Chancellor Fariña Announces Winners of the 2016 Big Apple Awards

  • Posted: Thu Jun 23, 2016 Updated: Fri Apr 20, 2018

Students, Families, School Staff, and Community Members Submitted Over 4,600 Nominations

NEW YORK – Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is meeting today with the 17 winners of the fourth annual Big Apple Awards, which celebrate the incredible work of New York City public school teachers. The Big Apple Awards are a citywide recognition program open to all full-time teachers in New York City public schools. The 17 recipients were selected from a pool of over 4,600 nominees and for the first time, Chancellor Fariña and Deputy Chancellors surprised the teachers in their classrooms to present them with the award as a way to engage students and school staff in celebrating their outstanding work.

This afternoon, Chancellor Fariña is meeting with the 17 recipients at Tweed Courthouse, where the group will reflect on their work and accomplishments over the course of this past year, share their strong practices, and look ahead to the 2016-17 school year. The 17 award recipients include 16 classroom teachers and one arts educator who was selected through the Lincoln Center Arts Teacher Award. Lincoln Center has partnered with the Department of Education to select the arts award recipient since the program’s inception. During all stages of the process, candidates were reviewed based on their ability to demonstrate exceptional success in three key competencies aligned with the Framework for Great Schools: impacting student learning, demonstrating strong instructional practice, and contributing to their school community.

The Big Apple Awards are a powerful reminder of the incredible educators who teach in our classrooms across the City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Teachers play such a pivotal and guiding role in the lives of their students and I congratulate this year’s recipients, who show such passion for their work and a commitment to their students and families. We are truly grateful for the hard work of these winners, and for the thousands of teachers in every corner of the City who each day inspire their students and brighten their lives.”

“These awards recognize the amazing and life-changing impact that teachers have on students and families,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Big Apple Award winners spark curiosity and inspire their students, enrich their school communities, and work tirelessly to help each student reach their full potential. This year’s winners distinguished themselves as exceptional educators, and they truly represent the countless teachers across our City who constantly go above and beyond for their students and families.”

"I want to thank all our Big Apple Award winners for the passion and drive they bring to the classroom. We have spent the past year celebrating our public schools. Today, that means celebrating the commitment our Big Apple Award winners bring to teaching and recognizing the ingenious ways our winners help their students to thrive," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

“Congratulations to Zaharoula Skulikidis, from our very own Long Island City High School for being one of 17 teachers to win the 2016 Big Apple Award,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.  “It is important that we continue to recognize the contributions of our NYC public school teachers who continuously work very hard to educate the next generation of students. Congratulations again to these 17 wonderful individuals.”

“Congratulations to the 2016 Big Apple Award winners,” said New York City Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. "Our public schools are home to some of the brightest and best educators in the world. These teachers work tirelessly year-round to ensure that our children are prepared for college, careers and so much more. I am pleased to join Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña in applauding the outstanding commitment to public education demonstrated by this year's award recipients.”

Next year recipients will serve as Big Apple Fellows, providing them with the opportunity to become leaders and ambassadors for their profession. Recipients will also be invited to serve on the Chancellor's Teacher Advisory Group, which meets monthly to further develop best practices and classroom leadership abilities.

This year’s Big Apple Award recipients come from all five boroughs, and teach a range of subjects and grade levels. The recipients are:

  • Anna Bennett, 5th Grade teacher, P.S. 059 Beekman Hill International, Manhattan
  • Michele Fienga, High School English teacher, James Madison High School, Brooklyn
  • Carmine Guirland, High School Equivalency Science and Mathematics teacher, Pathways to Graduation @ Bronx NeON, Bronx
  • Jonelle Hinchcliffe, High School Math teacher, Westchester Square Academy, Bronx
  • Nila Johnson, Pre-Kindergarten teacher, 1199 Future of America Learning Center, Bronx
  • Jamie Lefkowitz, 1st Grade Bilingual teacher, P.S. 028 Wright Brothers, Manhattan 
  • Bushra Makiya, 8th Grade Math teacher, I.S. X303 Leadership & Community Service, Bronx
  • Angela Manekas, 4th Grade teacher, P.S. 232 The Walter Ward School, Queens  
  • MaryBeth Meenan, 2nd Grade special education teacher, P.S. 102 Bayview, Queens
  • Dana Monteiro, High School Music teacher, Frederick Douglass Academy, Manhattan
  • Dominique Nute, 6th Grade Math teacher, One World Middle School at Edenwald, Bronx
  • Angela Saccaro, 2nd Grade teacher, P.S. 55 Henry M. Boehm, Staten Island
  • Aleksey Shats, 3rd Grade Special Education teacher, P.S. 024 Andrew Jackson, Queens
  • Helen Sink, Middle School Science teacher, P.S. 007 Samuel Stern, Manhattan
  • Zaharoula Skulikidis, High School Social Studies teacher, Long Island City High School, Queens
  • Chelsey Tubbs, 5th Grade English Language Arts teacher, KIPP STAR College Preparatory School, Manhattan
  • Sara Yerry, 2nd Grade Dual Language teacher, Brooklyn Arbor Elementary School, Brooklyn

