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Excellence in Teaching awards back; 10 winners announced (Photos)







Excellent teachers didn’t stop working during the worst of the pandemic, but an awards program designed to recognize and promote their practices took a break. Now, it’s back.


A balloon-toting team led by CEO Eric Gordon visited classrooms across the District on Friday, surprising 10 winners of the first  Excellence in Teaching awards presented since 2019.


Excellence in Teaching, which started in 2015, is a partnership between The George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, the District and the Cleveland Teachers Union. The goal is to spread best practices by honoring teachers whose techniques can serve as an influence for colleagues.

Jonice Turner, who works with autistic students at Anton Grdina PreK-8 School, said she felt blessed to receive one of this year’s awards. She described her style as hands on, with frequent use of arts and crafts to help students visualize what she is teaching.

“For example, I tape off part of the floor to teach a lesson on area,” said Turner, who has been teaching for 18 years, the last 16 with CMSD. “Pencil and paper does not always work.”

Turner graduated from CMSD’s John Hay High School in 1995 and lives near Anton Grdina. She said she wanted to be part of the District so students could “see someone who looks like me.”

“She is an inspiration to the entire Anton Grdina team,” Principal Latosha Glass said. “Her passion stands out; it’s evident in everything she does.”

Chrystal Urbansky, a fourth-grade teacher at Halle PreK-8 School, was shocked when she got the news. “It’s such an honor,” she said as that shock wore off.

Halle specializes in inquiry-based learning, a style where students take the lead and explore topics that spark their curiosity. A nominator praised Urbansky for innovations such as a Thanksgiving parade that began with a reading assignment and has turned into an annual community celebration.

“She’s the best,” said Mikhiana, one of her students. “We do fun work. She makes the work fun.”

Principal Nicholas Scheibelhood said Urbansky’s love of teaching is powerful, but the love she lavishes on her students might be even stronger.

“It’s cliché-ish, but true,” he said. “She works tirelessly for them.”

Excellence in Teaching Award winners must demonstrate instructional expertise, creativity and innovation in their classrooms, make learning engaging, vibrant and relevant for students and set a standard of excellence for all teachers. They agree to share their practices through means such as posting sample lessons, blogging and leading workshops.

Colleagues nominated 112 teachers representing 68 schools. Nominees were invited to submit applications that were screened, with names redacted, by a review team composed of PreK–12 and higher education, philanthropy, community and civic representatives.

The other winners include:

  • Darlene Jeter, Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School
  • John C. Dutton, MC2STEM High School 
  • Beth Longstreet, Orchard STEM School
  • Arley Trujillo, John Marshall School of Information Technology
  • Kara Aquino, Valley View Boys’ Leadership Academy
  • Austan Younker, Artemus Ward School
  • Jaya Neal, William Rainey Harper School 
  • Daysha Matthews, William Rainey Harper School

Each of the winners also will receive $5,000. They will be honored at a gala in November.