The 2017 Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Awards Winners

September 6, 2017

As high schoolers around New England return to class for another exciting year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is proud to honor the innovative educators who are rethinking how, when and where learning happens to put students at the center of their education. In celebration of their outstanding work to renovate and reinvent learning across the region, we are pleased to announce the winners of Nellie Mae’s 2017 Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Awards.

Named in honor of the founding President, the O’Toole Awards recognize public high school teachers who are advancing student-centered approaches to learning throughout New England. Student-centered environments are personalized to support individual interests and needs through interactive projects and thoughtful discourse. They aren’t restricted to the classroom, as demonstrated in Keene, NH, where one winner connected students to real-world work experiences through internship opportunities with local business leaders. Student-centered learning allows young people to advance when they demonstrate understanding of material at their own pace, rather than accruing credits based on the “seat time” they’ve endured at a desk. And finally, these innovative approaches empower students to take ownership over their learning, exemplified by a district “Think Tank” in Hinesburg, VT where another winner provided students a space to share their voices as part of the school decision-making process.

Student-centered environments prepare our future workforce and leaders to master the academic knowledge, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills they need to thrive long after high school. This is crucial as too many of our high school graduates today are entering college or a career unprepared for the rigors and challenges they will need to navigate in today’s economy.

In recognition of their incredible work, we are proud to award 12 educators grants of $15,000 each to advance their efforts to drive student-centered learning throughout the region and provide young people with a strong foundation for success for the rest of their lives. We are thrilled to offer congratulations to the below group of innovators representing each New England state for their incredible achievements, and look forward to watching them continue to transform public education and the lives of their students for a more prosperous future.


Shaun Mitchell, Central High School, Bridgeport, CT

As an English, Theater, and African-American studies teacher at Central High School, Shaun created a curriculum that allows students to understand their own culture, and how it relates to their world and the world around them. He developed a program called Project Citizen, a literacy lab for high school students that encourages them to be active civic leaders in the world and to write for change. Shaun will use the grant to lead a series of workshops around implementing SCL in the classroom at the district, state and national level.

Kelly Roman, Orville H. Platt High School, Meriden, CT

An English teacher at Platt High School, Kelly has played an active role in Meriden’s District Level team in creating and implementing student-centered learning by making student-centered practices an ingrained part of her own teaching, and has led workshops on how to use technology as a tool to advance student-centered learning. Kelly will use the grant award to run a series of teacher-led workshops for Meriden community members — such as leaders of local businesses and nonprofits — to learn about student-centered learning and why these approaches are critical to the success of Meriden students.

Thomas Seuch, Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, CT

A science chair and teacher leader at Brien McMahon High School, Tom worked with the Center for Secondary School Redesign to revamp the school’s advisory program and connect students with adult mentors in weekly advisory meetings. He also created a vibrant summer transition academy with a focus on hands-on math and science projects. Tom will use the grant to develop a cadre of teacher leaders for personalized, student-centered teaching to support other BMHS teachers, with the goal of expanding advocacy to other schools and surrounding towns by leading a Student-Centered Symposium.


Ashley Freeman, Malden High School, Malden, MA

A physics and engineering teacher at Malden High School, Ashley encourages her students to participate in the school’s makerspace and developed a course called Creative Design and Engineering, which exposes students to inquiry practices, design thinking and student-centered approaches for scoping problems and designing solutions. Ashley will use the grant to develop a district-wide professional development series on student-centered learning through the use of makerspaces; host a “Malden Maker Faire for Social Justice” where students showcase student solutions to community problems; and develop curricular materials to support new courses on making.

Tim Klein, Medford High School, Medford, MA

A counselor educator at Medford High School, Tim teaches a course for seniors focused on creating a sense of purpose, and empowering them to pursue meaningful post-secondary pathways. He also created MPOWER, a student-centered purpose development intervention, to help students successfully matriculate to four-year colleges. MPOWER consists of a year-long class for seniors coupled with intensive college and career counseling. MPOWER students improved their GPA by twice as much as their peers, and every MPOWER student successfully graduated and matriculated to a meaningful post-secondary program. Tim will utilize the grant to integrate digital technology into the MPOWER curriculum in order to scale it further, including developing MPOWER into an app.


