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Excellence in Teaching Award winners honored (Video)





The 10 winners of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Awards vary in their profiles.

Some teach preschool, another career technical and culinary arts, yet another physical education and health. Two work with the District’s sizable population of English language learners. Three are relatively new in the field, with five or fewer years of experience; half have worked in the profession for 20 years or more. 

But they also have much in common. Some are the children of CMSD teachers, some are graduates of District schools. Most important, they all hold a central place in their hearts for urban education and strongly believe that every child can learn.

The partners in the three-year-old award program -- the George Gund and Cleveland foundations, the District and the Cleveland Teachers Union -- honored the winners Thursday night with a gala at the Ballroom at Park Lane. In addition to the award, the teachers each received $5,000.

Speaking at the gala, CEO Eric Gordon noted that the winning teachers represent less than half a percent of the instructional corps in a District with many outstanding educators. He pointed out that one of last year's winners, Catherine Duplisea, finished among four finalists for Ohio's 2019 Teacher of the Year.

After the audience watched a video featuring the winners and their principals (see above), Ann Mullin, the Gund Foundation's senior program officer for education, urged the group to make the teachers a focal point when talk with others turns to the Cleveland schools.

"That's your job -- change the narrative," she said. "We want them to think about this."

Winners, nominated by their colleagues, were picked because they set a standard for their peers. They will share practices to inspire others.

Learn more about the award here.

The CMSD News Bureau asked the winners for their teaching philosophies, what about their practices they will share with peers and how they will share it, what drew them to CMSD and urban education and who served as their role models.

Here are brief excerpts from their responses.

Brett Baisch, 9th- to 12th-grade physical education and health, Bard High School Early College West:

Baisch said he tries to do something “drastically innovative” each year, usually incorporating technology, but always with the goal of helping students develop “health enhancing behaviors.” He will open his classroom to other teachers and conduct professional development sessions for them.

“I know that the growth and effectiveness of health and physical education at my school is a reflection of the work I have done” he says. “It’s also inspiring to know that every day I have a role in shaping students’ lives and can make a difference in the people they become.”  

Sara Burdette, pre-kindergarten, Douglas MacArthur Girls’ Leadership Academy:

Burdette uses a centers-based model and uses music and movement to teach concepts. She builds trust with her students by telling them each day that she loves them.

“They are challenged to be problem solvers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, musicians, engineers, artists and whatever their minds and hearts desire,” Burdette says. “It is up to us to encourage the love of learning in our students and to do this, we must always show our students love."

Josette Compton, 9th-grade English, Cleveland High School for Digital Arts:

Compton reaches her students by integrating arts into her instruction. She draws inspiration from three scholarly, historical figures: W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson and Marva Collins.

“I am originally from Cleveland, but I have lived in other countries and cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta,” she says. “These experiences enhanced my social and cultural capital in ways that I never imagined. However, it was my secondary education that largely influenced how I navigated the world.  I want my students to have a similar, if not better experience.”

Daniel Ogilvy, pre-kindergarten, James A. Garfield PreK-8 School:

Ogilvy is driven to provide the best possible school experience to children whose education is just beginning. He takes a holistic approach to teaching and uses innovations not typically found in preschool.

Ogilvy’s role models? “My wife and my kids. Emily (his wife) is a teacher, and she is incredibly empathetic and caring,” he says. “I also think about my kids and what I would want them to have in their school experience. I believe I have had the opportunity to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ with the teammates I have had, principals and colleagues. But it all starts with my family.”

Leslie Perry-Hanley, 9th- to 12th-grade English, Cleveland School of Architecture and Design:

Perry-Hanley strives to give students “what they need to be successful in all aspects of life.” She believes in trying new things, learning from her mistakes and being as transparent as possible.

“My own experience in education drew me to urban education and CMSD,” she says. “I attended CMSD schools for part of my school career, and I felt that my presence would be beneficial for many students who are a lot like me, undergoing similar challenges.”

Damaris Sanchez, 2nd grade, Clark PreK-8 School:

Sanchez began school as an English language learner, and her experiences have shaped her approach to teaching. Many of her students are learning and mastering English, but she builds on their backgrounds, experiences and prior knowledge.

“Cleveland is a very diverse city with a high Hispanic population and being Hispanic myself, I knew I had a lot of personal experiences that I could use to offer my students an exceptional learning experience,” she says. “College can prepare you for a career, but life experiences, struggle and poverty prepare you to fight, to work hard, to appreciate, to be humble and to never give up.”

Stacey Smith, fourth grade, Willow PreK-8 School:

Smith’s philosophy is that every one of her students will succeed in something during the year, from improving handwriting to learn multiplication facts to strengthening social and emotional skills. She models the power of positive thinking for her class.

“It is my honor to teach in the same district that I graduated from,” says Smith, who went to the Jane Addams Business Careers Center. “I received a great education and look at my past 19 years of teaching in Cleveland as a privilege. To be able to teach my kids and proudly boast to them that I once sat exactly where they are sitting with the help of phenomenal teachers, I would say that I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Lisa Swet, kindergarten to 8th grade English as a Second Language, Marion C. Seltzer PreK-8 School:

Swet stresses to students from the start of the year that their class is a family that will stick together and take care of each other. She encourages a growth mindset, posting kid friendly sayings such as “Mistakes help me learn.”

“Urban students, especially those below the poverty line, face many obstacles that may impede their attempts to become successful learners,” says Swet, citing her own experiences as a child. “They deserve the highest quality of teachers who advocate for their students and are passionate about what they do. I can truly make a difference in my community by being a part of CMSD.” 

Michael Szalkowski, 10th- to 12th-grade career technical and culinary arts, Jane Addams Business Careers Center:

Szalkowski teaches students who staff Jane Addams’ Executive Grille and its school bus-turned-food truck. He seeks to inspire creativity and will share with peers a lesson plan for developing customer service and work ethic.

“My role model was Chef Noble Massie at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.,” he says. “He taught with an ease and calmness that never wavered. Mistakes were the best learning lessons and everyone was encouraged and challenged daily.”

Tamera Zelwin, 7th- and 8th-grade math, Orchard STEM School:

Zelwin believes that learning is fun and works to find out what will make it fun for her students. She incorporates problem-based learning, STEM and technology into lessons that are hands-on, interactive and discovery based.

“I have always planned to teach in urban education,” she says. “My philosophy of education is based on the Brazilian educator Paulo Friere's philosophy of changing the world within which we live. I have a fundamental belief in social justice and that education is the pathway by which people can transform their lives. I want to impart this to my students.”