Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award Recipients
Phillip Baker is a 20-year veteran of business and engineering management turned National Board-certified science teacher. Baker currently is a chemistry and physics teacher at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Ark. He was nominated for the Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award by McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science senior Tristan Sokol. Sokol writes that “Mr. Baker taught us not only about chemical potential but about the great potential each and every student had. His impact on my life is the direct cause for me and my classmates going to top-tier universities across the country, from a town that had only seen a handful of students ever travel outside the state.” Baker has been integral in developing and implementing rigorous curricula into the Huntsville High School science department to increase the likelihood of student success. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Arkansas, completed the executive program at the University of Michigan Business School and achieved National Board Certification in 2010.
Christopher Esposito, a social studies teacher from South High School in Downers Grove, Ill., graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. He began his career as a social studies teacher believing that “all students can learn, and it is the role of the teacher to make sure all are engaged in the process.” In the 12 years since, Esposito has earned a master's degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. in curriculum studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and, in 2011, he became the social studies department chair at South High School in Downers Grove. He still follows the same basic principle that guided the operation of his classroom when he started his career, saying “my students now have a teacher who not only sees the importance of educating every individual as an individual but also as an important, functioning member of the society. They have a teacher who understands educating as a joint and collective process, where power is shared, and the goal is the creation of a better society.” Confirming his mission, nominator Laura Ledvora, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences senior, said “from the class environment, class discussions and the assigned readings, I learned to question myself, to question the world and to determine what I truly believe. This history class provided the environment, the encouragement, the knowledge and the reasoning skills necessary to turn me into a thinking human being. I would not be the same person I am today had I not been enrolled in this class.”
Kelly O'Keefe-Boettcher is an American Authors and International Baccalaureate English teacher from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Wis., who can make a teenager feel like her classroom is the best place to be every day for 52 minutes, according to nominator Jessica Holden. Graduating from the School of Education and Social Policy in June, Holden nominated O'Keefe-Boettcher because "there will always be a young, confused, unloved, ignored, hidden beauty and talent of a student that Ms. O'Keefe has the power to make whole again." She challenges her students to read and write critically while showing her caring and respectful attitude towards everyone she is in contact with throughout her day. O'Keefe-Boettcher received her B.A. and M.A degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1987 and 2002, respectively, and her teaching license from Alverno College in 1998.
David Quinn is a teacher of English and the theory of knowledge at Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Wash. He was nominated for the award by McCormick engineering senior Taiyo Sogawa who credits Quinn with teaching him to think critically, a skill which he is able to apply to his work in computer engineering. Quinn, who takes a student-centered approach to teaching, also served as a mentor for Sogawa in and out of the classroom. He rarely stands at the front of the classroom, reflecting a style that allows students to guide the learning. Quinn asks, “Why are my questions about a text more important than my students’ questions?” Sogawa indicates “Mr. Quinn did not simply tell me to follow my dreams; he was and is a living example of someone who has found his passion and refused to let the normal expectations of who teaches high school stand in his way.” Before becoming a teacher, Quinn was an actor, whose credits include hosting the Primetime Emmy-nominated science series "3-2-1 Contact" and winning a Peabody Award as the host of "I Have AIDS, A Teenager’s Story" (a chronicle of Ryan White). He has made regular appearances in national commercials and was a child actor on "Sesame Street." While teaching, Quinn co-founded Allrecipes.com, now the No. 1 food website in the world, and served as its chairman until 2006. Since joining Edmonds-Woodway High School, Quinn has become the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and increased full-IB diploma registration by 100 percent since 2011.
Julianne Schrick is a nationally board-certified high school mathematics teacher with more than 25 years of experience. She has been teaching at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., since 1995. Her teaching philosophy is based on instilling in students, regardless of their backgrounds or aptitudes, a belief that they can take on hard challenges and succeed. This belief is exemplified by the four students who collaborated on her nomination: Danielle Littman and Rachel Abrahams, both in the School of Communications, and Jonathan Kaplan and Daniel Kaplan, both in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. They wrote that Schrick would “believe in us until we believed in each other and until we believed in ourselves.” Over the last six years, more than 80 percent off her AP Calculus BC students have received a score of 5. Schrick received her B.A. in mathematics and M.S. in education from Dominican College of San Rafael.
Winners of the 2012 Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award with President Schapiro, Special Assistant to the President Eugene Lowe, and Commencement Speaker Paul Farmer.
Rafeal Arechabelata an honors and AP physics teacher at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was nominated by five Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences seniors. Michael Dornbusch, Jonathan Schwartz, Matthew Adam Bartnovsky, Mitchell Drew and Kelly Flowers each expressed admiration for their Cuba-born teacher who received his undergraduate degree in the former Soviet Union. Of his own teaching philosophy, Arechabaleta says: “Education provides students the latitude to form their own opinions and to challenge themselves and society around them. Having been educated in Communist Cuba where free thought was discouraged and educational resources were limited, I truly appreciate educational freedom and strive to provide my students the opportunity to design their own curriculum.” He is the second teacher from University School of Nova Southeastern University to be awarded the Distinguished Secondary Teaching Award.
