Winners of the Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching 2011 

Twenty Highly Effective DCPS Teachers Honored With Rubenstein Awards

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A Message of Congratulations from Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson

I had the honor of beginning my tenure as Interim Chancellor with “A Standing Ovation for DC Teachers” last fall, a district-wide celebration that recognized and rewarded more than 660 super teachers charged with educating our future leaders.

Today, I have the proud distinction of specially recognizing twenty of these outstanding, highly effective educators with the Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching in honor of their hard work, talent and dedication to the students of the District.

The award, which comes with a $5,000 prize, is possible thanks to the generosity of Mr. David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group and chairman of the Kennedy Center. He shares our belief that highly effective teachers should be rewarded for the important work they do every day and so funded these awards to underscore that belief.

These teachers were selected from the more than 400 letters of nomination that poured in from parents, current and former students, their colleagues and community members; each one attesting to the fact that excellent teachers are the key lever of change in the district, and these are indeed among the best.

I appreciate the critical work they do for our students. Their commitment empowers our students to achieve excellence and reinforces my conviction that DCPS is on its way to becoming a world-class system.

Congratulations to them on being chosen for this distinction.


Kaya Henderson,
Interim Chancellor

Alka Aggarwal, Turner Elementary School, Fourth Grade


Ms. Alka Aggarwal teaches fourth grade at Turner Elementary School and has been with DCPS for ten years, including three years at Turner and seven years at Milford Green Elementary School.

Ms. Aggarwal is Turner’s leader for the National Science Lab and participates in the District Department of the Environment’s outreach to educate students about environmental issues and bring gardens to schools.

“Ms. Aggarwal is truly an amazing teacher. Her teaching style is fun and engaging. The students in her class have made tremendous gains. I have witnessed her making many sacrifices for her students. She works hard pushing her students to achieve beyond their expectations. She motivates her students by affirming a genuine love and concern for them which is heartfelt.” - DCPS Parent

Melanie Agnew, Coolidge High School, English


Ms. Melanie Agnew teaches English at Coolidge High School and has been with DCPS for three years. In her role as English Department Chair, Ms. Agnew has initiated curriculum maps for every grade level and has created a department website.

Ms. Agnew is a member of the Professional Development Committee at Coolidge and served as a DCPS Teachers Central to Leadership Fellow during the summer of 2010.

“Ms. Agnew’s room is a haven for every lost soul in our building. At all hours of the day, you can enter Ms. Agnew’s room and find administrators, teachers, students, or custodians pouring their hearts out to her. She never turns away anyone who needs her. Ms. Agnew has been able, through constant work and self-reflection, to teach in a way that is both informative and deeply meaningful. Her patience seems endless, and the joy she takes in her job is both immediately evident and contagious.” - Colleague

Shirley Battle, Maury Elementary School, Kindergarten


Ms. Shirley Battle has taught at Maury Elementary School since she began her teaching career 18 years ago. Ms. Battle grew up in DC and is herself a product of DCPS. 

She is a former recipient of the Sally Mae First Year Outstanding Teacher of the Year award and currently chairs Maury’s Local School Advisory Team. 

Ms. Battle has held various roles at Maury over the years including drama teacher, cheerleading coach, and mentor teacher. Ms. Battle also helped to establish and run ELITE, ‘Elegant Ladies in Training for Excellence,’ an etiquette group for girls.

“From the moment the children step foot in her classroom, Ms. Battle is clear with students and their parents that she has high expectations. She demands a lot of these young learners and their parents. In the beginning, these academic demands challenged my son. We were concerned that an environment that focused too heavily on academics would turn him off. That worry has not come to fruition. He talks about math. He looks at house numbers that have three digits and reads them to me. We look for patterns in the numbers. At the end of the day, he lies in bed and looks around the room and excitedly spells objects.” - DCPS Parent

Karen Bell, Emery Education Campus, Fourth through Sixth Grade Special Education

Ms. Karen Bell is a fourth, fifth, and sixth grade special education teacher at Emery Education Campus and is currently in her tenth year in DCPS.

