Winning Quartet

by John Holt on Sep 26, 2016

in Team & Family

Four individuals. Four journeys. Four winners.

On August 2, Michele Rodriguez, Spencer Russell, Eric Sweeney, and Amy Walker were presented with the 2016 Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. The quartet each received $20,000, and the annual recognition was established in honor of Edna C. Kinder, mother of Rich Kinder, who taught special education.

Read and learn more about each winning KIPP teacher below.  

Michelle Rodriguez, 2nd grade at KIPP Explore  

Helping second graders grow academically and develop quality character habits, Michele Rodriguez has been a part of KIPP Explore since 2011 and the grade level chair for the past four years.

Her students are constantly working together to solve problems and her classroom is one filled with kindness.  

When CBS visited to video an anti-bullying lesson for a Hidden Heroes segment, Michele’s students were very quick to find kind words to describe each other and were able to articulate exactly how using kind words made their teammates feel. This lesson reinforced what Michele teaches her students every day.

These words brought to life the culture of the classroom, filled with kindness that each student wants everyone to feel.

Living by the values of excel and persist, Michele has also overseen a couple of major curriculum shifts in second grade.

With the focus on conceptual understanding in math this year, Michele spent hours analyzing the new curriculum and then created plans for her team that would ensure students were understanding conceptually what they were learning in addition to direct instruction on state specific TKES that were not already embedded in the curriculum.

When middle of year data came back and showed some gaps in learning for students, Michele adjusted the plan to establish that students would be successful for the end of the year.

Michele has witnessed her second-grade team increase their growth goals in each of the last three years. During that time span, the number of students meeting typical growth goals in reading has risen from 60% to 67% and in math from 57% to 90%.

Michele has embraced the power of relationships and takes advantage of every opportunity and challenge thrown her way.  

Spencer Russell, 1st grade at KIPP Legacy Preparatory      

KIPP Legacy Preparatory’s Spencer Russell approaches teaching in a unique, yet highly effective way.

Having joined KIPP in the fall of 2012 as a Teach For America Corps member, Spencer spent three years teaching kindergarten before transitioning to first grade.  

He is one of the highest achieving teachers at KIPP Legacy. On the mid-year administration of STEP reading assessments, 76% of his students performed at or above grade level, an improvement of 14% from the previous year.

On the MAP reading assessment in 2014-15, 70.6% of his students met their typical growth goals, 41.2% met tiered growth goals, and 64.7% of his students were in the top two quartiles. On the MAP math assessment that year, 89.5% of students made typical growth, 42.1% made tiered growth, and 68.5% of his students were in the top two quartiles.

His commitment to his profession and students is clearly evident in many ways. He specifically moved to the North Forest community to build stronger relationships with his students, their families, and the greater community.

If one of his students has a difficult day, he further displays that level of commitment by traveling to their house for a home visit.

Spencer has begun to host workshops for parents to connect and learn from one another after seeing a gap in parent knowledge. After several sessions, Spencer took the initiative to share and invite other teachers to his workshops so they could create similar opportunities for families.

Instilling values of character, grit and empathy for others, Spencer is the embodiment of KIPP’s mission and what it means to keep promises made to our children and families sacred.

Eric Sweeney, 7th grade at KIPP 3D Academy

Coming to KIPP five years ago after teaching in New Orleans, Eric Sweeney has excelled as a middle school science instructor at KIPP 3D Academy.

His classroom is a place where science comes alive and regularly he has high school students returning to visit.

In each of the last three years his students have improved their MAP Science test scores. On this year’s spring administration, 83% of his students tested on or above the 50th percentile. Additionally, 56% of students tested college ready, scoring at the 75th percentile and above with a whopping 20% at the 90th percentile or higher.

During the 2014-15 school year, 73% of his students tested on or above grade level, the second highest in KIPP Houston (2% away from the highest). In the 2013-14 school year, 71% of his seventh graders tested on or above grade level, also the highest percentage in KIPP Houston.

Regionally, he has served as a curriculum leader for seventh grade science and led sessions at Regional PD as well as multi-session courses at KIPP 3D.

Away from the classroom, Eric coaches football and track, helps lead the sixth grade Utah trip and makes an appearance on the eighth grade trip leading his former students through his alma mater, Tulane. He’s been fishing with a group of students on a weekend and conquered a rock wall with a student who needed extra attention while dealing with difficult things at home.  

Aspiring to better engage with KIPP families, Eric spent last summer in a Spanish language immersion program and is now fluent.  

Eric’s passion, dedication and love for teaching is highly visible and his KIPP 3D family proudly recognizes him for it.  

Amy Walker, Kindergarten at KIPP Unity Primary  

One of five founding teachers as well as the literacy content lead for her team at KIPP Unity Primary, Amy Walker encourages her students inside and outside of the classroom.  

Last year her kindergarten class produced the highest scores in the school. At the same time, 100% of her students met their tiered growth goals in math and 96% scored at or above the 75th percentile.

On the literacy front, 96% of her students performed at or above grade level as measured by UChicago’s rigorous STEP assessment, with 68% of those students performing above grade-level. And on the end of the year MAP test, 96% of her students met their tiered growth goals, with 80% of them scoring at or above the 75th percentile in reading.

Each morning her students greet one another while at the end of the day they pair up and work on literacy activities waiting for the bus. Amy has them pair up because she believes it helps them learn to rely on each other.

Amy is a generous teacher who gifted her class mock-ups of accessories they got to wear for their end of year performance. She elected to do this because she wanted them to take a piece of their performance home.  

Besides her classroom accomplishments, Amy’s ability to connect with people is what many see as her biggest strength. She’s a natural relationship builder who helps out in any way needed.

With four years of experience in kindergarten at KIPP, Amy has impacted the lives of many of her students and likely will continue doing so in the years to come.

On September 24, Be the Change Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards Dinner was held at the River Oaks Country Club. To view photos from the evening, click here