Anna Bennett
5th Grade teacher, P.S. 059 Beekman Hill International, Midtown East

“Rigor and love” is the mantra Anna Bennett uses to start each morning, and it has been at the center of her instruction as a New York City public school teacher. Her goal is to challenge students to take risks and to work with an open heart and with open minds. She creates opportunities for each student to shine – students lead their own seminars and sign up to learn from one another. During the 2014-15 school year, 96 percent of her students passed the state math test and 88 percent passed the ELA test. Her principal notes, “She has a knack for seeing the best in everyone. Students who may have previously found themselves on the fringes of classrooms find themselves at the heart of Ms. Bennett’s community.”

Michele Fienga
High School English teacher, James Madison High School, Madison

Michele Fienga is a proud graduate of New York City public schools and was inspired to be an educator by her father, who taught for more than 30 years. She explains that she and her father, along with many other teachers, share “a commitment to life-long learning and professional growth.” She says, “I became a New York City public school teacher not only because I want to provide young people with the skills they need to be successful, but also because I want them to understand themselves first.” Ms. Fienga sees literature as an important conduit for that self-exploration. In her class, students feel empowered to take ownership of their own learning, through small-group and whole-class discussion structures. 

Carmine Guirland
High School Equivalency Science and Mathematics teacher, Pathways to Graduation @ Bronx NeON, Concourse

Carmine Guirland brings a doctorate in neuroscience and years of experience as a laboratory researcher to his classroom, where his goal is to share his passion for science with young people. After teaching for years in a Bronx middle school, Mr. Guirland is currently in his third year teaching at Pathways to Graduation, a program for students ages 18-21 to help prepare them to earn their High School Equivalency Diploma. Since 2014, Mr. Guirland has helped more than 30 students successfully earn their diploma. The number of graduates doubled from his first year to his second year in the program. Mr. Guirland emphasizes a student-centered, collaborative inquiry approach, and his students praise him for maintaining extremely high expectations.

Jonelle Hinchcliffe
High School Math teacher, Westchester Square Academy, Schuylerville

After building a career in advertising, Jonelle Hinchcliffe wanted to do something more meaningful with her life. So she became a teacher. Now, with 10 years of experience, Ms. Hinchcliffe teaches geometry to students in grades 9-12. She describes herself as “relentless,” focused on making the content she teaches accessible – no matter what. This commitment to academic success has led her to try several different instructional strategies to engage her students, including online software and smartboard clickers to receive immediate feedback. Currently, Ms. Hinchcliffe’s students have a 94 percent passing rate. She also serves as a Model Teacher with the Learning Partners Program, opening her classroom for inter-visitations on a daily basis, and coaches the school’s running club. 

Nila Johnson
Pre-Kindergarten teacher, 1199 Future of America Learning Center, Fordham Manor

Nila Johnson has 20 years of experience teaching in New York City public schools, in addition to her years teaching in the Philippines and Nigeria. She draws on this wealth of experience to ensure her lessons resonate with her pre-kindergarten students. Ms. Johnson’s classroom is structured around Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, with different immersive environment areas such as a music studio, a publishing house, and a sushi house to engage students’ varied interests and learning styles. Ms. Johnson carefully evaluates each students’ strengths and areas for growth at the beginning of the year. For a classroom of four- and five-year olds, success can be defined very differently from student to student, but as Ms. Johnson explains, “For my students, success is confidence.”

