Camelot Education Recognizes Teacher of the Year Recipients at its Chicago Schools
Every year Camelot Education recognizes its most outstanding and passionate teachers as Teacher of the Year; those that consistently rise above and beyond the call of duty and their total commitment to educating their students.
Teachers from the five Camelot schools located in Chicago were recently recognized for their unyielding service to their students before and especially during the coronavirus pandemic. These extraordinary educators, along with the support staff and fellow teachers, continue to solidify the positive reputation of Camelot Education’s schools within the Chicago Public Schools.
Excel Academy of South Shore: Sandra Cribbs
Excel Academy of South Shore’s Principal Renee Carter said Sandra Cribbs, who teachers high school social sciences and history, is an out-of-the-box thinker who is always willing to try something different.
Cribbs has been with Camelot for two years, previously working with elementary school children in Chicago Public Schools and was thrilled to join Excel Academy South Shore. Cribbs said one of the best things about being a part of Camelot Education is the teachers know they’re not alone – that they’re all supporting one another.
“The entire staff works together and supports each other at all times,” said Cribbs. “It is a great feeling to be part of a broader family at Camelot.”
Principal Carter, who interviewed and hired Cribbs, said she teaches her students how government works so they gain an understanding of why our society is the way it is, locally, nationally, and globally.
“Her passion for education was one of the main reasons I hired her,” Carter said. “She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She’s a real team player and is always looking for feedback and how to apply it.”
As the coronavirus pandemic spread and forced the education system to shift to virtual learning, Cribbs said the adjustment was challenging for her students. “I had to challenge myself to be more creative in order to keep them on point,” she said. “They wanted to be in school and suddenly they weren’t as connected. As time passed though, they understood we were as committed to their education and growth as young adults as we ever were.”
Excel Academy of Southwest: Mike Tyler
Jake M. Benke, the principal of Chicago’s Excel Academy of Southwest said Mike Tyler treats the students, no matter where or how they got to where they are, as capable adults in a learning environment. He has high expectations for all the students who enter his class and runs it like a college classroom. He constantly calls their homes to offer affirmations to students who are making progress and to students who need a little more guidance at home.
It’s one of the reasons Tyler, who teaches the robotics program at the school, was chosen Teacher of the Year for 2020. It’s the second time Tyler has been so recognized. In addition to teaching robotics, Tyler also teaches physics and computer science. He has been with Excel Academy Southwest since 2015. He has industry experience, having worked in the fields of electrical engineering and nuclear engineering research.
“In order to reach these students, you have to engage them where they are,” said Tyler. “It’s one reason why we started the robotics program. It’s real hands on and the student just love it. We’re introducing them to a possible career choice they might not have considered before.
The robotics program strives to introduce the students to a field that is hands on and a high-demand field for employment, while also keeping in mind that students many have not had previous exposure to the subject area. The robotics program is a unique offering at Excel Academy Southwest.
In each of the last five years, Benke said Tyler has improved in his instruction, social skills, and adaptation to the flexibility our programs require.
“He won, Teacher of the Year a few years back because he built the school’s STEM program from the ground up, this year he won because he exceled at being a leader among teachers,” Benke said.
Benke noticed Tyler’s background in robotics and asked him to expand upon it.
“He lit up with enthusiasm, confidence, and expertise,” Benke said. “Mike has grown over the last few years at Southwest when it comes to building relationships with his co-workers. He takes more of a lead teacher role when discussing implementing new plans for the students. He joined the academic committee which helps guide our strategies for instruction and implementation of data methods. He is consistent and a model of how to hold everyone to the same standard.”
Excel Academy of Englewood: Elisha Rodriguez
Excel Academy of Englewood is one of Camelot Education’s many accelerated schools of choice for students that are 15-21 years old and are behind in their studies. Excel Academy of Englewood is dedicated to creating a challenging, academically rigorous, and safe environment for all students, which is what drew Elisha Rodriguez to want to teach at the school.
Rodriguez, who has been named Teacher of the Year, began her career at Englewood in April 2019 as a substitute teacher and said one of the reasons she wanted to advance to a full time English teacher was her desire to work with vulnerable young people.
