The Distinguished Teachers Awards Committee, Inc. is a nonprofit organization established in 1984 to recognize and celebrate excellence among the dedicated teaching staff of the Greenwich Public Schools. The Committee is comprised of approximately 20 members and is a balance of representatives from the Greenwich Education Association (teachers), the Greenwich Organization of School Administrators, PTA Council (parents), and Board of Education, and members of the community. Members serve a three-year term. The awardees are selected based solely on the written information provided in each candidate’s Nomination Packet.
The Greenwich Distinguished Teachers Awards Committee, Inc. announced the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Teachers Awards on April 22, 2020. The 2020 Distinguished Teachers are:
* DACE ASHCRAFT, North Mianus School, Advanced Learning Program *
* BARBARA BARTLETT, Eastern Middle School, Health *
* COLLEEN DRUMM, Western Middle School, English, Humanities *
* JESSICA KELLER, Greenwich High School, Social Studies *
* ERIN MONTAGUE, Western Middle School, Guidance Counselor *
* LORI MULLIGAN, Greenwich High School, Mathematics *
The Distinguished Teachers Awards Committee, Inc., established in 1984, has worked on the selection process for this year's recipients for the last eight months. The Committee selects the Distinguished Teachers from nominations made by colleagues, parents, students, administrators and/or community members based on criteria outlined in the nomination packet.
The Distinguished Teachers Award Committee Chair Ms. Patricia Carey shared, "Although we are unable to celebrate these outstanding teachers in person, their tremendous accomplishments in the classroom and their dedication to our students will not go unrecognized. On behalf of the entire Committee, we want to thank all those who submitted nominations and congratulate our slate of Distinguished Teachers for this year. This program is always a refreshing reminder of the excellent educators we are fortunate to have in our Greenwich Public School system. We look forward to being able to celebrate these teachers at a formal ceremony in the future."
Read more about each of this year's recipients below.
- Ms. Dace Ashcraft
- Ms. Barbara Bartlett
- Ms. Colleen Drumm
- Ms. Jessica Keller
- Ms. Erin Montague
- Ms. Lori Mulligan
Ms. Dace Ashcraft has been working for the Greenwich Public Schools since 2002, serving at North Street, ISD, New Lebanon and North Mianus Elementary Schools, teaching science, math and language arts in the Advanced Learning Program (ALP).
When a student nominates a teacher, especially one as young as Norah Mendelsohn, you know there's some magic going on. Students entering the ALP program at North Mianus quickly realize that it's OK to take risks. Oftentimes students in the ALP program find themselves under pressure to perform and to get things right. Sometimes this can hinder students from taking risks. Ms. Ashcraft knows this only too well. In fact, when students enter her classroom, the first thing they are asked to do is to put on an imaginary but powerful coat of armor. The function of this coat of armor is to make sure that they will not be wounded by constructive criticism, since “mistakes and failure mean that they are alive and well.” The armor is designed so that criticism can enter “through the slots” while deflecting any negative connotations: “All the other parts will bounce off the metal and not bother you at all.” As a result, students in Ms. Ashcraft's class feel that they are working in a safe environment where it is just fine to make mistakes. Ms. Ashcraft looks out for all students when they enter her classroom; she is determined to uncover all students’ innate potential.
In 2014, Ms. Ashcraft received an email out of the blue from a former student, who had been in her class 28 years prior. Her name was Leona. Leona wrote and told Ms. Ashcraft that she had had a poor self image before entering her class; she had no concept of her innate potential. After spending time with Ms. Ashcraft, she began to see herself in a completely new light. She began to see herself as a smart kid who could make a difference. As a result, she graduated with honors at every level, and after graduating college she taught with Teach for America, a highly prestigious organization. Leona is now working in the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s office as an Assistant County Attorney. She writes: “You can claim credit for a large portion of whatever success I have achieved. You saw potential in me that no one had seen. I totally bought into the reflection of myself I saw in your eyes.
