The Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award, named after Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg's mentor, recognizes outstanding teachers from the KIPP Team & Family. The winning teachers are nominated by their school leaders and are recognized for their dedication to improving outcomes for students in underserved communities. Each winner receives $10,000 in recognition of his or her exemplary work in the classroom.
This year, Isaac Owoyemi, an exceptional math teacher at KIPP Houston High School, was presented the award at KIPP School Summit by his son, Temi Owoyemi. Isaac is not only a KIPP teacher but a KIPP parent with three children having attended KIPP and now attending or having graduated from universities across the nation including Rice University, Tufts University, and Wesleyan University.
Isaac is known for reaching higher by committing himself to every student that walks into his classroom as if he or she were his own child. His motto is, “Fairness is giving everyone what they need,” and he lives that motto every day. Isaac has uses instructional technology, analyzes student data, and provides tailored support for all of his students. He’s also introduced programs to help his students better prepare for the ACT, and in turn college. He spends extra time tutoring students and ensuring every lesson he plans is impeccable, inspiring other KIPP Houston teachers. His passion and commitment to teaching have not subsided even after seventeen years of teaching. He exemplifies the heart and soul of what it takes to be a life-changing teacher.
Finding a Way - Student Growth and Technology Innovation
Year after year, Isaac’s students continue to outperform district averages. Isaac is a pioneer in technology-embedded supports. Five years ago he received a class set of computers through DonorsChoose and began using Khan Academy and Braingenie to analyze student data and provide targeted support. He uses the data he gathers to focus on student misconceptions, opportunities to reteach, and one-on-one support. Students are expected to practice outside of class, and he holds them accountable by following up individually, calling home, and reinforcing the need for practice in daily conversations.
Beliefs and Character
Beyond classroom success, Isaac believes wholeheartedly in KIPP’s mission. Isaac also hosts an annual advisory lock-in. Picture fifteen fifteen-year-olds and Isaac playing video games and eating Flaming Hot Cheetos. Although he probably didn’t eat the Cheetos himself or play the games, what he did do was give them a space to be boys, an opportunity outside of class to build relationships, and convey the message that he cares. He is a model for all teachers.
Last year, the KHHS Leadership students were tasked with designing a new school based on all they had learned about successful charters and turnaround schools. As a part of their research, they studied KIPP’s Framework for Excellent Teaching and discussed what being a successful teacher entails. One student discussed what the teachers in her building would be like. On the slide describing teacher requirements, she had a picture of Isaac. She wanted all teachers to have the same knowledge, dedication, kindness, and passion as he does.
Lara Wheatley, KHHS school leader, explained it like this, “It does not matter if I ask our students who their favorite teacher is or which teacher pushes them the hardest, the answer is almost always the same – Isaac Owoyemi.” Isaac is the bedrock of the KHHS community and continues to positively impact the students and faculty he works with daily.