Jamie Lefkowitz
1st Grade Bilingual teacher, P.S. 028 Wright Brothers, Washington Heights

“I want to be a superhero,” Jamie Lefkowitz says. “Not the kind who scales buildings or has superhuman strength, but the kind who creates a classroom where all of life’s hardships disappear and students are always eager to learn.” Ms. Lefkowitz recognizes the reality of her student’s hardships, half of whom have special needs and nearly 40 percent of whom are English Language Learners. Since joining Teach For America eight years ago, Ms. Lefkowitz has worked to strike a balance in her classroom between structure and freedom. She maintains a focus on college and career success, inviting professionals from diverse fields into the classroom so students have the opportunity to interview and learn from them. In the 2014-15 school year, all of Ms. Lefkowitz’s students either met or exceeded their reading benchmarks.

Bushra Makiya
8th Grade Math teacher, I.S. X303 Leadership & Community Service, Morris Heights

In 2003, Bushra Makiya was working in Baghdad with USAID, supporting the organization’s work on assessing and revitalizing Iraqi schools. The experience convinced her that she wanted to be more directly involved in education – specifically in the classroom. Ms. Makiya has since spent 12 years teaching in New York City public schools, where she emphasizes risk-taking, normalizing errors and encouraging students to debate several potential answers to a math problem. In this design, students serve as the math authorities while Ms. Makiya plays the role of facilitator. 100 percent of her students have passed Algebra I in the last three years. Outside of her classroom, Ms. Makiya serves as a Peer Collaborative Teacher and a Math for America Master Teacher.

Angela Manekas
4th Grade teacher, P.S. 232 The Walter Ward School, Lindenwood

The daughter of two retired physical education teachers, Angela Manekas has taught at P.S. 232 for the past 11 years. Inspired in part by her father, who taught at a school for the deaf, Ms. Manekas’ students sign the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Her principal views her as an expert guided reading teacher, and encourages other teachers to observe her classroom. In order to engage students and parents in at-home reading, Ms. Manekas collaborated with the school’s literacy coach to develop book logs that encourage students to write about their reading three times per week, responding herself once per week. In the 2014-15 school year, 91 percent of Ms. Manekas’ students demonstrated proficiency on the New York State math exam, and 69 percent of her students performed at an Advanced level.

MaryBeth Meenan
2nd Grade Special Education Teacher, P.S. 102 Bayview, Elmhurst

Marybeth Meenan began her professional life as an accountant, but ultimately decided to return to school to become a teacher – a choice she calls “the best decision of my life.” Ms. Meenan, has now been teaching for ten years and this year teaches a class of seven students with autism. Through daily use of Applied Behavior Analysis, she employs specialized strategies to develop both academic skills and socialization skills. Ms. Meenan incorporates positive reinforcement to praise students who demonstrate the positive interactions promoted by student behavior charts. Her impact on these children is undeniable, as each of her students has advanced at least three reading levels this year.

Dana Monteiro
High School Music teacher, Frederick Douglass Academy, Harlem

On a trip to Brazil, Dana Monteiro was inspired by a visit to a samba school rehearsal where 250 drummers performed simultaneously. Despite having little background knowledge of this art form, Mr. Monteiro decided he wanted to bring that experience back to his students. Ten years later, Mr. Monteiro now leads a massive program of samba performance groups – some as large as 75 students – and many of whom have performed all over the City, for organizations such as TED Talks and the Clinton Global Initiative. Many of his students have even had the opportunity to perform abroad or with local music ensembles. Mr. Monteiro’s program emphasizes peer instruction: older students share their knowledge and skills with younger classes each year, and peer groups form during each lesson to give each other constructive feedback on their work.

Dominique Nute
6th Grade Math teacher, One World Middle School at Edenwald, Edenwald

Growing up in Chicago, Dominque Nute remembers “how it made me feel when I did not sense I was receiving the education that I thought I deserved.” She learned early on the value of a good education, and she understands the frustration for students struggling to meet their academic requirements while dealing with challenges outside of the classroom. “She understands that every second matters,” her principal says. Ms. Nute provides frequent, individualized feedback to each student in the room and also pairs them for small-group instruction. In each of the last two years, 80 percent of her students finished in the 90th percentile or higher for growth on the state mathematics exam.

