LHRIC's TELL Awards Recognize Hard Work, Innovation from Region's Teachers and Administrators

LHRIC's TELL Awards Recognize Hard Work, Innovation from Region's Teachers and Administrators

During a daylong event to recognize the winners of the LHRIC’s annual TELL Awards, held March 28 at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff, the message from internationally renowned speaker Manley Feinberg II was clear: it takes a special kind of leadership to succeed, one that includes a purpose and a focus, as well as a desire to persevere. 

In Mr. Feinberg’s animated keynote presentation titled, “Reaching Your Next Summit,” he described the “vertical lessons” he has developed from his years as a world-class mountain climber, lessons that can be useful to both business leaders and educators alike, he said.

The climb to excellence is not easy, Mr. Feinberg told the audience, but the opportunity to reach new heights is possible.

 “Declaring your current climb” is one lesson that Mr. Feinberg, the former Build-a-Bear Workshop executive, believes can be a game-changer. Choosing one thing or a “current climb” is critical, he explained, to declaring one’s commitment and conviction to an idea.

Getting on Belay is equally important, he said, recalling the treacherous ascent he took with a Russian couple he first met at the base of a mountain in Uzbekistan. Like the climber who needs a belay or support to prevent him or her from falling, building a relationship with someone else one can trust is also crucial, he added.

“Reaching out and making consistent connections is important,” he told them. “Make an acknowledgment for all the support they’ve given you. Get on belay consistently, intentionally and strategically.”

Other vertical lessons he encouraged his audience to pursue were the need to challenge beliefs, ask the right questions, anchor their actions, celebrate the summits, and consider the legacy they might leave behind.

Most of the day’s activities were devoted to celebrating the winners of the TELL Awards, a special recognition of the region’s teachers and administrators who transform education through their leadership and learning.

Outstanding Innovative Teachers

Catherine Brennan

For Catherine Brennan, coordinator of the Innovation Design Lab at Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School in the Croton-Harmon School District, Mr. Feinberg’s talk resonated, particularly his notion that “courage is contagious.”

“I’m not an expert in technology,” said Ms. Brennan, who has been teaching for 26 years and single-handedly designed and developed the groundbreaking lab. “I know kids…I know how to motivate kids. But the INDE Lab that we have is so much more than just teaching about technology and learning from technology,” she added.

“It’s a place where kids can come and they can be themselves and they can create and they can learn and they can grow. It’s a place where we all learn together. Mentorship is really a huge part of our program.”

The lab is an oasis for innovation and design, with parents and members of the community donating items like old electronics that the students can take apart, as well as building materials and tools and other unexpected items that become part of new inventions.

Marcia Daley-Savo

For students in Marcia Daley-Savo’s social studies class and indeed for other teachers at John Jay Middle School in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, learning from the veteran educator is a memorable endeavor.

When nominating her for the award, fifth-grade teacher Gloria Miller said she was in awe of Ms. Daley-Savo’s drive.

“She has taken it upon herself to pilot new technology, and then, on her own time, share what she’s learned with us,” she said.

 “Students need to be able to communicate effectively and to collaborate,” Ms. Daley-Savo said. “They need to critically look at situations and solve problems and be able to think outside of the box.”

 "That's what I keep in mind when planning a lesson," she added.

Ms. Daley-Savo was praised for her work on many projects, including her involvement with Breakout EDU, an immersive learning games platform, which has truly benefited her students, she said.

 “To be able to study ancient China or ancient Egypt and to feel like you are going into a pharaoh’s tomb has been a game-changer,” said Ms. Daley-Savo, one of only 400 Microsoft innovative educator experts in the U.S. “The children have gained so much from it.”

Katherine Tovar Furst

Renowned for her “technology-infused inventiveness within the classroom,” Katherine Tovar Furst, an ELA teacher at Woodlands Middle School in the Greenburgh Central School District, said getting the award had caused her to reflect on ways that she and others can continue to help students grow.

Several district representatives came up to the podium to laud her achievements, including her contribution to the school’s Coding and Knitting Club. Students routinely use the coding platform Scratch to create knitting tutorials and games.

“It is possible that through knitting, which is a very tactile, old-school skill and connecting it with coding, a new-age skill, great things are possible,” Ms. Tovar Furst noted.

Teachers at the school have found that students who are involved in the club have gained additional mental focus and emotional balance.

In nominating her for the award, one educator from Greenburgh said, “Katherine’s commitment and dedication to her students and colleagues is truly admirable, and it can be said without a doubt, she personifies the spirit of what it means to be an innovative teacher.”

Jim Guerci

Jim Guerci, a fifth-grade ELA teacher at Pearl River Middle School, is a passionate believer in student ownership, a theme he constantly reinforces in his classroom.

Accepting the TELL Award, Mr. Guerci emphasized his fervor for the infusion of technology in the classroom, but also added that encouraging creativity and independence go hand-in-hand.

Mr. Guerci’s classroom is frequently designed and redesigned by his students. Rolling chairs, moving tables and a carpeted space are used during independent work time. A hallway green screen production area allows students to collaborate on a whole new level, he said.

Some of the technology initiatives he has implemented include an online workbook that enables real-time feedback, Google Classroom, and “Genius Hours” for research, planning and implementing student projects.

“It takes a lot of risks and we make a lot of mistakes but that’s life,” he said.

Outstanding Innovative Leaders

Jennifer Forsberg

There are many things that Jennifer Forsberg likes about her job. Among them is the chance to explore new technology options for students in the Bronxville School District, the fact that her schedule is never really the same from day to day, and that she gets to attend interesting conferences.

In a nutshell, Ms. Forsberg, the director of technology for the district, said, “I get to create new programs, provide new opportunities and I hope I provide innovation for others.”

Among Ms. Forsberg’s standout achievements since taking over the position three years ago is the high school’s Student Help Desk, an initiative that gives ninth through 12th-graders the chance to blog, screencast and provide IT support to staff and students in all three schools.

In addition, students are becoming IT experts, with many of them Google Level 1 certified, as well as being trained in Chromebook repair and in the use of the LHRIC’s Service Now platform.

Other technology developments she has initiated include a K-5 coding curriculum for all elementary school students, an improvement in the 6-8 instructional technology curriculum to include digital citizenship, coding and robotics, and the introduction of an AP Computer Science course at the high school, among other new initiatives.

Ms. Forsberg credits her success to her ability to listen first before initiating any action plan, weighing the options and making decisions based on the voices of everyone in the district.

Joe McGrath

In his introductory remarks before calling Mount Vernon School District Administrator for Technology Joe McGrath up to the podium, Deputy Superintendent Jeff Gorman described his colleague as a devoted educator whose sole purpose is to ensure the success of every student.

“That’s what separates him from others I’ve worked with,” said Dr. Gorman.

After several years of contingency budgets, the district is moving forward with an ambitious technology plan, said Mr. McGrath.

Technology has become more woven into the educational experience of students in all district schools. There are currently over 3,800 mobile devices available for students in pre-K through 12th grade, up from 70 six years ago, he said.

In accepting the award, Mr. McGrath, who has consistently fostered an engaging digital-age learning culture by providing students with devices and the resources they will need to be successful in the modern world, credited the district leadership, teachers and the Board of Education for its progress. He also praised the LHRIC for its technical support.

“This is a transformed district,” he said. “Six years ago, there was nothing.”