All of Ms. Ashcraft's students experience this; they grow to understand the importance of persistence, hard work, and passion. The more Ms. Ashcraft expects of her students, the more they reach high. And on those rare occasions when they fall short of her expectations, boy do they know it! She is always honest - but her honesty is always tempered with love. It is noteworthy that each year when North Mianus seniors return for their Book Awards, their speeches often include memories of teachers who have had a substantial impact on their lives; consistently Ms. Ashcraft is the common thread in most of the speeches. Ms. Ashcraft refers to herself as “quirky,” and she uses this quirkiness to engage students, and to teach them that it's just fine to be yourself.
Ms. Ashcraft is a clear communicator, not just with teachers and students, but also with parents. Parents often remark on Ms. Ashcraft’s attention to the children's needs. Many a time she has made personal phone calls to homes to honor and celebrate the work of the children in her class.
After two years of studying at the United States Naval Academy, Ms. Ashcraft completed her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Florida International University, where she also completed her Master’s Degree.
Ms. Barbara Bartlett is a health teacher at Eastern Middle School (EMS), where she teaches sixth through eighth grade. She has been teaching in the Greenwich Public Schools for over 30 years. Year after year she is assessed as meeting the Exemplary standard in her annual Teacher Evaluation review. Her job includes teaching health, first aid and nutrition, but she also incorporates lessons based on student concerns, such as social media, cyberbullying, online safety, and substance abuse.
She is adept at fully engaging her students; she knows how to hook them! For example, when she begins a unit on nutrition she begins by listing the ingredients in a mystery food, which turns out to be dog food! Grabbing the interest of middle school students is no mean feat, especially when the subject matter is sensitive and difficult.
What Ms. Bartlett teaches, however, is more than just a classroom curriculum. Her students invariably go on to put into practice the things that they have learned in her class. For example, during the first aid unit, students practice the first aid steps required of many different emergencies. Countless numbers of Ms. Bartlett’s students have returned to tell her to share how they have actually had a chance to put those skills to use, including helping the victim of a bicycle accident, using CPR skills on a neighbor in cardiac arrest, and helping a friend who sprained her ankle while playing soccer. Following the nutrition unit, one parent let her know how overjoyed she was that having taken Ms. Bartlett’s class, her son was not only eating breakfast but had inspired the entire family to pay more attention to what they ate. Another parent mentioned how her daughter had become more diligent about reading food labels and being guided by the nutritional content of what the family ate.
Ms. Bartlett also teaches students how to cope with the many challenges of life in 2020. When students are feeling stressed, she teaches them about breathing and mindfulness. Parents are so grateful for the fact that their children are not just learning about these important issues, but acting on them too. As she herself states, “What I do is more than a classroom curriculum.” She has former students who go on to be involved with the Greenwich Emergency Medical Services Explorer Program, a program for students aged 14 to 18 with an interest in emergency medicine and their community. Additionally, she networks with local agencies to bring in guest speakers on certain topics so students can hear first hand about the impacts of things like substance abuse and domestic violence. More importantly, these guest speakers are community resources for students that they can reach for support long after their time at EMS is over.
Ms. Bartlett received her Bachelor’s Degree in physical education and her Master’s Degree in health education. These dual interests of hers are demonstrated in her role as health educator but also as a coach of the girls’ softball and field hockey teams at EMS. As the coach for the field hockey team, she often has to make difficult decisions about who to keep on the team and who to let go. She always feels a remarkable sense of sadness when she has to disappoint girls who do not make the team. Ms. Bartlett has been known to hold additional practices for such students. Indeed she recruited another teacher to help her coach these girls. Ms. Bartlett also set up scrimmages so that they could experience playing in a game. This required much additional work on her part, but Ms. Bartlett wanted the students to feel like they were still part of a team.
In addition to these roles as health educator and sports coach, she is the teacher advisor for the Environmental Action Club. As a result of her guidance, EMS was one of the first schools in the District to launch a composting program. She is also on the School Data Team as the learning facilitator for the cultural teachers. She is also an active member of the school Social Committee, which is dedicated to helping the staff at EMS feel connected. Each year she chaperones the eighth grade class trip to Washington, D.C. She is the ultimate role model to all new teachers. It comes as no surprise that her personnel file is filled with notes of gratitude for all her efforts.
