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Award winning teachers honored at gala (Video, photo gallery)

The winners of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award may differ a bit in approach, but they share a commitment to urban education and a belief that all students can thrive in the classroom.

“Great education should be everywhere, not just in the suburbs,” said Timothy Trepal, who teaches 11th- and 12th-grade Advanced Placement and honors social studies courses at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine. “I chose CMSD to make a difference.”

Trepal was one of 10 winners honored Oct. 16 at the Ballroom at Park Lane. They were surprised with news of the distinction in their classrooms in September. Trepal has been teaching for six years, all with CMSD; some of the others have been in the profession for more than 20 or even 30 years.

The George Gund and Cleveland foundations, the Cleveland Teachers Union and CMSD started the annual awards program in 2016. Each of the teachers also received $5,000.

The goal is to showcase teachers who set a standard of excellence for their peers. Winners are expected to share their practice with other teachers through means such as conducting professional development or opening their classrooms to observers. 

This year's winners stress that they build relationships with students and take into account individual differences.

“It is important to recognize that students come to the classroom with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. I feel it is my job to use that knowledge to move each student forward,” said Marc Pohlman, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade math at Charles A. Mooney PreK-8 School. Pohlman's wife, Alexis, won the Excellence in Teaching Award two years ago.

Helen Robinson teaches special-education students in the first through third grades at Wade Park PreK-8 School. She said she starts with what students know about a subject and helps build their confidence in learning.

“When scholars say, ‘I can do this. I am a reader, thinker and problem solver,’ these affirming words are the beginning of great success for them,” said Robinson, who has been with CMSD for 32 years.

CMSD serves as a magnet for teachers who have urban education in their blood, but in one case, the District’s portfolio of school models helped close the deal.

Rebekah Ward, who teaches ninth-grade English at Facing History New Tech High, moved here from Cincinnati because of the high school’s emphasis on social justice. She said she “felt immediately at home.”

Hallie McEntire, who teaches first grade at Louis Agassiz School, did her student teaching with the District and hired on 18 years ago before graduating from college. “It was the only school system I wanted to work for,” she said.

McEntire is considering several options for sharing her practice but has not yet settled on a choice.

“Honestly, I still don’t think I am over the shock of winning this award,” she said.

This year’s other winners include: Maureen Anderson, physical education, Douglas MacArthur Girls' Leadership Academy; Purnima Cheruvu, 10th- and 11th-grade chemistry, Cleveland School of the Arts; Andrese Howard,10th- to 12th- grade English, Lincoln-West School of Science and Health; Kristen Lasley, fifth- to eighth-grade special education, Riverside School; and Kittty Merk, sixth grade, Orchard STEM.