Susan Johnson, Traip Academy, Kittery, ME

Susan serves as the school’s Expanded Learning Opportunities Coordinator, where she works with community members and businesses to create rigorous personalized learning experiences that connect students to their passions, communities and future. The grant will allow Susan to run a K-12 professional learning group for educators and administrators, dedicated to the implementation of student-centered learning throughout Kittery Public Schools.

Kasie Giallombardo, Nokomis Regional High School, Newport, ME

Kasie Giallombardo is a social studies teacher at Nokomis Regional High School, where she acts as a coach for her students and encourages them in class with probing questions to lead them deeper in their analyses. She approaches each lesson with the student in mind, meeting them where they are and providing each of them with appropriate next steps. Kasie will use the grant to facilitate quarterly Dine-and-Discuss meetings for teachers throughout Maine focused on student-centered learning, and to create professional libraries for RSU 19 schools devoted solely to aspects of student-centered learning.

Jeff Bailey, Mountain Valley High School, Rumford, ME

An English teacher at Mountain Valley High School, Jeff implements flipped learning in his classroom, allows students to move ahead at their own pace, and provides individualized feedback to his students. Jeff also serves as the chair for the district’s instructional technology committee and offers workshops for his colleagues. Jeff will use the grant to create a Teacher Reflective Practice Group focused on sharing approaches to student-centered classrooms using the “Students at the Center” framework, and to support “student listening” sessions where students express their own visions for education and help inform the actions of the Teacher Reflective Practice Group.


Jeremy VanDerKern, Cheshire Career Center, Keene, NH

A Production teacher at Cheshire Career Center, Jeremy arranges work-based learning opportunities for his students in his TV & Film Production courses, and actively seeks out industry partners for internships and projects. Students in Jeremy’s courses engage in real-world learning by serving as producers and videographers for school board meetings, sporting events, concerts and workshops. Jeremy will use the grant to support the development of a video series on work-based learning to showcase career technical education programs offered by the New Hampshire Department of Education; the possibility of embedded high school credits; opportunities for dual-enrollment college credits; the benefits of Community-Teacher Student Organizations; and options for Work-Based Learning Opportunities.


Dr. Rosemary Miner, Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Leadership Academy, Central Falls, RI

As a science teacher at the Skip Nowell Leadership Academy, a public charter for parenting and pregnant students, Dr. Miner’s courses are built on the Summit personalized learning platform, which allows students to move at their own pace, participate in project-based learning during class time, and demonstrate mastery. She will use the grant to facilitate quarterly visits for science educators in four districts — Woonsocket, Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls — to observe her experience with student-centered learning. Visits will be followed by quarterly workshops on building student-centered projects; self-directed learning; a student panel and examples of student work; and local partnerships with the University of Rhode Island, Brown Medical School, Amgen, and Rhode Island Mayoral Academies.

Jodie Woodruff, The Met High School, Providence, RI

Jodie spearheaded and directs the Met’s entrepreneurial programs, including building the first freestanding entrepreneurship center for a public high school. She started a program at the Met called E-360, in which students are immersed in a culture that promotes and rewards self-reliance, introspection and risk-taking. Jodie scaled this program into E-Ventures, which encourages students to develop their own ideas through one-on-one mentorship. She will use the grant to create an open-source website of resources from the E-360 program, including video from E-360 classrooms, as well as develop working tools for educators.


Stan Williams, Champlain Valley Union High School, Hinesburg, VT

A humanities teacher and instructional coach, Stan developed an innovative structure for students to have a voice in their own education. He organized a district “Think Tank” to bring together students across the district to create common messaging and help drive decision making at the district level over the next few years. He will use the grant to run a “Think Tank” class and host a student-led symposium to spread ideas generated from the class. He also plans to host admissions officers from New England colleges as part of the “Think Tank” class to discuss how to make high school transcripts more reflective of student-centered learning.

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