Previous Recipients

Orlando Valentin Jr. is teaching fourth grade at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in his hometown of Meriden, Conn. He received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in science from the University of Connecticut in 2015 and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UConn in May 2016.

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Justis Lopez began his career in 2015 teaching social studies at Manchester (Conn.) High School, from which he graduated in 2010. In 2017 he took a position teaching social studies at Urban Assembly School of Applied Math and Science, a public school in The Bronx, N.Y. He received a B.S. in Education with a major in history in May 2014 and an M.A. in Education in May 2015 from the University of Connecticut.

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Jessica Myers is an elementary education teacher in the New Haven Public Schools. She is a graduate of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven. She received a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, with minors in English and French, from Southern Connecticut State University in May 2015.

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Margaret Seclen of Stratford, Conn., is teaching second grade at Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford. She received a B.S in Elementary Education and a B.A. in History with a minor in international studies from the University of Connecticut in May 2013. She received her master’s degree in elementary education from UConn in May 2014.

Jessica Raugitinane of Alexandria, Va., is teaching fifth grade English and Social Studies at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, D.C. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in May 2013 with majors in elementary education, English and Spanish along with a minor in Latino studies. She received her master’s degree in elementary education from UConn in May 2014.

Sheena Boyle, who grew up in Waterbury, Conn., has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut. She completed undergraduate majors in English literature and English secondary education.

Maria Rosario Melendez teaches Spanish at Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport. She is a graduate of the University of Costa Rica and received her Connecticut teaching credentials through the Alternate Route to Certification.

Khalil Graham, Ph.D., who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., was named principal of Friendship Collegiate Academic Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., in August 2017. Previously, he served as founding principal of IDEA Walzem Charter School in San Antonio, Tex., for three years. He began his career as assistant principal and dean at YES Prep Public Charter School in Houston.  A graduate of Loomis Chaffee High School, Windsor, Conn., he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond, a master’s degree from Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn., and a doctorate in educational leadership and administration  from the University of Kentucky in 2013.

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Sacha Kelly is a mathematics teacher at Two Rivers Magnet School in Hartford, operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CRED). Previously, she was a mathematics teacher at Big Picture High School, a public magnet school in Bloomfield, Conn. A graduate of Stuyvesant High School, New York City, she received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Trinity College, Hartford, in 2007 and a master of arts in education from the University of Saint Joseph, West Hartford, in 2009.

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Sibani Sengupta, Ph.D., is a science teacher and chair of the Science Department at Sacred Heart Academy, Hamden, Conn. She received her Connecticut teaching certificate from the Alternate Route to Certification in 2008. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Calcutta, India, in 1990 and 1992, respectively. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in 2000 and subsequently did research as a post-doctoral fellow at the UConn Health Center. She was named the Outstanding Biology Teacher in Connecticut by the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2010, and she was named the High School Level Exemplary Educator of the Year for 2014-2015 by the Connecticut Association of Schools.

Vernon-James Riley is the Principal of North Star Academy West Side Park Middle School, a school serving 355 students in grades 5-8 in Newark, N.J. Prior to joining North Star, which is part of Uncommon Schools, Vernon served as Founding Dean of Students at Summit Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Founding Director of Operations at Amani Public Charter School in Mount Vernon, N.Y. A native of Harlem, N.Y., Vernon received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies with a departmental concentration in Secondary Social Studies from Yale in May 2008, and Master’s degrees in Curriculum and Instruction from Michigan State University in 2009 and Education Leadership from Teachers College Columbia University in 2013. He is currently completing additional coursework through the Relay Graduate School of Education National Principals Academy Fellowship.

Violet Jiménez Sims was named assistant principal at Hartford Montessori Magnet School in August 2017. Previously, she was a bilingual educator and instructional coach at Manchester High School. She began her career as a Spanish teacher at New Britain High School from 2007 to 2013. A graduate of E.C. Goodwin Technical High School, New Britain, Conn., she received a bachelor’s degree in theater studies and a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Connecticut, where she was employed before obtaining her Connecticut teaching certificate through the Alternate Route to Certification in May 2007.

Giulietta O’Coin Romero is a  kindergarten teacher at Robertson Elementary School in Manchster, Conn. She is a graduate of Windham High School in Willimantic, Conn., and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut.

