Teacher of the Year Award Highlights Excellence

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How do we recognize the best of the best from among more than 3,000 Imagine Schools’ teachers? It’s a daunting task! With that in mind, we are proud to introduce you to this year’s Imagine Schools National Teacher of the Year co-winners, runner up, and finalists.

Kathryn Burgess, 4th grade teacher at Imagine North Lauderdale in Florida, is Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Co-Winner.

Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Co-Winner, Kathryn Burgess, teaches 4th grade and serves as an instructional coach at Imagine North Lauderdale, Florida, part of Rod Sasse’s Group. A former student, Ms. Burgess always knew she would return to her “old stomping ground” where she attended elementary school. Here, she can truly make a difference in the lives of those who need an advocate to help them achieve their goals and better their lives.

Her personal view of student achievement extends far beyond her own classroom. She sees all students on campus as ones she should work to impact. Ms. Burgess accomplishes this by modeling highly effective examples of School Excellence Plan (SEP) initiatives for colleagues. She also mentors new teachers, enabling them to observe her Marzano-aligned instruction, effective classroom management, and positive character development.

Ms. Burgess holds several leadership positions on campus such as Teacher Instructional Coach, Professional Learning Community Facilitator, and Positive Character Development Committee Co-Chair. She also supports on-going student learning by participating as a Saturday School Teacher.

Principal Erin Kelly describes her by stating, “She is EVERYTHING I have ever envisioned and hope for on behalf of students. There is no limit to the actions Ms. Burgess takes to ensure she embodies Imagine North Lauderdale’s mission of making it ‘all about the students. No exceptions. No excuses.’”

A parent says this when reflecting on Ms. Burgess’ impact on her son: “Her belief in him and her constant support makes it easier for me to continue supporting him as well.”

A passionate and committed teacher, Ms. Burgess sets high expectations for each student. Her classroom culture provides a strong balance of individualized plans with student ownership of accountability both behaviorally and academically, along with a safe and nurturing climate where everything experienced is an opportunity for growth.

Alexa Pupo, Government and Economics teacher at Imagine Prep Surprise in Arizona, is Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Co-Winner.

Alexa Pupo, Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Co-Winner from Monte Lange’s Group, is a government and economics teacher for 8th grade and 12th grade at Imagine Prep Surprise, Surprise, Arizona. Ms. Pupo, who has been with Imagine Schools for eight years, brings a wealth of expertise to the classroom in her fields of study. As Principal Chris McComb comments, “To Alexa, this is not a job, it’s a calling that she embraces with every fiber of her being.”

Her positive impact extends throughout the campus and community. Sarah Schultz, a colleague states Ms. Pupo “consistently goes above and beyond for her students and colleagues.” Ms. Pupo serves on the Instructional Leadership Team as the Social Studies Lead. She is the coordinator of the Capitol Scholars Program. She serves as a mentor teacher, lead teacher for Saturday school and summer school, serves on various Measures of Excellence committees, and coaches sports teams on campus. Each summer, through the school’s own international travel program, she guides students as they travel to countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain.

When it comes to classroom instruction, Ms. Pupo strongly believes in a personalized education for every student. She uses both the Arizona State Standards and the Cambridge International assessment objectives to construct purposeful instruction and assessment. Her objective for each lesson is to guide students to work as historians, economists, or political scientists. She uses real life problems (developing her own case studies) and supports students as they share opinions and respond to high level questions. Graphic organizers, rubrics, and notetaking are every day expectations for Ms. Pupo’s students.

Although the academic and character components of instruction and learning are noteworthy, more apparent is the relationship Ms. Pupo has with her students. She greets her students at the classroom door when students enter and leave her class. Her personal comments to students reflect a deep concern for them and their lives. Parents readily share how dedicated and available Ms. Pupo is to their young adults.

As our 2018 Imagine Schools National Teacher of the Year Co-Winners, Ms. Pupo and Ms. Burgess represent the skillsets that foster high expectations for all students and the passion for our Imagine Shared Values and Measures of Excellence. We congratulate both of them on the impact they make on our students, exemplifying the very best of our Imagine teachers. Congratulations, Ms. Pupo and Ms. Burgess!

Crystal Bejarano, 5th grade teacher at Imagine East Mesa in Arizona, is Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Runner Up.

Crystal Bejarano, Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Runner Up from Dr. Bradford Uchacz’s Group, is a 5th grade teacher at Imagine East Mesa in Mesa, Arizona. As a teacher with 18 years’ experience, Ms. Bejarano establishes strong, trusting relationships with her students, using her knowledge of students to guide and support a personalized approach to instruction. She understands how to pace a lesson, use a hook to entice students’ interest, and demonstrates math think-alouds so students understand the reasoning behind working a problem. As the lesson progresses, Ms. Bejarano consistently checks for understanding through quick formative assessments and open-ended questions where students are asked to explain their own thinking. She consistently relates back to the standard and the goal for the lesson as she efficiently works with individuals or small groups of students.

