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Meet the Winner of the 2019 Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teacher Leadership Award

The Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teacher Leadership Award recognizes leaders working inside and outside of the classroom in pursuit of change and increasing Teach For America's collective impact.

October 18, 2019

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

The Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teacher Leadership Award celebrates talented individuals and groups of leaders who are dedicated to pursuing a stronger and more equitable school system. This year’s Sue Lehmann winner is the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Takeru Nagayoshi. He and the award finalists exemplify what it means to be a leader and changemaker in today’s educational landscape.

2019 Sue Lehmann Winner

Takeru Nagayoshi (Massachusetts ’14)

English teacher Takeru Nagayoshi, the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, believes in using his personal perspectives to advocate for educational equity and community-based education reform. When Takeru saw a need to develop the next generation of talented educators in his communities, he created the educator fellowship SNEALI (Southern New England Alumni Leadership Initiative). The fellowship, which collaborates with TFA Massachusetts, TFA Rhode Island, and Leaders for Educational Equity (LEE), empowers educators to impact policy and civic change in their communities without leaving the classroom.  Why this fellowship? Nagayoshi said: “Change must happen from both inside and outside the classroom. Teachers are the most qualified to speak on education matters, so I leverage my perspective to fight for and lead systems-wide change for education equality.”

Takeru Nagayoshi


Carver Dual Language Team

Deborah Alexander (Kansas City ’17), Alexandro Ornelas (Kansas City ’18), Amanda Niedzwiecki, (Kansas City ’13), Andrew Murphy (Kansas City ’14), and Morgan McPartland (Kansas City ’16)

After seeing a disconnect between the dual-language mission of their school and its policies and practices, Deborah Alexander (Kansas City ’17), Morgan McPartland (Kansas City ’16), Andrew Murphy (Kansas City ’14), Amanda Niedzweicki (Kansas City ’13), and Alexandro Ornelas (Kansas City’18), engaged in a rigorous multi-year process to reinvent the school's curriculum, teacher support, and staff training. Grounded in best practices in bilingual education, not only did their work dramatically impact students’ academic achievement, it transformed the social fabric of the school and students’ sense of pride in their identities.

Why this reinvention? The team said: “We had to stop just talking about what was going wrong and start to make real changes to ensure that our scholars were leaving us not only as academically successful students, but also as bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural citizens.” 

(From left to right) Amanda Niedzwiecki (Kansas City ’13), Alexandro Ornelas (Kansas City ’18), Deborah Alexander (Kansas City ’17), Andrew Murphy (Kansas City ’14), and Morgan McPartland (Kansas City ’16)

Tara Storm  (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad ’15)

After a school shooting impacted Tara Storm's district, the school board originally proposed to increase spending on school security and safety measures. Tara’s students felt discouraged by the lack of funding toward mental health initiatives included in these changes. Together with her students, Tara began advocating for the school budget to change and include more school counselors and mental health professionals. In addition to the school board's unanimous vote to amend the budget, several schools ended up adopting the "Mental Health First Aid" training that Tara and her students proposed. 

Why advocacy? Storm said: “Anyone with a connection to the issue in our community was important because it takes community action for change to occur.” 

Tara Storm (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad ’15)

Team ECE

Keun-woo Lee (New York ’17) and Sidney Stein (New York ’17)  

Through their involvement with Organizing for Equity New York (OFENY), corps members Keun-woo Lee and Sidney Stein (both New York ’17) canvassed local communities affected by school suspension policies. The pre-K teachers worked with OFENY and diverse coalitions of advocates to change New York City Department of Education policy and ban suspensions of more than 20 days. They are also working with other organizations to advocate for pay parity for early childhood education (ECE) teachers in the city of New York.

Why prioritize early childhood? The team said: “Reforming systems of inequity in education should start with our littlest learners.” 

Keun-woo Lee (New York ’17) and Sidney Stein (New York ’17)

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