Santosha Oliver, Ph.D., has accepted a position as assistant superintendent for instructional services with Windsor, Conn., Public Schools, effective July 1, 2016. A graduate of Manchester High School, she holds a B.S. in biology from Morgan State University and a Ph.D. in genetics and developmental biology from the University of Connecticut. She earned her Connecticut teaching certificate in the Alternate Route to Certification. She began her education career as a science teacher at East Hartford High School. Subsequently, she has served as coordinator of assessment, evaluation and research for the East Hartford Public Schools, assistant principal of the O’Brien STEM Academy of the East Hartford Public Schools, and the administrator in charge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the Manchester, Conn., Public Schools.

Blenda Chau is a fourth grade teacher at Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport, Conn. She is a graduate of Danbury (Conn.) High School and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut.

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Zakia Parrish, Ph.D., who grew up in Gary, Ind., was named principal of Hyde School of Health Sciences & Sports Medicine in New Haven in 2013. Previously she taught science for several years at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Purdue University. She earned her Connecticut teaching certificate in the Alternate Route to Certification.

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Angelica Gibbs, who grew up in New Haven, Conn., is a Master Teacher in Spanish at Green Valley Ranch High School, part of the Denver Schools of Science and Technology (DSST)  school system in Colorado. She was a Spanish teacher at the Match Charter Public High School in Boston for nine years before moving to Denver in 2014. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, where she majored in education and Hispanic studies, and a master’s degree from Lesley University.

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Nadine Rosa of Meriden, Conn., is a special education teacher at Platt High School in Meriden. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Southern Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Saint Joseph, West Hartford, Conn.

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Han-Ya Annie Hsu is assistant director, global student success, at Northeastern University in Boston. Previously, she served as chief of staff in the Office of the Provost at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, which serves underprivileged women from across Asia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Yale University and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.

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Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is an English teacher at Swain County High School in North Carolina. She grew up in nearby Cherokee, N.C., earned a B.A. from Yale University and an M.A. from William & Mary College. She returned to Cherokee in 2004 and served as assistant to the principal chief of the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians. From 2007 to 2012 she taught English and Cherokee studies at Swain County High School. In January 2013 she was named executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. She returned to the classroom in September 2015. She is the author of a series of children’s books illustrated by Cherokee artists as well as several other works of fiction.

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Priscilla Noriega, from Brownsville, Tex., graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and taught at San Benito High School in San Benito, Tex., before earning a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. She has been serving as Staff Attorney and Medical Legal Partnership Director at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.  She is working on education law and advocating for students with regard to special education services and discipline issues. In this role, she continues to have an impact in the classrooms in South Texas.

Ollie-Rubiah Williams, a graduate of Windsor (Conn.) High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in education from the University of Saint Joseph, West Hartford, Conn. She is teaching at the Farmington Valley Diagnostic Center operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), in Simsbury, Conn., where she was named Teacher of the Year for 2008-09.

Desi Nesmith is chief school turnaround officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education. He grew up in Bloomfield, Conn., graduated from Northwest Catholic High School, West Hartford, Conn., and earned bachelor’s, master’s and post-graduate degrees in education from the University of Connecticut. He began his teaching career at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford, Conn., where he was named Teacher of the Year for 2005-2006. Since then, he has served as teacher in residence at the State Department of Education, an intervention specialist in the Hartford public schools, and principal of America’s Choice SAND School, Hartford, where he was named Best First-Year Principal by the Connecticut Association of Schools. He served as principal of Metacomet Elementary School, Bloomfield, Conn., until being named to his president post in October 2015. In 2014 he received the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

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Chi-Ann Lin, a graduate of Newington (Conn.) High School, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Connecticut. She is teaching history at Staples High School in Westport, Conn.

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Miguel Cardona, Ed.D., is assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Meriden, Conn., Public Schools. A graduate of Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Central Connecticut State University and a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Connecticut. He began his career as a fourth grade teacher at Israel Putnam Elementary School in Meriden and served from 2003 to 2013 as principal of Hanover Elementary School in Meriden, where he was named Connecticut’s National Distinguished Principal in 2012. In 2013 he was promoted to performance evaluation specialist for the Meriden School District, and in 2015 he was named to his present position.

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Glenn Allen Jr., a graduate of East Hartford (Conn.) High School, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Connecticut. He is chair of the Special Education Department and coaches football and track & field at Carson High School in the Los Angeles (Calif.) Unified School District.

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Oscar Josue Rodriguez graduated from Bulkeley High School, Hartford, Conn., earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Connecticut, and joined the faculty of East Hartford High School as a teacher of English language learners. He has taught high school English in Puerto Rico and currently is teaching English language learners at a Department of Defense school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.