Ms. Bell is also a mentor teacher, Teaching and Learning Framework Fellow, member of the Teacher Selection Team, and an officer of Phi Delta Kappa, Beta Chapter.

In her spare time, Ms. Bell is a mentor with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a volunteer manager for Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, and board chair for Catch of the Day Worldwide Evangelistic Ministries.

Ms. Bell is a native Washingtonian and a DCPS graduate of Coolidge High School.

“I think back to the first day Ms. Bell got a new student. He was a very quiet kid, didn’t say much to anyone at all. When you spoke to him, he just looked and stared. The days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Let’s just say that he is now one of the most outgoing kids at Emery, and I credit that to Ms. Bell’s hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Ms. Bell is an example of what it truly means to be an outstanding teacher and educator, but more importantly, this award could not go to a better human being.” - Colleague

Alisa Bingham Halliburton, Shaw Middle School, Special Education Autism


Ms. Alisa Bingham Halliburton teaches sixth, seventh, and eighth grade special education autism at Shaw Middle School.

Prior to her eight years at Shaw, Ms. Bingham Halliburton taught at Mamie D. Lee School. She holds advanced degrees in special education and bilingual special education, has been honored as the 1996 Miss Black Deaf America, and was a recipient of the 1999 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award.

Ms. Bingham Halliburton has taught in DCPS for ten years.

“I have never worked with a teacher so hard working and dedicated to the students. Ms. Halliburton always puts the students and their needs first. Most of the students are non-verbal. Ms. Halliburton made that easy for them by teaching them sign language. She always tells us, ‘Help the students, but don’t let them depend on you. They must be as independent as possible.’” - Colleague

Tanya Copeland, King Elementary School, Pre-Kindergarten

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Ms. Tanya Copeland has spent her 32 year teaching career at M.L. King, Jr. Elementary School where she teaches pre-kindergarten and where she has also served as a mentor teacher. 

Ms. Copeland grew up in DC, is a DCPS graduate from Wilson High School, and is the daughter of a former DCPS teacher. 

As the first teacher in DCPS to achieve National Board Certification in Early Childhood, Ms. Copeland has mentored over 20 DCPS colleagues in achieving this certification. 

Ms. Copeland chairs the Local School Advisory Team, participates in teacher selection with the DCPS Recruitment and Selection Team, and is an adjunct professor at American University.

“Ms. Tanya Copland has been a wonderful influence on my children. She did such an excellent job with my son, I couldn’t wait until my daughter became of age to be in her class. I have seen my children change from little toddlers to little citizens with the help of Ms. Copeland. My child loves school and is eager to learn. The progress she has made from the beginning of this school year is amazing, and we owe it all to Ms. Copeland.” - DCPS Parent

Mahmood Dorosti, Ballou High School, Physics


Mr. Mahmood Dorosti teaches physics at Ballou High School and has served the DCPS community in a wide variety of teaching roles for more than 20 years. 

He is a licensed physics, mathematics, and computer science teacher and has taught in cooperation with Oklahoma University and the University of Maryland. 

Mr. Dorosti has participated in the Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering and undertaken post-graduate study at Johns Hopkins University, the George Washington University, and Georgetown University. 

In 2000, Mr. Dorosti’s class was visited by President Clinton and the CEO of AOL, Stephen Case.

“I have watched [Mr. Dorosti] mesmerize his students with real life applications of complex mathematical theories. His students are encouraged to question what they don’t understand and think critically about what they believe they know. His love for learning is contagious and inspiring to anyone who knows him. The administration never hesitates to take visitors, planned or unplanned, to his classroom to observe what model classroom instruction and management look like.” - Colleague

Eduardo Gamarra, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Seventh and Eighth Grade Humanities and Literature


Eduardo Gamarra, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Seventh and Eighth Grade Humanities and Literature
Mr. Eduardo Gamarra teaches seventh and eighth grade humanities and literature at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, where he has taught for 17 years.

