Distinguished Educator Award Winners
The Distinguished Educator Award was launched in 2003 to recognize outstanding middle level practitioners. The Distinguished Educator Award winners impact the lives of our young adolescents on a day-to-day basis. They are the leaders in reform and change in their respective schools and districts, implementing the recommendations outlined in This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. In many different ways they provide knowledge, advocacy, and support to the middle level movement by providing exceptional leadership as team members and administrative leaders.
In November 2004 National Middle School Association honored three individuals--teachers and principals with a combined service to middle level students of almost 75 years. As National Middle School Association is the voice for middle level education in today's world, these three honorees are the voices of middle level education in their states, districts, and schools. Their commitment to middle level students and the movement is seen in their classrooms, schools, and in sharing their expertise through articles, speeches, and workshops with other middle level educators.
Mark Springer has been a classroom teacher for almost 30 years. He has chosen to remain in the classroom where he influences the lives of his students each day. He is a leader in middle level education in many different ways, but has remained true to his passion of being a classroom teacher. The students and parents of Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pennsylvania are eternally grateful for this. Mark Springer is currently the creator and teacher of the Soundings program—an integrative program for eighth graders. Before moving into the Soundings program he was co-creator and co-teacher of the nationally known Watershed program—an integrative curriculum program for seventh graders.
These two programs have influenced many teachers throughout the nation and have proven you can have a democratic classroom, involve students in curriculum planning, meet and exceed the standards, and follow the beliefs of This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. In his own words, "I advocate first for students and second for middle level philosophy. I try to live that philosophy every single day, because I know from personal experience how powerful it can be. It is my unwavering confidence in this philosophy that has enabled me to open my classroom and work for all to see the benefits it offers middle level students."
His principal noted that Mark has dedicated himself to working within the confines of public education to make the process better for children. He says: "I have never known anyone who has worked so hard in support of a cause, and that cause has been the improvement of learning for children. The fact that the only reward Mark has sought has been the acceptance and use of his ideas by others, for the sake of the children, is truly awe-inspiring to me."
This final quote from one of his former students says it all.
"Looking back over my 11 school years, I have encountered a great many teachers, guidance and respected figures…few have stood out from the woodwork. A very few respected figures in my eyes earn the position to me of not only a teacher of academics, but a teacher of life. These people went beyond the realm of a teacher, but they dove in and bathed in the pools of friendship…A distinct few teachers throughout my schooling have really epitomized the teacher-mentor-friend role. You are one of those teachers."
Craig Martin was a classroom teacher when he was nominated, but has now moved into the ranks of administration. He is still a teacher and is now influencing students and staff in a broader sense. When asked if he misses the classroom, he admits he does, but this helps him keep the students in mind when doing his work as an administrator. Craig Martin is currently the assistant principal at A.W. Coolidge Middle School in Reading, Massachusetts. Craig has been a leader in his district for many years. As well as being a language arts teacher, he was the team leader, chaired the school improvement committee and the curriculum/instruction and student transition committees.
Throughout his career, he has been an outspoken advocate for middle level students. He has shared his passion for these students with others in presentations and other activities.
Craig started out studying to be a high school teacher, but after student teaching in a middle school, he was hooked. After visiting "real" middle schools, he noticed a positive energy and a joy of learning that emanated from students and staff. He states: "I realized that the middle level structure and philosophy empowered teachers, allowed them to work collegially, and most importantly, made success possible for more students at such a crucial time in their development."
Parents realize that Craig is always there for the students. They know when decisions are being made about their children, he will always ask, "How will this affect the children?" The feeling is there that the programs and organization of Coolidge Middle School are student-centered and students are challenged and supported in numerous new ways. Most importantly, the students themselves know that Mr. Martin respects them as individuals and is committed to their education.
Craig's principal writes that through the years he has had the opportunity to work with several outstanding teachers whose sole purpose was to connect with middle school students and help them become lifelong learners. In that group of teachers, there are a select few who not only possess the talents to work with the children, but who possess the leadership qualities, skills, and desire to help make an entire school strive to do what is best for children. These teachers are natural born leaders and reformers who help make a significant impact not only in their classroom, but also throughout the entire school. With his leadership, vision, and advocacy for middle level education, Craig Martin is one of these teachers.
Maureen Furr is a principal from North Carolina . Under her leadership, her schools have been honored for academic excellence and for following the tenets of This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. She has been tapped to open new middle schools and guide them into effective schools for young adolescents. Maureen Furr is the current principal of the Jay M. Robinson Middle School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. As an administrator, Maureen feels an essential role she plays is in the development of fellow educators. While doing this, she shares her convictions about middle level education.She takes her role as a mentor seriously and many will attest to her effectiveness in this position. She has also been instrumental in guiding teachers through the process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
In today's world, Maureen is working hard to continue her leadership in middle level education. She tells us, "I believe that at times, a wise person does not waste time railing at what is, rather works with the 'givens' of a situation to change what can be changed and to best address needs and wants. In the current climate of urban education, that means being creative in working within the system both to address current requirements of our students, and to provide leadership in facilitating change from within." In this changing world of education for students in the middle, Maureen's school makes the middle level concept fit and work for her students. As others bemoan the loss of middle schools, they continue to show it can be done and done well.
Maureen's colleagues see her as an action-oriented, motivated, and excellent leader. She models what she believes by creating strong instructional programs for students and provides professional development for staff. Maureen has fostered an atmosphere that is demanding and engaging for the students under her care. The questions, "Does this meet the needs of our students, is it best for our students, how will this affect our students" govern all that she does. Her passion to create an environment that supports learning through effective communication and a caring attitude is recognized by all. Her regional superintendent tells us, "She is a people-oriented, goal-directed, and motivated principal with a vision of high expectations for all students". Through her vision and leadership, the Robinson students are happy, healthy, and well-educated throughout their middle school years.