First Excellence in Teaching Academies to Provide Key Resources for Educators

Posted: July 3, 2014 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: July 9, 2014 at 12:20 am

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By Sudha Kamath

George Mason University is hosting the first Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching academies this month, and several George Mason alumni are among the 100 teachers accepted from 800 applicants across the commonwealth. They will learn more this summer about leadership, technology, decision making and education policy during four prestigious academies held on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Teachers on campus for the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching network over dinner. Photo by  John Boal.

Teachers on campus for the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching network during opening session.
Photo by John Boal.

“What a whirlwind this has been,” says Kiri Johnson who attended last week’s academy focusing on interdisciplinary studies. She’s been an educator full time for 16 years, starting her career as a German language teacher, then becoming an instructional technology resource teacher at Brooke Point High School in Stafford County, Va. “The VCET professors have been amazing. They’ve given us rich resources and experiences in reflection, cultural understanding and data analysis. We’ve met, and we have at our disposal, experts in the fields we may need as we complete our action research and advocacy projects.”

Johnson earned her MEd in curriculum and instruction from Mason in 2004. She says through the academy, she’s accumulated “a wealth of new knowledge, skills and contacts, and I am looking forward to pulling it together and applying it in my practice.”

Lori Mullaney was part of the academy focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She earned her MSEd in curriculum and instruction from Mason in 2004. Mullaney is a technology resource teacher at Lovettsville Elementary in Loudoun County, Va. “It was inspiring and amazing,” she says of the academy. “Through the networking, the connections I made, I got to meet teachers from all over Virginia. We exchanged ideas, strategies, lesson plans and projects, and I plan to stay in touch with them. The instructors were phenomenal.”

JoAnna Mills-Sampson earned her applied behavioral analysis certificate from Mason through Virginia Beach City Schools. The Diamond Springs Elementary teacher attended the interdisciplinary studies academy. “It turned out to be so much more than I expected,” she says. “I can’t speak highly enough of the quality of the education and the competency of the staff. I came away knowing so much more about leadership.”

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Mason alumna Joanna Mills-Sampson directs questions to Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine as part of the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching’s visit to Capitol Hill. Photo by John Boal.

Mills-Sampson especially was motivated by the participants’ visit with Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner June 25 on Capitol Hill, saying, “It opened my eyes to what happens outside the classroom as well; what we have to do to make our voices heard and not be silent on education policy. The senators were very approachable and welcoming.”

The academies are being held at Mason’s College of Education and Human Development.

Two more academies—one specializing in humanities and language arts; the other, in fine arts—are being held July 6‒12. Online learning is planned this fall, followed by a conference in February in Richmond. Faculty and participants also are staying in touch and sharing ideas on social media.

“We had an excellent pool of applicants” says Elizabeth Sturtevant, Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching director. “One of the goals of the program is to create networks of outstanding teachers who support each other and work together to improve public education in Virginia.”

Participants are earning five graduate college credits from Mason, equivalent to 150 points toward the 180 required to maintain a Virginia teaching licensure.

Several Mason professors are leading the academies: Margret Hjalmarson and Toya Frank, STEM; Lena Hall, Rebecca Fox and Seth Parsons, interdisciplinary studies; Kristien Zenkov and Anthony Pelligrino, humanities and language arts; and Kim Sheridan, fine arts. Rob Stansbury of Fairfax County Public Schools also is participating as a music education specialist.

More faculty are involved in the academies as well: Penelope Earley, education policy; Lori Bland, data-driven decision making; Jered Borup and Nada Dabbagh, technology; and Stephanie Dodman, educational leadership.

Johnson recalls the moment that inspired her career in education. “When I was a freshman in high school, Christa McAuliffe, America’s first teacher in space, said, ‘I touch the future. I teach.’ Even though she lost her life in the Challenger tragedy, McAuliffe is still able to have an effect on the future, still able to inspire others. And I am still deeply moved by that.”

Write to Sudha Kamath at

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