Mr. Gamarra has been nominated for the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award and has been recognized by the Oyster-Adams community for his deep commitment to the bilingual program, his efforts to develop inclusion programs, and his positive influence on both current and former students.

Mr. Gamarra has taught for more than 35 years at the primary, secondary and university levels.

“Our son has delved into his work for Señor Gamarra this year in a way we have not seen before. He wants to achieve at the highest level for this beloved man, but he also wants to reach higher for himself. What a gift from a truly gifted teacher.” – DCPS Parent

Estella Gonzales, Marie Reed Elementary School, Third Grade English as a Second Language (ESL)

Ms. Estella B. Gonzales is a third grade English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Marie Reed Elementary School, where she has taught for the past 19 years and where she has served as ESL chairperson for 15 years. Ms. Gonzales has been with DCPS for 23 years, having previously taught at H.D. Cooke, and her son and grandson are both DCPS graduates.

“[Ms. Gonzales] has a rare combination of skills that enrich the lives of each child, classroom, and family that she touches. She coordinates our English Language Learners Program, reassuring families and building a rapport with students that leads directly to their academic success. Students quickly recognize her as a person they can trust. Her calm, caring, and consistent instruction guides them to find their voice.” - Colleague

Gladys Hetherington, Brookland Education Campus, Kindergarten

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Ms. Gladys Hetherington teaches kindergarten at Brookland Education Campus where she also serves as WTU building representative and chairs the Local School Restructuring Team. 

Since joining Brookland in 1992, Ms. Hetherington has also served as a literacy coach, building manager, after school director, and summer school principal. 

Ms. Hetherington graduated from Cardozo High School as valedictorian after immigrating to the U.S. from the Ivory Coast at age 17 and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Education Leadership from Walden University.

“Before arriving at Brookland, I felt completely hopeless and as though there were no place where my son would want to learn and grow. After just a few months in Ms. Hetherington’s class, my son’s attitude toward learning and his feelings about school have completely changed. Ms. Hetherington brings love, discipline, and encouragement and is committed both to student’s academic excellence and to their social and emotional development.” - DCPS Parent

Tiffany Johnson, Ronald Brown Middle School, Seventh Grade Special Education

Ms. Tiffany Johnson teaches seventh grade math and reading special education at Ron Brown Middle School. 

Before joining Ron Brown two years ago, Ms. Johnson taught at Sousa Middle School for four years. She is the seventh grade team leader and has been honored as the Ward 7 Teacher of the Year twice.

“Ms. Johnson is a modern day ‘Good Samaritan,’ daily providing the counseling, nurturing, and discipline that our youths so desperately need. Ms. Johnson is extremely dedicated to one of the most difficult jobs in the system. Yet, Ms. Johnson manages to daily motivate her students to see beyond their personal issues and to strive for educational excellence. She’s a dynamo who brings ideas and energy to any situation. She’s always looking for a way to make her own practices better.” - Colleague

Tahiira Lee, Marshall Elementary School, Primary Montessori

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Ms. Tahiira Lee teaches primary Montessori at Marshall Elementary School and has been with DCPS for 35 years. 

A graduate of Dunbar High School herself, Ms. Lee is also the parent of three DCPS graduates. Ms. Lee is a member of the Local School Restructuring Team and has been honored as both Teacher of the Month and Teacher of the Year at Marshall.

“Ms. Lee provides a consistent, safe, and nurturing environment where our child has thrived. This past spring, I was reading a story to [my son] before he went to bed. It was a book of Langston Hughes’s poem, ‘My People’. Before reading the story, I began to tell him who Langston Hughes was. Imagine my surprise when he said, ‘Langston Hughes!’ and began to recite a Langston Hughes poem! Ms. Lee doesn’t simply teach what is required by the curriculum. She enhances the curriculum to enhance the horizons of her students.” - DCPS Parent

Barbara Menard, School Without Walls, Mathematics

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Ms. Barbara Menard is a mathematics teacher at the School Without Walls, a position she has held for three years. 

