Each year at the TEAMspys we honor six staff members who epitomize each of our six values, plus one Mountains Beyond Mountains Award winner who consistently epitomizes them all.

Here are this year’s winners:


Our work is never easy, but the winner (and nominees) of the Fun Award bring joy and humor to our schools in ways that help us build community and give students a reason to love walking through their classroom doors every day.

This year’s fun award went to Shenika Branch, from KIPP Lanning Square Primary in Camden. Shenika was nominated by a variety of her colleagues because of the way she brings fun to the entire school. Not only does she write school songs and launch extracurriculars, but she also plans service learning trips that are fun and meaningful life experiences.

“She still ensures that field trips and events include vital primary school experiences such as plays, assemblies, bowling, book fairs and aquariums, but then she brings the Branch factor and takes it one step further. If you can imagine 125 second grade leaders parading down the main street of Broadway in Camden, bookended by fire trucks and police escorts as they did a paper towel march to the local Ronald McDonald house in the Cooper Hospital facility.”

Other finalists:

Alayna Miller – KIPP SPARK Academy

Lacey Reynolds – KIPP BOLD Academy

Shannon Williams – KIPP Rise Academy


The Impact Award is about results. This year’s impact finalists all have impressive records of bringing new systems and initiatives to their campuses in order to reach more students effectively.

This year’s Impact Award went to KIPP Rise Academy 7th grade math teacher, Ann Burke. Last year, Rise 7th graders in Ann’s math class nearly doubled their PARCC proficiency and the median student in her class scored at the 90th percentile in growth, considered a perfect score by the state assessment system. It’s easy to see why when you watch her connect with students during preps or on Friday evenings, and as she constantly seeks out feedback on how to grow even more.

One nominator said:

“Ann consistently impacts our school and students in subtle ways. She isn't one to be showy but spending just a moment in her classroom makes you realize how truly effective she is. It is not uncommon to walk into Ann's room after school and see not just current 7th graders, but kids that she taught years before and even students she has never taught. Her room has become the heart of our building, not only because it is centrally located but because of the energy. It is always positive and productive... always energetic. A few weeks ago I walked into the room to see a group of students trying to prepare themselves for 8th-grade Algebra. Ann was working with them on content that she has never taught, nor will ever be held accountable to in any obvious way. They were so focused and determined... those are traits they gleaned from Ann.”

Other finalists:

Laura Joseph – KIPP Rise Academy

Sharae Lewis – KIPP BOLD Academy

Shanel Sommers – KIPP THRIVE Academy


The Improvement Award is about taking already great systems and practices and making them better. This year’s finalists all have improved their schools and the KIPP New Jersey network.

This year’s Improvement Award winner is Sarba Aguda, part of our network’s Teaching and Learning Team. Sarba built the Teaching and Learning team, which oversees and informs instruction across all KIPP New Jersey campuses, from two people when she joined our network to ten people today in order to serve our teachers, schools, and students better.

One nominee says, “perhaps nobody has had a bigger impact on our network in such a short time than Sarba.”

Other finalists:

Sean Burke – KIPP BOLD Academy

Princess Fils-Aime – KIPP SPARK Academy

Clare Rachko – KIPP Lanning Square Primary


The Freedom Award is about finding new and innovative ways to impact students and families better. Our ultimate mission is not possible unless we continue to innovate as individuals and as a network and our four nominees have used freedom within their roles to continue to push the bar higher.

This year’s Freedom Award winner is KIPP Seek Academy grade level chair, Victoria Clinton. Victoria is an exemplary Seek teacher whose focus on cultural relevance is making a lasting impact. She created a series of lessons called “My History” and has spent time in the classroom discussing current events, women’s history, and Black Lives Matter to name just a few topics.

Here’s what one nominator said about Tory:

“Tory embodies the value of Freedom. She has always been interested in social justice issues and sharing current events with our students. Since she started working at Seek 4 years ago, she took it upon herself to hold community meetings in her classroom to talk about events that students were hearing about at home or on the news.”

Other Finalists:

Stephen Demers – KIPP THRIVE and BOLD Academies

Amanda Poole – KIPP Lanning Square

Anthony Walters – KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy

Check back next week for our other four winners!

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