“I’ve learned so much being here; mostly I’ve learned patience and to have a lot of heart,” she said. “I’m not always teaching English to my students but teaching coping skills and in teaching them, I learn more about myself. The students have opened my eyes to some of the problems we face in our society.”
Englewood’s principal, Matthew Obrzut said that teachers are always striving to improve students’ reading and writing abilities, improve their scores on standardized testing, and prepare them for college, careers, and life beyond high school.
He went on to say that Rodriguez works very well with the student population and has the potential to be a great leader in education. She is very patient and addresses a variety of student needs.
“Mrs. Rodriguez always makes herself available for parents. She communicates very well with each of the parents, thoroughly explaining the purpose of the communication, the student’s performance in class, as well as her processes,” he said. “She is the epitome of a team player. She consistently goes above and beyond her job description as a teacher.”
She was selected as a Teacher of the Year for the way she conducts herself in classes; always the professional. Secondly, her classroom management skills allow her to build strong relationships with her students. Because of the trust she has built, her classroom is a safe space for students to ask for help, learn and grow, academically, socially, and emotionally. Thirdly, she is an all-around team player and highly respected by her peers. Her nomination by the administrative staff was unanimous, Obrzut said.
“It is an honor to have a teacher like Elisha on our staff,” said Obrzut. “She is destined for great things in education. Teacher of the Year is only the beginning of the accolades that she can obtain.”
Excel Academy of Roseland: Patrick Pender
For Patrick Pender, being chosen as Excel Academy of Roseland’s Teacher of the Year was, in his words, “extremely humbling.”
“I wasn’t even thinking about that and when I was told, I was humbled and grateful,” said Pender. “Every day at Roseland has taught me something different, especially from the students. That’s what is important to me. I want to be of value to them.”
Pender teaches chemistry and biology and has been a part of the Camelot Education family since 2019. Elizabeth Landig, Roseland’s principal said the students rave about him. Camelot’s mission is to ensure that all students have access to the educational systems and supports that are essential for addressing their unique needs, enabling them to succeed in school and thrive in life.
“I heard how enthusiastic they were about him over and over,” said Landig. “He’s hands on in the classroom and conducts interactive, thoughtful discussions about how chemistry and biology apply to the real world. Teaching the students chemistry and biology gives them a sense of science and how to apply it to help make informed decisions.”
When the pandemic forced the closing of the school buildings and educators knew they had to shift from the physical classroom to a virtual one, Landing said that Pender was one of the school’s champs. He collaborates well with the support staff and with other teachers and is always coming up with creative ideas.
“He was proactively reaching out to students, consistently using the online applications to connect, and was very thoughtful about his approach,” said Landig. “If a student wasn’t logging in, he would immediately reach out to determine why. He’s a strong team player.”
“The computer, the virtual learning was me still being there with them; to encourage them and their families,” said Pender. “Students need to know they have someone to help. I think my positive spirit helped them see we can be better every day despite what’s going on in the world. It’s about being a comfort and being comforting to others.”
Camelot Safe Academy: Priscilla Morrissette
Working with students who need additional learning assistance and attention to improve their academics is why Morrissette came to Camelot and why she stays. Her passion and commitment to the students is why she was named Camelot Safe Academy’s Teacher of the Year.
“I was very surprised; it was totally unexpected. My principal says that I deserve every reward out there. It’s nice but I would be giving this job my all anyway,” Morrissette said.
Morrissette started with Camelot in 2016, having left the banking industry. She teaches English language arts, art, and social studies to middle school students. ELA gives students a voice, teaches them to analyze and evaluate information using strategic and extended thinking. What excited her about the opportunity to teach was discovering Camelot Education’s unique model.
“She communicates well with her students and with their families,” Liddell said. “I selected Mrs. Morrissette as our Teacher of the Year because she is passionate about teaching and works to support all of her students; regardless to the challenges she’s faced with.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Morrissette created videos of her modeling lessons and made herself available to support parents and students via phone calls or video conferences.
As for the future, Morrissette said she wants to see her students continue to grow. “We all want the best for them and can see firsthand how students benefit from the Camelot Education model.”
All photos above were taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.