Ms. Colleen Drumm has been teaching in Greenwich Public Schools for the past 18 years as a sixth grade language arts teacher at Western Middle School (WMS). She has also contributed to WMS and within the district as a Sixth Grade Team Teacher Liaison in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), an English Language Arts Learning Facilitator, a DATA Team member, a coordinator for the magazine drive fundraiser, a Curriculum Planning Team member, a summer school teacher, a Festival of Learning co-organizer, an organizer and host of CMT & Stress Management Assemblies, a Sixth Grade Ice Cream Social organizer, a chaperone for Nature’s Classroom, and a presenter for orientation and student success and curriculum nights.
Ms. Drumm’s number one priority is to build relationships with her students that will support their journey as they become confident, life-long learners. She describes herself as a tour guide for her student’s learning journey and believes it is her job to plan experiences, excite interest and encourage participation. Along the way, based on student feedback and performance, she plans additional excursions noting some “passengers” may not be quite ready to “fly” while others may need more difficult challenges as they continue their journey. Promoting a growth mindset for students as they take this journey and celebrating student success are imperative. She likes to think of her classroom as a launch pad for each student's unique learning journey. She believes it's her mission to create a space where they feel safe and comfortable enough to explore the amazing places they will go. Even though students may take different paths, it's her hope that at the end of the journey they can demonstrate their learning in a way that is memorable and meaningful to each of them.
A parent from WMS described Ms. Drumm as “an extraordinary teacher...whose passion and hard work have a tremendous impact on her students”. Her student, Sam, shared “Ms. Drumm made English class something I got excited about and felt very much engaged in. I worked hard not just for a good grade but because I actually was enjoying the class and wanted to get the most out of it.” She is known for sending out her “Drumm Roll” emails where she praises students for having success in an assignment, assessment, etc. A colleague shared that Ms. Drumm “always finds ways to connect with her students and she strives to help them become invested in their own learning.” Additionally they wrote, “She always makes it a point to explore new resources that best fit the needs of our current students and curriculum. It is this creativity and drive that ensures that all her students are receiving the best instruction possible.” Her administrator noted that Ms. Drumm’s “classroom is a hub of activity”, and “she creates a culture where children want to be here...Ms. Drumm’s insights are always spot on and she is able to problem-solve in a way that considers the input of all stakeholders. Her contributions and commitment to her students reach beyond the classroom walls.”
If asked to give advice to a former student who is considering a career in teaching, Ms. Drumm would share some tenets that have served her well: Be honest. Be organized. Be consistent. Implement predictable structures and always be prepared, but don’t be afraid to fail along the way. Show kids that you are open to learning right there in front of them. Be flexible. Be open. Be a learner. Look for experts sitting in your room and find opportunities for those experts to shine. Let your student know when their idea impacts you. Take advantage of your colleagues. Ask questions. Listen. Volunteer. Be involved. Seek moments to enjoy students outside the class. Kids light up when they see they aren’t just a test score. Be a champion. Being their champion sets students up for success.
Ms. Colleen Drumm received a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and a Master of Arts in secondary education, language arts
Ms. Jessica Keller has worked at Greenwich Highs School for the past seven years, where she has taught American History, Advanced Placement United States History, Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics and Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics. In addition to her teaching, she is a Social Studies Department Learning Facilitator for Bella House, collaborating with staff and administration regarding curriculum, instruction and program goals. She has been a TEAM mentor, a member of the GHS Administration Reorganization Committee, GPS Hiring Committees, Faculty Club Advisor for the Help the Homeless Club as well as co-author for a new elective course in Ancient Civilizations.
Ms. Keller challenges herself to motivate and inspire her students to not only enjoy learning but to see connections between what they are learning and the skills that they are developing. Over the past three years, Ms. Keller has used the Harvard Business School (HBS) Case Study Method in both her AP American History classes as well as her college prep American History classes and shared these practices with her colleagues. Teaching through the case study method allows for greater development in student critical thinking and reasoning skills from using evidence rooted in the case studies. Her nominator and former student, Isabel shared that Ms. Keller “left me energized and inspired. Her passion is unlike that of any teacher I’ve ever had. When we delved into a daunting HBS case study, Ms. Keller helped us break it down and uncover hidden meanings and then turned silent to give students the floor for discussion. I was exhilarated and felt a welcome autonomy, like a college student.
