OEI received dozens of nominations and applications from across the city
For months we’ve been combing through heartfelt nominations and impressive applications so that we can bring you the first cohort of the Office of Education Innovation’s Teacher of the Year Finalists.
We’re honored to recognize these 11 educators, and we hope you’ll agree that there’s – truly – no time like the present to shout out the fantastic work they’re doing for their students in mayor-sponsored charter schools across Indianapolis.
We’re grateful to the folks at The Mind Trust and Teach Indy for their support. You can learn more about OEI’s Teacher of the Year Award here.
Now, on to the finalists. Their bios have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Morgan Arthur, English Language Arts/Senior Capstone, Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School
Morgan believes that scholar success is fostered through meaningful relationships. A six-year veteran teacher at Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, she began her career teaching a ninth-grade pilot course in Honors Grammar and Composition, where she wrote and implemented her own curriculum. Currently, Morgan is the advisor for Tindley’s Senior Capstone Program and the Early College Counselor. She also acts as Student Events Coordinator, assists in the maintenance and growth of Tindley’s Early College Program, and has served as a professional development leader. Morgan earned her bachelor’s degree from Bethany College in 2011 and is currently working toward a master’s degree in Secondary Education at IUPUI.
Angela Coffin, Grade 7-8 English Language Arts, Vision Academy at Riverside
Throughout her 10-year career, Angela has collected myriad accolades. She was recognized by the United States Military for her work in a government trial program for enlisted high school dropouts and was Vision Academy’s first-ever Teacher of the Year. Most recently, Angela was selected for the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms program. She has also combined her love of travel with her work as a teacher through volunteer work in Madrid, Spain, and teaching opportunities in Rabat and Marrakech, Morocco. Angela prides herself on her ability to help students grow multiple grade levels in reading in one year. She believes world change begins in the classroom.
Orleta Holmes, Fifth grade Social Studies, Ignite Achievement Academy at Elder W. Diggs School 42
Orleta Holmes is a lead teacher who has taught for 13 years in rural and urban public schools. She is proud of the academic and social-emotional growth she’s seen in her students as a result of her rigorous history lessons infused with information from across content areas. Orleta also has experience as an administrator, building relationships with community stakeholders, and connecting families to resources. Orleta’s teaching philosophy stems from the lessons of Kahlil Gibran and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her passion stems from a fighting line of educated women who understand it takes courage and boldness to continue to walk a path that may be unpopular to others.
Rahul Jyoti, Grade 8 Math, Victory College Prep
During his 10 years at VCP, Rahul started out teaching Algebra 1 through Teach for America Indianapolis. In his first three years he was part of a department-wide increase in state math exam passing rates for eighth-11th grade students — from 5 percent passing to 80 percent passing. After his promotion to Director of College Transitions, he oversaw an increase in the school graduation rate from 73% to more than 90% for three consecutive years. Now, Rahul has been teaching eighth grade math for four years with a focus on standards-based instruction and data analysis. His students have shown over 100% of growth for three years in a row.
Jeff Mayo, K-8 Music, Matchbook Learning at Wendell Phillips School 63
Jeff is a fourth-year music teacher in his second year at Matchbook, where he also serves as the social-emotional learning lead teacher. His music program uses instrumental music, choral music, theatre, and dance rooted in the Orff-Schulwerk approach, and he has provided his students several in- and out-of-school performance opportunities. Jeff brought in professional actors in his work supporting Matchbook’s first musical and introduced music therapy services to students needing more support. As a music teacher and cross country coach, Jeff works to ensure students have the opportunity to take part in any and all activities that they wish to pursue.
Bonnie McNeely, Math, Riverside High School
Bonnie has dedicated her career to supporting struggling learners and inspiring them to reach their fullest potential. She began her career in Wayne Township, where she was recognized as the 2005 Teacher of the Year and was awarded the Senior Choice Award for teachers who have made an impact on graduating seniors. Her biggest professional challenge began when she was asked to be the founding math teacher at Riverside. In their first year, Bonnie’s students grew at more than twice the national average based on their NWEA scores, and by year three, Riverside High School’s math ISTEP scores placed them as the third best high school in Indianapolis.
Jennifer Newman, Second Grade, Tindley Genesis Academy
Jennifer knew at a young age that she wanted to work in education like her grandmother and serve young learners. She has spent more than 30 years educating nearly 700 students in Indianapolis. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Ball State University. Jennifer attributes her accomplishments in the classroom to lasting relationships with scholars and their families. She serves as a member of the Culture and Climate Committee, MTSS Team, and Principal’s Advisory Team. Jennifer also served on an advisory committee for Indiana Council on Educating Students of Color in February 2020 and was voted Teacher of the Year in 2015-16 at Stephen Foster Elementary, IPS School 67.
Rebecca Norman, Fifth Grade, Paramount School of Excellence – Community Heights
Rebecca comes from a long line of teachers and never considered another profession. Rebecca earned her undergraduate degree at Kent State University and completed her student teaching in Fort Myers, Florida. In 2018, Rebecca was hired at Paramount to teach fourth grade. Her greatest accomplishment was obtaining the highest ILEARN scores in the state of Indiana in 2019. Her class improved dramatically from the beginning of the year to the end, scoring an 82% pass rate in ELA and a 77% pass rate in math. She aspires to continue providing a quality education for students from all backgrounds and all scholastic levels in order to transform lives and communities.
Lauren Perkins, Grades 2-4 Reading and Dyslexia Intervention, Enlace Academy
After graduating from DePauw University in 2014, Lauren dove headfirst into an exhilarating Teach For America placement in Kansas City’s bilingual preschool scene, where she fell in love with teaching English Learners. When Lauren moved back home to Indianapolis in 2016, she felt even more determined to cultivate strong readers, writers, and thinkers. She spent two years with Indianapolis Public Schools before discovering her niche as Reading Interventionist and Reading Specialist at Enlace Academy. Lauren has profoundly strengthened the literacy of Enlace’s most vulnerable readers, including double-labeled special education and English Learner students, and uses her laser-focus on literacy to remain a committed agent of change.
Ashley Sciacca, 9-12 English Language Arts, Victory College Prep
Ashley is a 10-year veteran English teacher from Northwest Indiana who graduated from Purdue University. She has spent the past 7 years at VCP, where her students have demonstrated high growth on the state ISTEP exam as well as the NWEA reading exam. Ashley is also the 7-12 grade Literacy Specialist, English Department Facilitator, and a member of the Victory College Prep School Leadership Team. She began a school writing initiative that led to cross-disciplinary writing investment in students and teachers. She started her doctoral program in Urban Education Studies through IUPUI in the fall of 2018. Ashley is interested in the persistence of school segregation perpetuated by the urban-suburban divide and years of policies resulting in residential segregation.
Ronak Shah, Grade 7 Science, KIPP Indy College Prep
Ronak chose teaching because of his passion for science and love of working with students. Designing and teaching interactive labs, engaging case studies, and inquiry-oriented science projects has been a source of constant joy that allows him to be a lifelong learner. Ronak started an after-school cooking and gardening club, advised student government, participated in the 2018-19 Emerging Leaders corps, served as KICP’s delegate to the KIPP Foundation’s Environmental Literacy Summit, and led a team of teachers that consistently outperformed the previous years’ NWEA MAP growth scores. Ronak has led seminars for Teach For America and at Marian University. He also founded Teachers Lounge Indy, an organization that hosts free social events for teachers in Central Indiana.