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IPS Names finalists for 2023 IPS Teacher of the Year

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is unveiling the six finalists for the 2023 IPS Teacher of the Year Award. These educators represent the district’s best in effective teaching, excellent instruction, and outstanding accomplishments in the classroom.  

To select the district’s top teacher, each IPS principal was invited to nominate their building’s top educator for consideration. The selection committee, consisting of a group of peers, reviewed each nominee’s portfolio, including their teaching philosophy, professional accomplishments and instructional practices.  

NEW THIS YEAR: There will be two IPS Teacher of the Year winners — one representing the elementary school category (Grades K-6) and the other representing the secondary school category (Grades 7-12). The winners will be announced in May. 

Following are the Top 6 finalists (in alphabetical order) by category:

Elementary School Category (Grades K-6)

Melissa Collins, Center for Inquiry School 84, Second Grade Teacher

Melissa Collins has been in education for 17 years, holding a variety of teaching positions in general education and special education/inclusion.

She admits to bringing passion to her classroom to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.  

Collins believes in creating community within her classroom by explaining to her students, “that our classroom is our community, and our school is our community, and their home is part of the Indianapolis community.”  

The classroom veteran works to equip students with ways to not only be part of the school community but also the Indianapolis community by ensuring the monthly choice board for homework includes options on how to become involved within their community.

“My priority as an educator is to practice and implement a racial equity mindset in my classroom and my community,” she said.

Collins is currently a mentor for three new teachers on the special education team, providing strategies and tools as well as her own experiences to support them.  

DaMeisha Fleming, James Whitcomb Riley School 43, First Grade Teacher

DeMeisha Fleming has been in education for seven years and has spent five in her current position at James Whitcomb Riley School 43.

“If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” is her favorite quote from poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

When it comes to student engagement, Fleming proudly points to the school’s Black History Thematic Unit, which was developed as a way for students to lead themselves on a self-discovery where they are free to engage, interact and question our society and culture.

Fleming also strongly believes in her school’s rallying motto: “Respect, Resilience, Responsibility at James Whitcomb Riley, we do all three!” She said it has created a culture crucial to the overall functioning of School 43.

As a result, Fleming has worked with the school’s Dean of Culture and Climate to create the behavior matrix for the building.  

“Equity does not mean equality. Equity is where this change takes place,” she said. “In my classroom, students understand that success looks different for all of us.”

Lindsey Jacob, William McKinley School 39, ENL Teacher (Grades K-6)

Lindsey Jacob has been in education for five years and has been in her current position for two years.  

“One of the strongest core values that I hold in teaching is that every child — no matter the culture, race, ability or difference — should be given an equitable opportunity to access a high-quality education.” 

She prides herself on consistently striving for equitable opportunity, lessons that are planned with strong attention to detail and creativity while fostering strong collaboration with those around her.

Jacob is proud to have identified the school’s need to upgrade support for educators who are teaching English Language Learners. After speaking with her principal, they agreed that their school needed professional development sessions to support the staff around Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) training.  

“Teaching students that education transcends the classroom is essential to create intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning,” she said. 

Secondary School Category (Grades 7-12)

Kendall Crone, Harshman Middle School, ELA Teacher (Grades 7–8)

Kendall Crone has been in education 14 years, with 13 at Harshman Middle School where she has been involved in many school-wide initiatives. 

“The project I have been involved with that has the most consistent and broad impact on our school culture is producing our daily morning announcements.” said Crone, who points out that public address announcements set the tone for the school day and are intricately part of the culture at Harshman.  

“Like most educators, I love my job because of the people I work with,” she said. “There is nothing better than being part of a school community where staff and students build strong relationships, where people feel a sense of belonging.”

Crone also points out that her job is to create a classroom environment where each student feels safe, and each part of their identity is validated.  

“My students deserve a teacher who values their whole person and seeks to understand their assets, not just address their gaps,” she said. “Strong educators bridge the classroom and the community. My favorite ways to connect students to the community are through experiential learning and field trips.”

Paige Sjoerdsma, IPS | Butler University Laboratory School 55, ELA Teacher (Grades 7–8)

Paige Sjoerdsma has been in education for nine years and has been in her current position for five years.  

“As Reggio-inspired teachers, we believe children come to us with hundreds of languages and can learn hundreds more,” she said. “We value and develop those languages in our classroom.”

Sjoerdsma and her teammates discovered how many misunderstandings and misjudgments of our middle school students took place each day.  To support the change that needed to be made, the middle school engaged in a project with Cathy Hartman and Shelly Furuness, faculty at Butler University, that focused on the “power of our voices.” 

“I believe racial equity should be at the core of every reflection, conversation and decision you make as a teacher,” she said.

Sjoerdsma, who is a founding member of Butler Lab School 55’s Racial Equity Team, firmly believes that courageous conversations around race should be integrated into professional development, school culture and community outreach.  

Joshua Swem, Newcomer, ELA/ENL Teacher (Grades 6–8)

Joshua Swem has been in education for five years, including two years in his current position. 

“I have been a dedicated teacher in Indianapolis Public Schools for over five years and am Proud to be Public!,” he said. “My teaching style is dramatic, energetic and engaging. I like to make students laugh. I also firmly believe in relationship building.”

Swem uses a variety of ways to reach his students to ensure they have grasped every aspect of what they are reading.  His students not only take tests and quizzes but they venture out in other ways to show their learning. For example, students in his class were asked to write their own horror story after finishing a unit called The Thrill of Horror.  

“Teenagers are intrigued by anything suspenseful and scary, so they had a lot to draw on,” he said. “As a teacher, it is my priority and imperative to cultivate empathy and anti-racism in myself, my pedagogy, my behavior and my mindset.”