Prior to her tenure with DCPS, Ms. Menard retired from 40 years of teaching and administration in California and Rhode Island, where she was the recipient of numerous prestigious national and state awards and recognitions, including the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching; the Rhode Island State Teacher of the Year in Mathematics two years in a row; and the 21st Century Educator of the Year. 

Throughout her career, Ms. Menard has been involved in a variety of student groups including serving as a tennis coach, class advisor, and student government advisor.

“One after the other, teachers reported how my daughter was failing to thrive, how her poor attitude in class was only second to her disruptive behavior. Barbara Menard came into our lives in that first year [in DCPS]. Now [my daughter] had a teacher who held high standards for her but didn’t beat her up with the bar by which she was being measured. The sadness that cloaked my daughter’s beauty slipped off. Ms. Menard never wavered in her faith. There was never a setback so massive that made Barbara lower her expectations. Not only has she taught my child math, she taught my child to see and recognize wisdom in herself and others.” - DCPS Parent

Jane Menell, Mann Elementary School, First through Third Grade Reading Specialist

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Ms. Jane Menell has taught at Mann Elementary School for the past 17 years, where she is currently a reading specialist for first, second, and third grades. 

Ms. Menell has spent her 27 year teaching career at DCPS, and her children are Murch Elementary School graduates. 

Ms. Menell has served on the Local School Restructuring Team and the Student Support Team and has been a cooperating teacher for student teachers from American University.

“When our son entered first grade, he was woefully behind most of his classmates in his ability to read. With Ms. Mennell’s persistence and oversight, in less than one year he now reads above grade level and to our delight, he now reads for pleasure. Without [Ms. Menell’s] gentle yet demanding style of teaching, we don’t know where he would be today. Her ability to move our child so far in such a short period of time is truly remarkable.” - DCPS Parent

Debbie Pridgen, Patterson Elementary School, Sixth Grade

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Ms. Debbie Pridgen teaches sixth grade at Patterson Elementary School, where she has worked for ten years. 

Ms. Pridgen has spent her nearly 25 year teaching career in DCPS and is currently a member of the Local School Advisory Team, grade-level team leader, ‘Family Math Night’ co-chairperson, and summer coordinator for the Youth Mentor Program. 

Ms. Pridgen was recognized by Who’s Who in Education in 2008 and is the parent of a Ballou High School graduate.

“Ms. Pridgen was and still is my favorite teacher. When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher just didn’t understand me. My grades and self-esteem were very low. Ms. Pridgen would always smile and speak to me, and I wanted so badly to be in her class the next year. Yes, I got to be in Ms. Pridgen’s class in the sixth grade! My grades were excellent. I made honor role every grading period. Ms. Pridgen set very high standards for us because she believed in her students. She has the ability to make everyone want to learn and try to do their very best. She really cares about her students.” - Student

Jennifer Ramsey, Eaton Elementary School, Fourth Grade

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Ms. Jennifer Ramsey teaches fourth grade at Eaton Elementary. Prior to joining DCPS, Ms. Ramsey was a gymnastic and dance instructor and also taught at The Doar Charter School for the Performing Arts for three years where she gained valuable experience using the arts in education. 

At Eaton, Ms. Ramsey works to integrate art into her lessons with the goal of inspiring children.

“[My son] does not like school. He is dyslexic and autistic. Learning is hard for him and being around people and engaged in a classroom can be next to impossible. I thought I was beyond hoping that my son could ever improve and catch up. I am happy to say that under the direction of Ms. Ramsey, [he] is having his best year ever. It would be easy for Ms. Ramsey to give up on my son. She has made it her personal mission to ensure that my child gets the education to which he is entitled. I have not seen the kind of dedication to students and level of energey that Ms. Ramsey has in any other teacher.” - DCPS Parent

Margaret Ricks, School Within a School at Peabody, Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten

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Mrs. Margaret Ricks is one of the founders of the School Within a School at Peabody, where the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education has been practiced for 18 years. 

