Extraordinary teaching is at the heart of our schools—defining and driving our unique culture and producing tremendous results for children. As we have grown to open more schools and serve more children, all of us at Success Academy have worked hard to maintain our high standards for all children. I am incredibly grateful and proud of all our teachers. They enable our scholars to soar academically, to develop socially and emotionally, to foster new talents, and to reach their fullest potential.
I am especially pleased to recognize the 24 winners of this year’s Success Academy Teacher Excellence Awards for their outstanding work and deep commitment to the highest standards of excellence. Selected from among nearly 1,000 teachers across our 32 schools, these teachers have empowered their scholars to achieve exceptional academic and personal growth. They have challenged both our highest fliers and those who may struggle, and all scholars in between, consistently inspiring all to excel.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh (Class of 2003), Sentell Harper decided to pursue teaching and share his passion for theater with students at Success Academy Bronx 2. As the elementary school’s theater teacher, Harper has staged wildly popular shows that have drawn not only parents and staff from the school, but also people from the surrounding community. “Not many elementary school teachers have a robust theater program, but Sentell’s phenomenal drive for excellence has pushed us to rethink how theater and drama can be an integral part of world-class schools,” says his principal, Vanessa Bangser. Harper’s scholars say he is funny and a great actor who loves to do improvisation with them. Before Harper came to Success Academy, he starred in Seek and Ye Shall Find, a one-man show that was a hit at the United Solo Theatre Festival in Chicago.
Sherry Mao, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Irvine (Class of 2003), teaches English Language Arts at Success Academy Harlem Central. With several years of teaching under her belt before coming to Success Academy and a master’s degree in English and American literature from New York University (Class of 2012), Mao is constantly striving to improve and help her students achieve. Her fifth- and seventh-grade scholars have some of the highest scores on internal assessments in the Success Academy network. “She studies student work constantly, gives meaningful feedback, and invests scholars in their growth as readers and writers,” says Andy Malone, principal of Harlem Central. Not surprisingly, Mao has strong relationships with her students, too. “They frequently email her over weekends and vacations to share their creative writing or to ask questions about topics raised in class,” Malone says.
Su-Ann Wong, a graduate of Binghamton University (Class of 2013), teaches second grade at Success Academy Union Square. Her scholars include children with learning disabilities who — thanks to Wong — are excelling at high levels. “Ms. Wong is a great teacher because when it comes to learning, she is really funny,” one scholar says. Wong is known for always thinking of creative ways to invest scholars in learning. For example, she has every scholar wear a superhero cape to make reading more fun. Besides bringing tons of joy to the classroom, Wong is obsessed with giving each scholar feedback on their work. She also knows all her scholars’ strengths and weaknesses and tracks their academic progress daily. “She has the highest of expectations for her scholars,” says Jennifer Waldman, the acting principal of the school.
After graduating from Parsons School of Design (Class of 2008), Margaret Phelan continued to hone her craft as an illustrator, muralist, and ceramist. Two years ago, she started teaching at Success Academy Harlem 1, where she shares her extensive knowledge of and passion for ceramics with young learners. With a 2015 master’s degree from the City University of New York, Phelan also helps scholars understand how art connects to their lives. One scholar says, “Ms. Phelan is a great teacher because she makes us laugh, and she does everything she can so that our class projects look beautiful.”