12th grade social studies teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School, Queens
• Nicole Kasbar, a 6th-8th Grade Dance and Movement teacher at I.S. 98 Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn
Lauren Bakian, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 110 Florence Nightingale, Manhattan
In Lauren Bakian’s classroom, the motto is “Take charge of your learning.” What distinguishes Ms. Bakian from her peers is her ability to honor and celebrate every child’s strengths while meeting their academic and social-emotional needs. Lauren’s leadership extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom: as a Lead Teacher, instructional coach and mentor, author of the K-2 literacy curriculum, and host of the ELA club, she helps other teachers in her school excel. She holds classroom celebrations highlighting student work and facilitates ongoing parent meetings to make sure families are included as partners in their children’s education.
Denise Clarke, an 8th-grade math teacher at Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, Bronx
A founding teacher of Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, Ms. Clarke contributes in numerous ways to her school community by serving as the 8th-grade team leader and embracing parents as key partners in her students’ school experience. In Ms. Clarke’s classroom, her students take risks and build on the knowledge of others. Ms. Clarke collaborates with ELA teachers to bring literacy techniques into her math class and build her students’ academic math language, making all of them fluent mathematicians and writers. And on Saturday afternoons, you will find her tutoring her students at the Melrose Branch of the public library. As her principal writes, Ms. Clarke “uses her abilities and her opportunities to the maximum potential.”
Rhonda Corin, a pre-K teacher at The School in the Gardens, Queens
“When I sat on the carpet with a group of four-year-olds excitedly chatting, listening, and begging for attention at the same time, I knew I had found my audience.” Fifteen years later, Rhonda Corin continues to serve pre-K students at The School in the Gardens in Queens. In Ms. Corin’s classroom, students become scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers. Beyond developing creative units that actively engage her young students, Ms. Corin serves as her school’s UFT chapter leader, on the School Leadership and MOSL Teams, and participates on the Safety Committee. As she shares, “Serving the school community is a central part of being an educator.”
Margaret Diercks-Henfling, an early childhood education teacher at the LYFE Program on Beach Channel Educational Campus, Queens
Margaret Diercks-Henfling has spent her 24-year career teaching in the Living for the Young Family through Education (LYFE) program, which helps student-parents stay on track for graduation by providing high-quality early childhood education to their children. In her unique role, she engages three generations – the child, the student-parent, and the parent/guardian of the student-parent. Her classroom lending library reflects this dedication, allowing student-parents to check out books to read with their children – a critical aspect of early literacy development. Considered a leader throughout the citywide LYFE program, her work goes beyond the classroom: she has mentored students, collaborated with community partners to provide nursing services, and helped start a cheerleading team at her high school.
Joan Fiorillo, a 6th-grade teacher at J.H.S. 218 James P. Sinnott Magnet School, Brooklyn
A 33-year veteran of New York City schools, Joan Fiorillo has established a classroom environment that exudes positive energy and engages and motivates students. Her humble demeanor belies the contributions Ms. Fiorillo makes to her school community, which include overseeing the school newspaper and serving on curriculum planning and grant-writing committees. Her innovative practices and dedication to the school community have helped her build solid relationships with students’ families. She describes her school like a family reunion, with many of her students’ parents telling their children, “You better be good with Ms. Fiorillo, because she was one of the best teachers I ever had.”
Rick Ouimet, a 12th-grade English teacher at Millennium Art Academy, Bronx
“I came to the City to teach and that is what I do.” Rick Ouimet was inspired to become a teacher after reading Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities in college, and has spent his 16-year career serving students and families in the South Bronx. He loves challenging his students, whether it’s preparing them for the Regents exam and AP courses or coaching them on the soccer field. Mr. Ouimet works hard to show his students that college is a viable pathway, helping them craft and revise their personal statements, writing letters of recommendation, and reaching out to parents to help them understand how transformative and affordable college can be. As his principal notes, “All his students know that Mr. Ouimet truly believes in them.”
