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Math Teacher Keith Thomas, Jr. Named for 2020 Lisa M. Sablosky Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching

Congratulations to winner Keith Thomas, Jr. (Indy ‘11) and finalists Ashley Sciacca (Indy ‘10) and Ronak Shah (Indy ’12) on being recognized for the award.

Achieve impact

May 7, 2020

This story seeks to recognize recipients of an award recognizing alumni teachers for outstanding teaching. In light of school closures and remote learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to express our continued gratitude to these and the thousands of Indy teachers working hard to continue serving their students.

Strong student relationships, scaffolding and differentiated supports, significant student academic progress, and culturally authentic and meaningful summer trips to Ghana were among the many highlights that Lisa M. Sablosky Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching winner and middle school math teacher Keith Thomas, Jr.’s nominators attributed to his success as a teacher at Paramount Brookside, a K-8 school on the east side of Indianapolis.

“He is in the league of his own when it comes to providing extra instructional support based on individual student needs,” wrote Principal Dexter Taylor. “In addition, he helps foster a lifelong learning environment for his students to plant seeds about the different pathways to college. He's a next level contributor in our students’ lives enduring growth beyond his classroom.”

“Whether it’s been early mornings, late nights, taking trips to Ghana, you’ve proven you’d do anything for your students to succeed, not just in the classroom but in life,” shared Mark Branigan, TFA Indy alumni board member and co-founder of One Million Readers, in a video message to Thomas. Branigan and Thomas served in the Indy ’11 corps together. “Getting middle schoolers excited about math is often an impossible task. What your students have accomplished is awe-inspiring, and you’ve made that possible.”

In the transition to remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, schools and districts have adapted a variety of responsive methods of keeping their students engaged in high quality learning. At Paramount, the school system has implemented a full-scale virtual strategy. While challenges and uncertainties remain across our education system, Thomas also acknowledged some meaningful progress made: “Developing and implementing new systems has been an early success for me. I have used these systems to track student participation, grades, and parent communications. I shared these tracking systems with my team, my school, and our chief academic officer had me lead a virtual professional development [session] for these systems to be implemented district-wide.”

Award finalists

The award is named for long-time champion of TFA Indy and former Board of Directors chair, Lisa M. Sablosky. It annually recognizes outstanding alumni teachers in Indianapolis, and the winner is selected by a committee of Alumni Board members and staff from a pool of nominations. In addition, the Alumni Board received a number of other strong nominations and applications and named two finalists, Ashley Sciacca, English teacher at Victory College Prep, and Ronak Shah, science teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. The winner and finalists all receive monetary awards.

In Sciacca’s nomination form, Victory College Prep Executive Director Ryan Gall (Detroit ’02) wrote: “Ashley's classroom is one where I want my own children to learn…Beyond always performing at a high caliber, she had a specifically successful year over the past school year - her state assessment results were at an all-time high, she impacted the entire school community with her actions, and she added new courses and roles to her work in the school.

Alumni Board member Luke Lennon (Indy ’12), assistant school leader at KIPP Indy Legacy High, praised Sciacca’s significant level of effort and commitment to the craft of teaching: “I was so struck by and impressed not only with the number of classes that you teach but the high level at which you teach those multiple classes…The fact that you’ve continued your own education to better your craft for your students was [also] really impressive.”

Shah was nominated by KIPP Indy College Prep Assistant Principal ShaDe’ Watson and two peer educators. Watson described Shah’s approach to building relationships with students as one designed with mutual respect in mind: “It is clear that he has built longstanding relationships with his students…I have never seen or heard Mr. Shah raise his voice at students and he has some of the best classroom management in our school. Mr. Shah is stern in his expectations, but also allows students to be heard.”

Alumni Board member, fellow teacher, and friend Sarah TeKolste (Indy ’15) also noted Shah’s passion for community-wide impact outside the classroom: “Ronak saw a need for teachers to connect and support one another in the Indianapolis community; therefore, he founded Teachers Lounge Indy for teachers to connect with social activities and story slams. He has been actively engaged in Teach Plus and other policy endeavors to help teachers elevate their own voices on behalf of the teaching profession and the students and families they serve.”

To bring awareness to the new stories and experiences of teachers during remote learning, Teachers Lounge Indy is hosting a virtual story slam, “Teaching at a Distance,” this Thursday, May 7 at 7pm. Check out the live event and recording on Facebook.

Gratitude for our teachers in light of COVID-19 impact

Thomas, Sciacca, and Shah, along with millions of teachers across the state and country, had to make sharp adjustments to their plans when schools closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. The extent to which school leaders and colleagues lauded these teachers’ use of physical space and in-person interactions demonstrates how challenging it was to make an unprecedented shift to full-time remote learning. Yet their resilience and courage, along with flexibility, creativity and innovation, have shed light on their unwavering commitment to fostering continued development in our students, our next generation of leaders.