Meet The Heroes: 11 Inspiring (and Unforgettable) Educators We Met In 2015

Meet the Heroes: 11 Inspiring (and Unforgettable) Educators We Met in 2015

This article is part of a series on The Seventy-Four that showcases the remarkable individuals, achievements, success stories, and acts of kindness taking place in schools across America. To read more inspiring articles, visit

As the holiday season approaches and we anticipate the arrival of 2016, the team at The Seventy-Four is still in awe of the courageous educators who have inspired us this year. From schools of all sizes, whether situated in bustling New York City or quiet corners of Montana, we have witnessed time and time again the profound impact that extraordinary educators are having on their students. These remarkable individuals are shaping the next generation of Americans, one student at a time.

We have seen the U.S. Coast Guard pilot who left his wings behind to support underserved students in Newark, New Jersey. We have been amazed by the superintendent in Florida who is leading his school district while also serving as principal of one of its most ambitious schools. The principal of Haven Academy in the Bronx, where the majority of students are part of the foster care system, has left us inspired. Additionally, we have witnessed teachers in Montana succeeding in turning around one of the state’s most remote Native American schools, despite the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.

Of course, we must mention the army of educators who have achieved astonishing turnarounds in New Orleans in the ten years since Hurricane Katrina. We spent several months in New Orleans this year, documenting their story. Make sure to check out our special report and watch our exclusive short film.

These leaders are just a small sample of the incredible educators we have encountered at The Seventy-Four. In 2015, our team has been privileged to come across numerous heroes like them. As we approach New Year’s Eve, and the familiar lyrics "should old acquaintance be forgot" come to mind, we firmly believe that old friends should not be forgotten. Similarly, the most inspiring educational leaders of the year should not be consigned to the archives.

So here they are – eleven school leaders we can’t stop applauding. These are eleven educational victories that deserve to be shared.

First on the list is Ms. Wilson, a first-grade teacher from Massachusetts. Sofia Wilson is making significant strides in improving students’ academic progress and is part of an ambitious campaign to turn around a failing school at Boston’s UP Academy. As one of a handful of charter school educators, she is providing opportunities to children from one of Boston’s toughest neighborhoods. Scott Given, the founder of UP Network, emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue of chronic underperformance in Massachusetts schools. For more details about Sofia Wilson and UP Academy, read our full story.

Next, we have Mr. Carvalho, a superintendent from Florida. Alberto Carvalho has revolutionized the schools in Miami, making Miami-Dade County Public Schools one of the top districts in the nation. His leadership has led to a significant increase in the number of magnet, charter, and "choice" schools, providing students with personalized learning plans in a range of specialties, from conservation biology to the performing arts to vocational training. In addition to his superintendent role, Carvalho also serves as a principal at one of the district’s top schools. To learn more about Alberto Carvalho and Miami-Dade County Schools, read our full story.

Our list also includes Ms. Nauiokas, a principal from the Bronx. Haven Academy in New York has made a significant impact on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged students in the Bronx, thanks to Principal Jessica Nauiokas. Two-thirds of the student body at Haven Academy are connected to the foster care system, and Nauiokas, along with her dedicated staff, aims to create a positive student culture that helps students overcome the challenges they face. For more information about Jessica Nauiokas and Haven Academy, read our full story.

Lastly, we have Mr. Hernandez, a principal from California. The severe drought in California has not only affected crops but has also put schools in the state’s Central Valley in jeopardy. Despite the difficulties, Baldomero Hernandez, the principal and superintendent of the West Side Elementary School District, has been a beacon of strength for his community. As migrant farmer families continue to leave in search of work, Hernandez has inspired his staff to advocate for the community and preserve its way of life. To learn more about Baldomero Hernandez and California’s drought-stricken schools, read our full story. You can also watch our exclusive documentary for a closer look.

Ms. McKenney, the superintendent of the Epping School District in New Hampshire, took an initiative to enhance the significance of standardized tests in her state. She oversaw a pilot program where students were required to complete local competency-based exams instead. These exams were designed to closely align with their everyday classroom work. If successful, this program could have a significant impact on accountability, measuring student progress, and evaluating teacher effectiveness in New Hampshire schools.

Mr. Hirst, the superintendent of Heart Butte School in Montana, shared an inspiring story of school turnaround. He has been motivating students to break the cycle of poverty that has persisted in their community for generations. Despite limited funding, Mr. Hirst, who also teaches French, has been enriching the school’s curriculum at a time when other schools are reducing course options. What makes this even more special is that he has incorporated the pride of tribal identity into the curriculum for students whose history has been traditionally marginalized.

Professor Ford, a researcher from Tennessee, sheds light on the slow progress of gifted education in America. She points out the struggle of gifted education programs in identifying and engaging talented minority students. Professor Ford considers this issue a national crisis and has extensively researched the gap between white students and their underrepresented peers of color. She is personally invested in this fight as she aims to secure a placement for her son in a gifted program that will allow him to excel.

Ms. Brown, an executive director from Boston, is known as the "grandmother" of America’s best charter schools. She is the founder and executive director of Building Excellent Schools and has developed a secret formula for building outstanding schools. The process involves admitting around twelve aspiring charter school leaders each year as fellows. These fellows observe some of the nation’s top charter schools to gain insights that help in designing new schools. Since 2003, Ms. Brown has assisted in launching 79 schools.

Ms. Quezada, an early education teacher in New York City, is part of the growing number of "second-generation" Teach For America (TFA) members. Having been taught by TFA teachers herself, she now serves as an educator in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Ms. Quezada aims to inspire her students and help them reach important learning and developmental milestones. Additionally, she hopes her work will expand her students’ expectations for their future, including attending college.

Mr. Martin, an educator from Newark, New Jersey, played a pivotal role in bringing progress to the city’s educational landscape. As a proponent of education reform, he worked to increase access to high-performing charter schools for the most disadvantaged students in Newark. Mr. Martin believes that education programs can act as a "great equalizer." His school has already achieved success, with a higher number of African-American students going on to college compared to other schools in Newark. He outlined the data behind Newark’s educational success story in an exclusive essay for The Seventy Four, emphasizing the importance of school choice.

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  • jacobcunningham

    Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.



Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.