Shani Perez, a visual arts teacher at P.S. 51 Elias Howe, Manhattan
“Our P.S. 51 artists are a daily reminder of why I chose my profession and the gratitude I have for the opportunity to share my love for art through teaching.” In her nine years as a New York City teacher, Shani Perez has inspired and motivated her students, and integrated arts into the curriculum across disciplines through her collaboration with music, library, and classroom teachers. Beyond her work in the classroom, she serves as the school’s UFT chapter chair, co-chair of the Arts Department, and also developed an arts benefit program in 2010 called “P.S. 51 Project Runway.”
Audrey Rabi Whitaker, a 10th- and 11th-grade Earth Science teacher at the Academy for Young Writers, Brooklyn
Audrey Rabi Whitaker began teaching as a New York City Teaching Fellow in 2003 and is committed to teaching in NYC for the duration of her career. As her principal notes, “Ms. Whitaker brings a progressive approach to science teaching and is devoted to working with students who have the greatest need for strong communities and good teachers.” Ms. Whitaker wears many hats at the Academy for Young Writers; she serves as the school’s data specialist, mentors new teachers, and is also the science department chairperson. As a colleague reflects, “A good teacher is someone who is able to play a lot of roles, and play them well. Audrey Rabi is one of the best I have met.”
Samantha Schwartz, an 11th-grade ELA special education teacher at J.M. Rapport School for Career Development, Bronx
Ms. Schwartz believes that her students can excel and teaches them to believe in themselves. She maintains high standards and utilizes “accountable talk” strategies. She began her career as a special education New York City Teaching Fellow and has made significant impacts on the lives of her students and her school community ever since. Ms. Schwartz is a leader among her peers, serving as the chairperson on the schoolwide assessment team, and as an instructional lead for the DOE’s Teacher Leadership Program. Her work is most notably highlighted by her assistant principal: “Samantha is a true visionary in the field of special education and a pioneer in English Language Arts instruction.”
Melisa Stoller, a 6th-8th grade ESL and ELA teacher at I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers, Manhattan
A colleague sums up Melisa Stoller’s passion and commitment: “Ms. Stoller wears the hat of model, mentor, facilitator, inspirational speaker, and nurturer.” As a teacher of English Language Learners, Ms. Stoller uses her bilingual skills as a resource to support students and create a bridge for parents who do not speak English. She draws on her own experiences as an ELL to understand the challenges her students face and uses her story to connect, inspire, and encourage her students to see their bilingualism as an asset. Ms. Stoller demonstrates her deep commitment to the school community and her students’ families through her work developing after-school programs for students, offering classes to parents, and collaborating with her school’s TIF (Teacher Incentive Fund) Team as a Peer Instructional Coach.
Jonathan Young, a 10th-12th grade social studies teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School, Queens
“Young people inspire me, and I want to show all children that they have the power to be successful.” Mr. Young teaches with a sense of purpose and the work pays off: 100% of his students pass the Regents exam and many receive college credit for the Advanced Placement courses he teaches. His investment in students extends beyond the classroom, as he often helps them prepare for job interviews, college applications, and SATs. He also leads the Moot Law Team and serves as the Teacher Director for the Law and Forensics Learning Community, a program he created to help establish law-related internships in the community. Mr. Young inspires students to explore careers in law and civics, even helping one student meet Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.
Arts Education Winner
Nicole Kasbar, a 6th-8th Grade Dance and Movement teacher at I.S. 98 Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn
A recent dance class in Ms. Kasbar’s classroom was, in the words of one observer, “highly organized chaos.” Dance and technology mixed in interesting ways as students made connections between their own dance and Martha Graham’s famous choreography “Clytemnestra.” The leader of the Arts Achieve Program at I.S. 98, Ms. Kasbar worked to secure grant funding for iPads to use for assessment, reflection, and research. As a 16-year veteran of New York public schools, she draws on her expertise in science, drama, and health to integrate these domains into her Fit for Life, Dance Talent, and Physical Education programs. Her classroom is a great example of exceptional dance education.