In 2018, Ms. Keller served as a co-moderator at the League of Women Voters and GHS Social Studies Department event using the HBS case study Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Black Voting Rights for students from GHS, Sacred Heart, Brunswick, Rye Country Day School, the Democratic Town Committee and the Republican Town Committee. This discussion helped bring her knowledge of the case study method to a broad demographic and prompted other schools to adopt the case study method in their social studies courses.
Ms. Keller believes that teaching requires constant reflection, purposeful adjustment as well as providing timely and valuable feedback. She encourages a high level of student engagement by differentiating lessons to support her students various learning goals as well as developing lessons that foster student interests allowing them to advocate for cause and actions. One student shared that Ms Keller, “teaches the material in a way that makes me love to learn and love to work hard and put effort into everything I do,” Ms. Keller believes by creating lessons that offer student choice, she fosters a personalized learning environment leading to increased understanding and greater academic achievement.
Colleagues and administrators praised Ms. Keller for her work ethic, unwavering passion and care as well as for being a collaborative force in the office, always willing to meet with other teachers and staff to help them in any way that she can. They compliment her for pushing her students, “to an unforeseen potential, with her unwavering passion and care,” adding that she “creates a safe space for her students to try, through her positive encouragement and thoughtful feedback.” They compliment her “ability to connect with all kinds of students emanating from her generosity, kindness and reflective nature.” Her nominator shared that Ms. Keller’s “love of history was contagious, she would dazzle us with her encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. History, but she was open-minded and willing to learn from us. She created a classroom that is a space for growth not immediate perfection.” Another student emphasized, “The connection that she makes with all of her students, along with her enthusiastic, supportive and invested attitude made her unlike any teacher I’ve had.
Ms. Jessica Keller received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and archaeological studies, from the State University of New York at Potsdam, a Master of Science in educational administration from Mercy College and a Master of Arts in teaching, social studies secondary education from Sacred Heart University.
Ms. Erin Montague has been working in Greenwich Public Schools for six years, serving at Western Middle School (WMS) as a School Counselor and Site Coordinator for Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). According to students, colleagues, parents and administrators, Ms. Montague is much more than any job title can encapsulate. She is boundless energy wrapped up in a cheerleader, collaborator, listener and dedicated champion for the entire WMS community. In her words, her role allows her to “inspire enthusiasm in students to live the life they imagine for themselves. When we reach the goals they set, we celebrate and then push for more. Our students need champions who believe in their continuous growth capabilities” and will always know that “I have their back.
Ms. Montague is a trusted confidant that provides healthy structure and a safe place for students to flesh out academic, social or emotional goals while simultaneously addressing needs as they arise for her caseload of 200+ students. A parent says “her constant presence in the hallways, in the cafeteria…ensuring students fit comfortably in new surroundings and being a source of comfort and advice garners her the respect of students, a hard-earned accomplishment especially with tweens!” Her office is always abuzz. Students seek her out for her counsel throughout the day to discuss issues in real ways “leading them to gain self-awareness and advocacy skills they need to navigate in school and life,” as shared by an administrator. “She is constantly telling the students she believes in them, but holds them accountable at the same time. She is a true sounding board, a role model, and a child advocate the likes of which I have never had the pleasure to work with in my 32 years on the job.
Ms. Montague has proven to be an invaluable resource, outstanding listener and trusted partner to parents. A parent notes that “her tireless determination and dedication earns the respect of parents and colleagues alike knowing she sends students off to GHS who are inspired and ready to hit the ground running.” A parent contacted her because her child said a class was ‘too hard’ and asked her to drop her child down a level. Instead, Ms. Montague helped the parent understand “the child had the ability but was simply running away from the struggle.” Together with the child, they devised a plan for academic support and helped to time-manage her afternoons. That student is now thriving in the advanced class. Ms. Montague does not do ‘easy,’ as stated by an administrator.
