One Friday night each May, all of the TEAM Schools staff gather in Jersey City for a night of celebration. We call this the TEAMspys (borrowed from the ESPYs). Around here, it’s also known as the greatest night of your life.

teamspysWe give out an award for each of our six values, plus an overall award for one person who most exemplifies all of our values. We call this one Mountains Beyond Mountains, named after a book several of our staff read and loved.

Here’s a little bit about each award and the winners from last year’s TEAMspys.


jeff fleming teamspys kipp njFun – Jeff Fleming

To us, fun means not taking ourselves too seriously. It means finding time to laugh and play even when we’re the busiest. Last year we recognized Jeff Fleming, history teacher and department chair at Newark Collegiate Academy. Here are some of the things nominators said about Jeff:

  • Jeff’s cool, calm, collected sense of self spills over into his teaching on a daily basis.
  • His student council is one of the most popular clubs and that’s because kids love the fun environment he creates.
  • He has been able to get consistent attendance from the club members (despite meeting at 7 am).
  • From debates, to current event articles, to interesting projects, to planning teacher social events, Jeff exudes fun in everything he does.
  • He led a whole-staff training session on building relationships with students, hence the nickname "the teenager whisperer".


lindsey epstein teamspys kipp njImpact – Lindsey Epstein

We measure impact by looking at results, rather than holding onto process or tradition. The ultimate result we seek are all of our students getting to and through college or the career training they choose. Last year we recognized Lindsey Epstein, math department chair and teacher at Rise Academy. Here’s what was said of Lindsey:

  • Even though the math depatment, under her leadership, is already incredibly strong, she is constantly finding new ways and programs to improve her department and herself even more.
  • She took an established department and overturned set structures for the sake of improvement and student achievement.
  • She is someone who constantly makes decisions in the best interests of kids and consistently asks herself how a given decision will impact student achievement.
  • She uses technology, flash drills, cards, white boards, manipulatives, and everything else she can get her hands on to make sure that her students understand and can master the concepts in front of them.
  • Countless times, Lindsey would call teachers at our other middle school to talk about  anything they could collaborate on.


kevin brown teamspys kipp njKid Focus – Kevin Brown

Kid focus means You seek what is best for our students and the schools that would serve them, rather than what is best for yourself or your team. It means you believe promises to kids are sacred, so you keep them. Kevin Brown, dean of students at Rise Academy, won the TEAMspy for kid focus. Here’s some of the many things nominators said about Kevin:

  • When he found out one of Rise’s former students lost a spot at a boarding school, he took him in during the week to make sure he had a place to stay and still make it to school.
  • He doesn’t sell himself. He works relentlessly to give every student who walks through Rise’s doors every opportunity possible.
  • He bought one of our students a suit for the promotion ceremony so he was dressed like his classmates.
  • Kevin spends all of his time ensuring that our students have what they need.


norah gillam teamspys kipp njImprovement – Norah Gillam

Improvement means you constantly seek to improve your work and your school, no matter how good it already is. It also means when there is a problem, you find a solution. Norah Gillam, instructional leader and English teacher at Newark Collegiate Academy won the TEAMspy for improvement. Here are some things nominators said about Norah:

  • As they were developing the writing program, Norah came up with the idea to give writing teachers Fridays free from teaching to be able to grade as a group.
  • She’s the instructional backbone of the school.
  • She developed NCA's library system and to build incentives in her own classroom to encourage her students to read.
  • She developed a common language amongst staff so students always knew what teachers expected in their writing, whether or not they were in an English class.


thomas de simon teamspys kipp njFreedom – Thomas de Simon

At TEAM, freedom means you use the freedom that is given to you to develop new programs, practices, and ideas in service of our students. You take risks to find ways to serve more students better. Thomas de Simon, our director of marketing, won the freedom award. Here are some things nominators said:

  • Although I've been at this for a while, and my job hasn't changed, people's access to it has because we can now send a video open eyes and hearts in a way that words can't.
  • Now, when I think about how far we still have to go to reach our goal even though we've already been at this for a decade, a little inspiration was just what I needed.
  • "I watch Thomas' videos of our kids to get strength to keep going when teaching feels hard or progress seems elusive".
  • "Thomas has developed what was once an undefined role into a unique, powerful, effective and innovative department that drives the way we look at TEAM Schools".


venus hendersonTEAMwork – Venus Henderson

At TEAM, we have a maxim: when a teammate needs help, we give. Teamwork means you put the interests of your kids and your team above your personal interests. We recognized Venus Henderson, office manager a Rise Academy for the TEAMwork award last year. Here’s what the nominators said:

  • When there was a parent workshop at the school, Venus changed her plans so she could be available for it
  • Venus brings a sense of joy, fun, and love to Rise that hits people as soon as they walk in the door.
  • She celebrates the successes of everybody else in the most selfless of ways.
  • She has a way of disarming any situation and making everyone feel valued and comfortable.

teamspys kipp nj sarah

Mountains Beyond Mountains – Sarah Dewey

The Mountains Beyond Mountains award goes to our network MVP. It’s based off a book by the same name about Dr. Paul Farmer who in the face of almost certain failure at eradicating diseases, refused to give up. Last year, Sarah Dewey, social worker at SPARK Academy, won the award. Here are a few of the many, many nominations:

  • She spent hours outside of school compiling resources for the first grade, so they were dealing with students in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • She provides her whole staff with strategies and helpful tips for dealing with the most struggling or difficult students.
  • When a student knows that they are about to have their time with Dewey their face brightens up and they almost want to jump with glee.
  • She always has conversations with new teachers in understanding six year old behaviors.
  • She set up counseling in another state for students who were relocating, ensuring they were still cared for even though they weren’t at SPARK.
  • She runs a “breakfast club” with students who have special needs every week where they have fun and practice skills in an extremely practical way.

This Year

Though the TEAMspys are just under a month away, we’re gathering nominations, staff shout outs and throwing together scripts. This year, we’ll also recognize campus MVPs. We call the TEAMspys the greatest night of your life because it's an epic celebration. It’s also a great reminder of the amazing, driven people we work alongside day in and day out.

Michael Alderman is a staff writer and content manager for TEAM Schools. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter and interact with him there.

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