John F. Belcaster
John Belcaster is a Northwestern University alumnus who, prior to teaching, worked alongside now President Barack Obama at the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland and teaches honors American and world history at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago. He previously taught AP economics and history at Chicago’s Northside College Preparatory High School, where he taught Weinberg senior Patricia Radkowski, who nominated him for the award. She describes Belcaster as “passionate about his position and his students and incredibly educated.” Tim Devine, principal of Walter Payton College Prep, praises him as “unparalleled at creating a student-centered environment.”
Amanda Bright teaches journalism and composition at Mattoon High School in Mattoon, Ill., where she developed the journalism curriculum. She is student advisor to the high school’s award-winning newspaper. Medill senior Sarah Eberspacher credits her former teacher with inspiring her to pursue journalism in college. In describing her teaching method, Bright notes: “The moment I become static and unresponsive to the changes in my students and our culture, I will lose all effectiveness.” Eberspacher says her former teacher has no cause to worry: “When I left Mattoon High School, the notion of studying journalism in college was relatively nonexistent. Just four years later, there are three or four students heading off each year with plans to become the next Al Neuharth, Bob Costas or Anna Quindlen. The woman behind that is Mrs. Bright.”
Christine Jawork teaches African and Asian studies at Harriton Senior High School in Rosemont, Pa., where she also directs the Students Building Community Team and coaches the Mock Trial Team and World Affairs Club. Lauren Marcuson, her school prinicipal, describes Jawork as “an advocate for her students.” Jawork says her primary goal as an educator “is to help students re-discover their own passion for knowledge, which, by high school, has often long been in latency.” Weinberg senior Benjamin Goldberg nominated his former teacher and says that she “forced her students to confront unchallenged assumption and to think critically about history and the study of culture. She taught with an incredible energy and charisma, bringing her whole self into the classroom and inspiring us to learn. I looked forward to her class every day.”
Winners of the 2011 Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award with President Schapiro, Special Assistant to the President Eugene Lowe, and Commencement Speaker Stephen Colbert.
Theresa Fischer teaches AP Economics and American Government and Politics at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Conn., and is the advisor for Model UN. “During my time at Northwestern as an economics major, I have found that Ms. Fischer’s AP Economics class prepared me very well for collegiate academics,” said Nicole Marie Ablondi, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “AP economics and Model UN were without doubt some of the most challenging and most rewarding of all my high school experiences,” she said. “At the end of my high school career, I learned more than how to find the deadweight loss on a graph or research a topic for a debate -- I learned how to believe in myself and what I could accomplish. Fischer is widely acclaimed for loving what she does and truly caring about her students,” Ablondi said.
John Holloran began his tenure at Oregon Episcopal School (OES) by introducing himself and his partner with a skit, in which they pretended to be on cell phones, bantering, for example, about their transition from schools in New York. Then Holloran, who teaches history, hesitantly asked, ‘Do you think they know we’re gay?’ said Monica Josselyn Scheer, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. An eruption of laughter followed. “I can remember so many meaningful moments with John,” she said, stressing the importance he placed on listening. At the start of each class he would ask what the students wanted to learn that day. “He often would reference something that had happened in chapel or a conversation he had with a colleague to make his lessons relevant to our interests,” she said. “He taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned -- that listening is the most important thing you can do for someone.”
Johnson previously taught high school in Jamaica, where he is originally from, in the Bahamas before joining the faculty of University School of Nova Southeastern University (Upper School) in Davie, Florida , where he serves as Curriculum Coordinator for World Languages. One of his nominators, Alex Leibowich, who will graduate from the School of Communication, was a student in his Spanish class. “I learned more about myself, about the people around me and about the human experience as a whole, than any language could have ever taught me,” he said. What Johnson taught, “could not be translated into Spanish or any language for that matter; it’s something you had to experience.” Beyond that, Leibowich said, “He taught us how to be proud of life – to appreciate it for everything that it is and everything that it will be, no matter what obstacles we face.” (Johnson also was nominated by Carl Michael Blumenfeld, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.)
Stohr heads up the freshman honors program in the English department and is an adviser for the yearbook at LaSalle-Peru Township High School in LaSalle, Ill. “Ms. Stohr teaches her students much more than Greek mythology or Adobe InDesign,”said Samantha Rose Reed, a senior in the School of Education and Social Policy. “With honesty and respect, she coaches them through some of the most difficult and formative years of their lives.” The countless hours Stohr worked before and after class, particularly in her advocacy for the yearbook, also was noted by Reed. Each year she takes the yearbook staff to camp in the summer, prepares them for journalism competitions and submits their work for scholastic recognition. “I still have coffee with Georgia Stohr or visit her classroom whenever I go home for a few days….she has become as much my friend as my teacher,” Reed said.