In her role as the AVID coordinator, she manages the application process, supports the elective teachers, plans professional development for staff, organizes student trips and ensures that AVID remains a central focus at WMS. Her colleague says Ms. Montague “creates and facilitates faculty meetings and professional development on strategies that benefit all students such as focused notes, collaborative study groups, Costa’s levels of thinking/questioning and Socratic seminars.” She not only collaborates with all teachers at WMS, but she is in consistent communication with AVID District partners and provides professional development to teachers at New Lebanon School as well.
Ms. Montague is a graduate of WMS, has her finger on the pulse of the community and wants nothing more than what is best for all WMS students, parents, families, teachers, staff, and administrators. She is well connected to the Greenwich community and successfully spearheaded a police mentorship program with 10-15 officers from the Greenwich Police Department. Her administrator says “the impact that these relationships have had on our students, and on the police as well, has been tangible and positive.” She works tirelessly to ensure the best for all WMS stakeholders; typically one of the first to arrive every morning and last to leave in the evening. Outside of the school day, her colleague says “you will find her on the sidelines cheering on the WMS sports teams and attending school concerts and plays.” Ms. Montague is also the Interim Head Cheerleading Coach at GHS. She served as the Head Coach for three years, stepping down only to pursue her administrative degree. She was later contacted when the new coach stepped down and agreed to the interim position because “they needed me and I can’t let them down.” Her administrator emphasizes, “that’s Erin in a nutshell.
Ms. Montague received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and human development and family studies from the University of Connecticut, her Master of Arts in counseling from Fairfield University and just received her Administrative Certificate from Sacred Heart University. As noted by her administrator, “I don’t know where she gets the energy, and I don’t know what we would do without her. I can say with complete certainty that Erin has had as much, if not more, of a positive impact on this building than anyone."
Central Middle School (CMS) and Greenwich High School (GHS). According to her students, parents and colleagues, she has built a reputation of respect and excellence based on strong communication skills. While she is equipped with an incredible knowledge and enthusiasm for math, she also teaches students to be better students, citizens, team players and advocates. She leads by example in the classroom, in the math department, in professional organizations and as a community leader.
In addition to her responsibilities in the classroom, Ms. Mulligan currently serves on the GPS PK-12 Curriculum Council, is a CT Teacher Education and Mentoring (T.E.A.M.) mentor, is a GPS Professional Learning Workshop Presenter, and is a GHS Math Program Associate. She has also served as a GHS Math Department Instructional Coach and Math Learning Facilitator at GHS and CMS and served on the Elementary/Middle School Math Program Steering Committee for the District.
She has a gift for recruiting high school volunteers whether as a parent volunteer for North Mianus School PTA events or GPS Summer School High School Volunteer Program, creating and growing the program from 4 to 110 volunteers. “Above and beyond” are words frequently used by administrators, colleagues, parents and students to describe Lori Mulligan. Recognized as a Distinguished Girl Scout Leader in 2018, she raised the bar yet again by organizing activities for the Greenwich Service Unit troops to earn badges, like the 2020 Women in Government badge workshop and the 2020 Girls Math Festival. In the words of her colleague, “Not only was she an organizer and participant, but she sought volunteers for the day from her GHS students. Inspire young girls with fun activities, inspire young girls as a role model and offer community service opportunities to students? That’s above and beyond.
Ms. Mulligan encourages her students to go above and beyond by setting out a comprehensive new unit with required reading and vocabulary, a required problem set and an optional set with review or challenge problems, and a column for students to self-report when they have completed the assignment. This allows them to “complete their own ‘roadmap’ to future math success”, as noted by a colleague. Ms. Mulligan makes it clear that learning doesn’t end with the test; encouraging students to “correct and reflect” on quiz/test corrections and math journal reflections to build the resilience to “fail forward” thus improving understanding to improve performance on subsequent learning. Her class environment is an engaging blend of direct instruction and group work where students productively struggle together. A student says, Ms. Mulligan “shreds away any fear students have of asking other students for help leaving us feeling more comfortable opening up to new people in new classes and eventually leading to new friends.” She helps students reach beyond their limits, both academically and socially. As noted by a student, “her class is not easy, but she provides exactly what students need to be successful.
