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IPS Teacher of the Year: Five Finalists Announced

IPS Names Finalists for the 2022 IPS Teacher of the Year

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is excited to announce the Top 5 finalists for the 2022 IPS Teacher of the Year. 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, made up of a group of peers, reviewed each nominee’s portfolio, including their teaching philosophy, professional accomplishments and instructional practices.

The 2022 IPS Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in June.

Following are the Top 5 finalists (in alphabetical order):

Tina Ahlgren, Center for Inquiry School 2 — Middle School Math Teacher

Tina Ahlgren has been a math teacher for 16 years. She says one of her greatest joys has been to engage students around a fun, discovery activity that requires critical thinking, collaboration, troubleshooting and mathematics to achieve an acceptable solution.

Community service has also been a favorite aspect of teaching for Ahlgren. Her students have tackled a number of timely and relevant issues, including writing legislators about their findings on the gender wage gap, advocating for paid family leave at the Indiana Statehouse, and offering public comment to the IPS Board of School Commissioners in support of paid family leave for employees of the district.

“It is inspiring to hear the skills that students say they have honed throughout the project, as well as the empowerment they’ve felt by taking action to fix a problem they saw in their community,” said Ahlgren.

Ahlgren has taken the district’s commitment to racial equity to heart, working to make changes in the school curriculum. Recently, she noticed students of color were vastly underrepresented in the advanced math courses at CFI 2. She began working with school administrators to analyze and restructure the placement process for these classes to be more equitable.

“Maintaining this racial equity mindset is critical for educators,” said Ahlgren. “We are power brokers — making thousands of decisions each day that give and take away power. Unconscious bias seeps into each of these decisions, so we must be acutely aware of these biases and push back against them when making all of these split-second decisions.”

Rachael Jandziszak, Francis Bellamy School 102 — Pre–K Teacher

Rachael Jandziszak has been teaching for five years and places a focus on social-emotional curriculum. She says teaching early learners how to treat others with kindness and respect promotes the development of extremely important skills that will lead to happy, healthy relationships with others and academic success.

“As a preschool teacher, I believe it is my responsibility to be a source of happiness and positivity in my students’ lives,” said Jandziszak. “For many children, this is their first introduction to a formal school setting and my class may set the tone for the rest of their formal education.” 

Jandziszak has also worked to create a racial equity mindset in her classroom by committing to eliminating practices, attitudes and policies that could intentionally, or unintentionally, negatively affect students of color. She says fairness is not sameness and it’s important to emphasize all her students have different backgrounds and different needs.

“My students are aware that we all look different and have different skills, wants and needs. They know we are all different and that our differences make us unique, interesting and beautiful,” said Jandziszak.

Betsy Kelley, Center for Inquiry School 70 — First Grade Teacher

Betsy Kelley has been teaching for 22 years and during that time she’s learned the importance of helping young people find a way to self-regulate and be able to communicate their feelings. She was trained in responsive classroom and restorative practices to develop an atmosphere of love and support among teachers and students. 

“I believe all students can learn and have the right to be heard and valued. When a student feels safe and secure, they can thrive,” said Kelley. “Students having a choice is also a very important part of learning success. If a child is interested in what they are doing, they are invested.”

Kelley is the social-emotional learning (SEL) staff support champion at her school. Among other things, she shares self-care practices at staff meetings and facilitates self-care professional development for teachers. She recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program and plans to offer community yoga classes after school to continue to share the benefits of mindful breath and movement.

Kelley says through racial equity training led by the district, she’s been challenged with the realization of the implicit biases she held. 

“Through my studies, I have realized the even bigger responsibility I have as a classroom teacher,” said Kelley. “I not only have to make sure my students of color feel safe, heard and have access to resources to help them succeed, but I also need to educate and support my white-bodied students as they learn to recognize their inherent white privilege.”

Sheila McPherson, Newcomer Program — Physical Education/Health Teacher

Sheila McPherson has been a teacher for 18 years with a primary focus on physical education (P.E.) and health. 

One of the major projects she includes in her health classes at the Newcomer Program is an opportunity for students to form groups and produce a public service announcement (PSA) focusing on a health or societal issue. The students create a storyboard and shot list, recruit talent from the school to act out the PSA, edit the piece and present it to their classmates.

“The more opportunities your lessons allot for students to display their natural talents or gravitate toward their interests, the more engagement you will have,” said McPherson. “As a teacher, one of the greatest gifts I can give my students is confidence.”

Working with community organizations, McPherson ensures Newcomer families have the food and supplies they need. Many of their students and families come to the United States because they are fleeing their countries due to violence and extreme poverty. McPherson says they arrive here with few possessions and with great need. She’s helped organize a number of food drives and giveaways to hundreds of families within the program to help lighten their load.

McPherson also believes in helping students pursue their talents and interests beyond the classroom. She’s connected students to a novelist and television writer in Los Angeles, helping them become published authors. She’s also linked students with acting camps and showcases and provided athletic opportunities for them to play sports and attend major sporting events.

“Sports and afterschool activities offer an opportunity to extend learning beyond the school day,” said McPherson. “  

Sarah TeKolste, Shortridge High School — Spanish Teacher

Sarah TeKolste has been teaching for six years.

Her courses are taught 100% in Spanish, using research-based best practices to ensure the language is easily understood. She makes her classes interactive while students learn the vocabulary, culture, history and prominent figures throughout U.S. history.

“My most fundamental belief about education is that it should be empowering and relevant,” said TeKolste. “I am proud that my students are able to see, through quality instruction that is linguistically and culturally relevant, that Spanish class is a gateway to another world.”

TeKolste started a peer mentoring program at Shortridge training upperclassmen student leaders to provide support to incoming ninth grade students who are adjusting to high school.

“The peer mentoring program has reinforced my belief that students will lead with brilliance if given the opportunity and the tools,” she said. 

TeKolste also helped launch World Changing 101, a virtual speaker series at Shortridge that brings a diverse range of community leaders to engage in one-on-one dialogue with students about the ways in which they can change the world.