Angela Saccaro
2nd Grade teacher, P.S. 55 Henry M. Boehm, Staten Island

When Angela Saccaro was five years old, she already knew that she wanted to be a teacher. And now, after 23 years as a New York City educator, she remains as motived as ever. Throughout her varied lessons, Ms. Saccaro promotes metacognitive thinking so that her students are able to articulate “where they are, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there.” In the 2014-15 school year, one quarter of her students began the year reading below grade level; by June, all students were reading at or above grade level. Ms. Saccaro serves on her school’s Inquiry Team and collaborates with her colleagues through vertical planning. Her goal is to create a group of lifelong learners with high self-esteem.

Aleksey Shats
3rd Grade Special Education teacher, P.S. 024 Andrew Jackson, Flushing

When Aleksey Shats moved with his family from Ukraine to the United States at the age of 11, he attended New York City public schools and appreciated how his teachers were able to help him develop the skills and knowledge he needed for success. Now in his seventh year as a special education teacher in New York City public schools, Mr. Shats focuses on making the curriculum accessible to his students, many of whom are English Language Learners. Sixty percent of his students with individualized education programs achieved grade-level proficiency on the math state exam; an additional 25 percent accomplished this in reading. Mr. Shats also seeks to include students’ parents and families as active learning partners by identifying supports that can be provided at home and monitoring students’ progress.

Helen Sink
Middle School Science teacher, P.S. 007 Samuel Stern, East Harlem

Ten years ago, looking for a new challenge, Helen Sink changed careers from a research scientist at NYU Medical School to a New York City middle school science teacher in East Harlem. Now, in her classroom, Ms. Sink uses multiple strategies to meet students’ changing needs and interests. As a Model Teacher, Ms. Sink conducts inter-visitations with colleagues to help improve their practice. Ms. Sink’s students have also demonstrated high levels of achievement, attaining a 100 percent pass rate on the Living Environment Regents exam. Ms. Sink is particularly proud that her courses give students the foundation to continue succeeding in science. Her students have gone on to take advanced or honors science courses and, in several cases, even pursued careers in STEM fields.

Zaharoula Skulikidis
High School Social Studies teacher, Long Island City High School, Astoria

A lifelong Queens resident, Zaharoula Skulikidis attended New York City public schools from Kindergarten through 12thgrade, and went on to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees at Queens College. She has spent the past 14 years teaching Global and U.S. History at Long Island City High School, where she also serves as a Peer Collaborative Teacher. In this capacity, she facilitates data discussions, helps her colleagues create lesson plans, and collaboratively strengthens teaching practices. When reflecting on these achievements, Ms. Skulikidis observes, “Success is way more than passing the Regents. Success means students going on to college and fulfilling their dreams. Success means they are excited about learning, and they show up ready to engage because the history of the world is relevant to them.”

Chelsey Tubbs
5th Grade English Language Arts teacher, KIPP STAR College Preparatory School, Manhattanville

When Chelsey Tubbs applied to Teach For America in 2007, she specifically wanted to teach in New York City – she saw the opportunity to try new and innovative practices to better serve children here. Ms. Tubbs brings very high expectations to her class of 31 fifth graders, many of whom enter her classroom reading far below grade level. She has created a culturally responsive curriculum that emphasizes character education and provides unique learning experiences, such as a partnership with Columbia University where her students learn to write computer code. Ms. Tubbs also holds monthly parent and family workshops to model ways students can be supported after school. Her principal raves about the culture of reading she has created, saying, “She has inspired her students to want to put in extra time by constantly sharing data with them, celebrating their growth, and holding them accountable for their learning.”

Sara Yerry
2nd Grade Dual Language teacher, Brooklyn Arbor Elementary School, Williamsburg

Sara Yerry was attracted to the New York City Teaching Fellows program because it afforded her the opportunity to unite her passions for child development and the Spanish language. In addition to her 11 years in the classroom, Ms. Yerry serves as her school’s Dual Language Coordinator, mentoring colleagues and mapping out the curriculum for multiple grade levels. Ms. Yerry’s impact on her school’s dual language students has been substantial; students in dual language classrooms at her school have outperformed their peers in monolingual classes by 25 percent this year. Ms. Yerry is a firm believer in dual language instruction, saying, “I witness the beauty of two-way language instruction. Students in my classroom are joyful language learners who understand cultural diversity.”
Back to Top