In the quest to improve overall student achievement, she rallies available resources collaborating with special education, AVID and STARS teachers, assistant deans, house administrators, school social workers, and psychologists. Her students benefit from her insight and ability to pull together teams of people in support of their individual needs. Her collaboration and clear communication model the process of problem solving in a very real way as witnessed by her students. She encourages anyone considering a career in teaching “to collaborate with your colleagues, find critical friends in your administrators and community, and enjoy the fun of learning from and with your students.” Words she truly lives by.
Ms. Mulligan received her BA in English education from the University of Connecticut, her MA in elementary and early childhood education from the University of Bridgeport and continued her studies in educational administration at Teachers College, Columbia University. Ms. Mulligan is an enthusiastic learner and is energized to see what each new day or class presents. She utilizes what she learns from her peers, District colleagues, instructional coaches, students, monthly journals and internet sources to craft her skills and develop her lessons; never settling for the same lesson plan year after year. Once a lesson is delivered or a quiz is corrected, she reflects and determines what changes need to be made. Upon reflection, she remembers “in the early years, I was thrilled with a light bulb; now I’m determined to set my classroom alight everyday.
- DTA Nomination Packets - 2021 Packets - COMING SOON
- Important Dates for 2020 DTA Program
- DTA Eligibility Requirements
- Distinguished Teachers 1985 - 2020
Nomination Packets available on the GPS web site
|March 10, 5:00pm||
Deadline for completed nomination packet – submitted electronically
Distinguished Teachers Award Committee selection of finalists
|April 20 (evening)||
Candidates, nominators and principals notified by telephone or email
Finalists announced at their schools
|Finalists are presented at the Board of Education meeting at Riverside School by the Chairman of the DTAC. Finalists also attend a dinner at Riverside School with the Board members prior to the meeting; photographs are taken.
(Nominators, seconders, colleagues and family members are encouraged to attend the Board of Ed. Meeting.)
Distinguished Teachers Award Ceremony
(Nominators will present their candidate in a brief introduction, no more than one minute. Finalists are asked to make a very brief acceptance speech. Seconders, colleagues and family members are encouraged to attend the ceremony.)
For complete eligibility and criteria information, review the Nomination Packet Instructions available annually in December.
To be eligible for the award, a nominee must:
• be a full-time* staff member** who teaches in the Greenwich Public Schools
• have completed at least five (5) years of teaching
• have completed at least three (3) years of teaching in the Greenwich Public Schools
• be an employee in good standing
(Previous award recipients are not eligible for re-nomination.)
* equal to or greater than 0.5
**any member of the GEA, including teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists
Nominations MUST provide the diverse perspectives of an administrator, colleague, and a parent or student. Nominations may be made by anyone representing one of the following categories; the seconders must represent the remaining two categories:
- one professional colleague, currently employed by the Greenwich Public Schools
- one parent/student/other current community member
- one administrator, currently employed by the Greenwich Public Schools
(Members of the Distinguished Teachers Award Committee may not nominate or second a nomination.)
Only one nomination packet per candidate will be accepted. We will accept the first nomination submitted; any subsequent nominations for the same candidate will not be accepted.
Criteria of a Distinguished Teacher:
The main emphasis in identifying a distinguished teacher is the quality of the teacher’s work with students. Candidates nominated for the Distinguished Teachers Award should be those who exhibit the qualities which are listed below. It is essential that nominators and seconders cite specific examples of the following qualities:
* Inspires enthusiasm, expects students to take responsibility for their own learning, and elicits a high level of achievement from students in relation to their individual abilities
* Demonstrates and continues to pursue a high mastery of subject matter and best practices for instruction
* Has the respect of students, parents and colleagues
* Communicates well with parents and students
* Collaborates and makes contributions to improve overall student achievement within the classroom
* Makes contributions to improve the school and/or the District beyond the classroom
For questions about nominations or procedures, please contact the Communications Office at the Havemeyer Building at 203-625-7415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distinguished Teachers (1985-2020)
Chris Anne Powers
Michele Giorlando DeRosa
James M. Micik
Lin Yuan Young
Melissa Macchio Brown
Mary Beth Smith
Jean Di Vincenzo
Francis Pierce II
A. Ray Hamilton
Judith Fell Woods