A native Washingtonian, Mrs. Ricks has been in DCPS for 25 years and is a DCPS graduate from Eastern High School. Mrs. Ricks is a member of the teacher advisory board for the Center for Inspired Teaching, a former assessor for the National Board Certification of Teachers, and has been honored with the Masonic Scottish Rite Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009.

 “Mrs. Ricks doesn’t just teach, she nurturers. She gives room for exploration. She nudges when nudging is needed and lets my daughter find her way to solving a problem herself. Her classroom instructions always seem to come around a needed life skill like the importance of caring for other living things, sending a letter, or growing your own vegetables.” - DCPS Parent

William Taylor, Browne Education Campus, Fifth Grade Mathematics


A DCPS graduate himself, Mr. William Taylor began his teaching career at Kimball Elementary, where he taught for three years. During that time, he was featured by BBC America and The Atlantic, and he appeared in the documentary “Waiting for Superman”. 

This fall, Mr. Taylor moved to Browne Education Campus, where he teaches fifth grade math. In May, Mr. Taylor will receive a Master’s degree in Education Administration from Trinity University. Mr. Taylor credits his success to the mentoring of his former principal at Kimball, Ms. Sheila West Miller.

“My grandson enjoyed every minute of being in Mr. Taylor’s class. Math was not always my grandson’s favorite subject, but somehow Mr. Taylor got him to really take a liking to the subject. When he was in Mr. Taylor’s class, his math grades as well as his test scores were at an all time high. To this day, he continues to make good grades in math. By the end of the year, my grandson was not only a better student academically, but his mindset had changed.” - DCPS Grandparent

Patricia West, CHOICE Academy High School, Social Studies


Ms. Patricia West is a World History I and II, U.S. History, U.S. Government, and DC History teacher at CHOICE Academy High School, where she has worked for the past nine years. Ms. West is the Social Studies Department Co-Chair and is a member of the Local School Advisory Team, School Chapter Advisory Committee, Safety and Security Committee, and the Speakers and Activities Committee.

Ms. West was identified as a candidate for the DCPS Effective Teaching Video Project for the 2011-2012 school year. A 25-year veteran, Ms. West has also taught at Johnson Middle School and Shaw Middle School.
She is a DCPS graduate from the School Without Walls and the proud parent of a Hardy Middle School student.

“I am writing this on behalf of the best teacher I ever had. I made some wrong choices in my junior year of high school. That’s how I ended up at CHOICE Academy. Ms. West inspired me to reach for goals that I never thought of. She said that I could change my future if I just believed in my ability. I never dreamed of going to college. I went back [to my home school] and never got in trouble again. Ms. West taught me how to succeed. I pushed myself. I applied for college. I am now in my sophomore year at Trinity. I owe all of this to Ms. West. I guess it was my destiny to end up at CHOICE, so I could be touched by an angel.” – DCPS Student

Amy Wopat, Wilson High School, Spanish

Ms. Amy Wopat has taught Spanish and AP Spanish to students in grades nine through twelve at Wilson High School for the past five years. 

In 2008, Ms. Wopat founded Wilson's 'Spanish Immersion Day,' a full day language immersion experience celebrating Spanish language and culture for students and community members. Ms. Wopat led a service learning trip for ten students to Costa Rica during the summer of 2010, is Wilson's World Languages Department Chair, and was the recipient of the Presidential Scholars Distinguished Teacher Award. She is currently spending the year on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange in Mexico.

“My son was not one of the best students in the class. These years were particularly difficult for him in and out of school, and he struggled much of the time, and yet Ms. Wopat never gave up on him and was available during lunches and after school for extra help. She even offered to help him after hours with organizational skills. She was actually pretty tough and demanding on my son, and yet he still considers her his best teacher in high school. She celebrated his successes and made him feel capable and worthy as a person. Even when bemoaning the work at times, he would say ‘Ms. Wopat gets me!’” - Parent

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