The classroom environment created by Ms. Bejarano and her students demonstrates an optimal learning environment.   Displayed student work is authentic and anchor charts display Customary Units of Measurement, a writing rubric, vocabulary strategies and much more.

Ms. Bejarano believes that “the rapport between a teacher and the parents is key in education.” She sends weekly updates and has a “true open door policy” where parents are invited to be in the classroom at any time, without prearrangement or invitation. She wants them to see what real teaching and real learning look like in action.

Data is important to Ms. Bejarano and to her students. Each student keeps an up-to-date data binder and is able to read and interpret STAR Growth Reports and Galileo Intervention Reports. In addition to the current year’s data, Ms. Bejarano tracks AZMerit longitudinal data for her classes year-by-year and reflects on instructional areas for adjustment for the upcoming year.

Imagine Schools congratulates Crystal Bejarano as the 2018 National Teacher of the Year Runner Up. Her experience, expertise, professionalism, and love of teaching are characteristics that represent a master teacher.

Shelly Pickerill, 3rd grade teacher at Imagine South Vero in Florida, is a 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist.

Shelly Pickerill, Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist from Diane Beatty’s group, teaches 3rd grade at Imagine South Vero in Vero Beach, Florida. She embraces the fact that all students are unique and have their own pathways to success. Her instruction is differentiated in many ways through the use of small group instruction and technology. STAR FLOW, using AR360 and Accelerated Math, personalize student lessons and contribute to strong growth for all students. Students set SMART goals throughout the year in reading and math, and these are recorded in their student data binders. Monthly student-teacher data chats to discuss areas of strength and places for improvement give each student the opportunity to reflect what they have done and where they want to go.

Throughout Ms. Pickerill’s eighteen years of experience, she has acquired a love for mentoring and coaching others, and has served as an Education Director, a Mentor Teacher, and Grade Level Chair. Through these leadership roles, she has been able to stress the importance of character development as well, and believes that to get respect, you have to give respect. When asked to describe how Shelly teaches, a colleague stated, “It is one thing to talk about justice with your students, but when they understand what it means, and you no longer hear, ‘That’s not fair, why do they get that…’, you know that you have made it real life for the students.”

Ashley VanderMeer, Kindergarten teacher at Imagine Hill in Ohio, is a 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist.

Ashley VanderMeer, Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist from Amy Buttke’s Group, teaches kindergarten and serves as Title 1 Coordinator at Imagine Hill Academy in Toledo, Ohio. The students in Ms. VanderMeer’s class are demonstrating high academic growth this year, as evidenced by STAR Early Literacy assessment results. Her optimal learning environment is engaging, student-centered, and supportive for student learning. A words wall, anchor charts, designated center areas, and an Accelerated Reader library are attractive, organized, and easily accessible. The use of Literacy Focus strategies is evident as she guides students in whole group lessons, and moves towards gradual release with “I do,” “We do,” and “You do.”

Ms. VanderMeer serves as the Chair for the Character Committee (Character Squad). She states: “I have found joy in working with other staff members on how to incorporate character development within our school and I encourage positive character within our students.”

Erica Washington Jennings-Taylor, special education teacher at Imagine Hope Tolson in Washington DC, is a 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist.


Erica Washington Jennings-Taylor, Imagine Schools 2018 National Teacher of the Year Finalist from Shawn Toler’s Group, teaches special education at Imagine Hope Tolson, Washington, DC. With ten years of experience, Erica has served in several leadership positions such as Academy Leader for multi-grade levels, Special Education Mentor Teacher, and Special Education Interim Coordinator. She has also enjoyed numerous coaching and club experiences, from Assistant Coach for Cooking Club to Director of Choir Club. She models a personal growth mindset in many ways and this is exemplified in her statement regarding Shared Values, “When first arriving to Imagine Tolson the concept of justice, integrity and fun were foreign to me, but I soon came to realize the necessity of these in a productive organization.”

A variety of data points ensures Ms. Jennings-Taylor that her students are growing. The consistency of student attendance in Success Time reveals strong gains in reading and math when using STAR Renaissance Reading and Math assessments. When considering a student’s goals, she uses information from both formative and summative assessments, as well as each student’s personal learning style. In reflecting on her instruction, her principal stated, “It takes a master teacher such as Ms. Jennings-Taylor who plans effectively to give each student what they need. Her scholars continue to make learning gains. She preaches that it’s not about where you start but where you finish. As a result, she has some of the highest learning gains in our school.

Please join us in congratulating our outstanding teachers on exemplifying the very best of our Imagine Schools educators!


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Imagine Schools is a national non-profit network of pre-K-12 charter schools preparing students for lives of leadership, accomplishment and exemplary character.

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