Maumee native raises school test scores, wins national awardWritten by Sanya Ali | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Zunkiewicz of Maumee knew from early childhood that she was destined to teach.
She said her mother, an elementary school teacher for 35 years, provided her with her initial inspiration.
“I witnessed firsthand the impact that incredible teaching can have and realized that there was no reason for students to hate math,” Kelly said.
“As a teacher, I would have the ability to change how students thought and felt about math, which is an integral part of our lives.”
This experience gave Kelly the drive needed to teach at Earl J. Lennard High School, a Florida school that at the time had low AP passage rates among math students. She worked tirelessly to help improve the students’ standings, and those efforts have finally paid off.
Kelly recently found out she is the one of four winners of the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, an honor that comes with a $25,000 prize.
The award is granted to “exceptionally effective” teachers in high-poverty public schools through nonprofit TNTP, which works to eradicate educational inequality.
Eddie Zunkiewicz, Kelly’s father, said he and Kelly’s mother, Lauri, have been elated since they found out about her award.
“I’ve been skipping around with a mental lollipop,” Eddie said.
“We knew that she went to New York to be in the top 10, and we found out ahead of time that she did win it. She was No. 1 out of the 10 finalists.”
Kelly said the moment she received the award was full of emotion due to her parents’ appearance at the surprise presentation in her classroom.
“I will never forget the moment the door opened and everyone poured in,” Kelly said. “Teaching is full of emotion and I was overwhelmed with it in that moment. My parents even flew down from Maumee for the surprise. I have not stopped smiling since.”
Ana Menezes, vice president for New Teacher Effectiveness with TNTP, observed Kelly for the prize and said the environment of Kelly’s classroom was completely unlike the environment in the halls of Lennard High School.
“It was so stark between what was happening outside of her classroom with kids, teenagers, talking to each other … and in her classroom where it was productive, respectful and really focused,” Menezes said.
Menezes said her impression of Kelly’s teaching was twofold.
“The first impression that I had was that kids were immediately working as soon as they walked into the door. There was something to do,” Menezes said.
“The second was that she clearly has really great relationships with her students. She greeted them when they walked through the door and it was clear she cared about them personally.”
Menezes said Kelly’s dedication to her job was evident in the application.
“She’s incredibly thoughtful about her practice,” Menezes said.
“She is constantly seeking improvement. She is never satisfied with the work she is doing; she is hungry for feedback and hungry to improve. She is a model in terms of looking to improve and better what she does.”
The Fishman Prize selection committee reviewed over 820 applications from teachers from around the nation.
Of those, 21 were selected as semifinalists and only 10 reached the final interview stage.
Kelly’s improvements at Lennard speak for themselves. Her students’ AP Calculus passage rates have risen from 11 percent to 80 percent since she started at Lennard High School.
Her students earned a 93 percent average in this past winter’s benchmark exam, beating each of the 26 other schools in the county, which averaged 73 percent.
“I knew how amazing the students were and, over time, have been able to change their expectations and perceptions of themselves and the county’s perception of them too,” Kelly said.
“We have 27 high schools in Hillsborough County and Lennard traditionally is not known for outstanding test scores, but we have been able to change this.”
Kelly attended St. Ursula Academy for the first two years of high school and graduated from Anthony Wayne High School in 2003.
She found inspiration in many of her teachers, but said two who stood out were Sister Mary Crumb of St. Ursula, now deceased, and James Berta, a former Anthony Wayne teacher.
“Sister Mary Crumb or, as we affectionately called her, ‘Sister Chem’ from St. Ursula Academy opened my eyes to the possibilities that the fields of mathematics and science could hold,” Kelly said. “Every day was interesting and something new.”
Eddie said he found Kelly’s decision to move down to Florida funny, because she had previously turned down the opportunity to attend college in the state.
“When she was in high school, she got a basketball scholarship from the University of Florida and she refused,” Eddie said.
“She went to Ohio Dominican University, majored in math. All of a sudden, she got interviewed [in Florida] and the school district said, ‘Come on down.’ She fell in love with these kids.”
Kelly said she shares this award with all the children she has worked with and that they are her true motivators for the future.
“The reward in teaching is not the paycheck or the summers off, it is working with such wonderful young men and women and seeing their progress over the years,” Kelly said.
“My students are phenomenal and are making connections in the material and pushing one another to new heights every day. Their eyes have been opened to the infinite possibilities that the future can hold if they work hard and work together.”