Three Finalists Named for MCPS Teacher of the Year

by Patrick Herron
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Per Montgomery County Public Schools:

March 16, 2022

Three teachers have been named finalists for the 2022–2023 MCPS Teacher of the Year. They are: Irma Najarro, dual-language fourth grade teacher at Washington Grove Elementary School; Michael Edwards, world studies and global humanities sixth grade teacher at Julius West Middle School; and Johnathan Dunn, choral teacher at Sherwood High School.

Irma Najarro is a fourth grade bilingual teacher at Washington Grove Elementary School. In her 16-year career, she has taught at Washington Grove and South Lake, both Title I schools. Colleagues describe her as a conscientious, patient teacher who infuses socio-emotional skills with compassion and positivity. She works hard to recognize students’ individual needs, encourages their talents and fosters their self-esteem. At Washington Grove, she teaches in Spanish and English, a task that requires content knowledge and the ability to create a learning environment that elevates Spanish while teaching students how to make connections between the two.

Najarro believes that students who feel welcomed, comfortable and cared for will thrive when teachers have confidence that they can accomplish the targeted objectives. Students are encouraged to embrace a growth mindset, to set goals and to understand the reasons behind what they’re being taught. If they understand why, they will develop an intellectual curiosity that helps them develop into lifelong learners. She plans opportunities for students to extend their thinking and productively struggle before she helps them find ways to overcome those obstacles.

As an immigrant herself, she has shared her story of assimilation to a new country, and uses her past experiences to help students overcome their struggles. She has established strong communication skills with parents of her students, reaching out to them in multiple ways—Class Dojo, emails, calls and newsletters.

Najarro motivates new educators to help mold the next generation, has been part of many committees working to improve school climate and morale, and has led training sessions on equity. During her years teaching at South Lake, she served as the chair for Hispanic Heritage Night and Career Day, and helped establish after-school and summer clubs.

She is a member of the School Improvement Team, served as the school’s Elected Faculty Member and, for eight years, has served as team leader, guiding new and experienced teachers. She also serves as a PTA co-cluster coordinator for the Gaithersburg cluster. She holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

— Ms. Najarro “has taught me that studying and listening [are] important to succeed in life,” wrote one of her fourth grade students. “When I’m sad, she always asks if I’m okay, and she helps me feel better.”

Michael Edwards has taught sixth grade world studies and global humanities at Julius West Middle School since 2019. Known for his ability to connect with students, Edwards is a popular, caring and open-minded educator who shows empathy and listens to all points of view.

He coordinates the school’s restorative justice and the No Place for Hate (NPFH) programs, which both incorporate strategies to proactively build a positive school culture. He has been instrumental in creating lesson plans that educate students on the impact of racial and ethnic slurs and gender identity issues, as well as the importance of respect and tolerance for all. He routinely signs up for professional growth classes on restorative justice, and has facilitated sessions for staff. His efforts extend into the larger community. During the pandemic, along with the Julius West NPFH committee, Edwards organized a food drive for families in need, collecting more than 350 bags of food, and distributed mental health supplies, including calming strips, stress balls and mindfulness activities.

Edwards is a leader in the sixth grade social studies Professional Learning Community (PLC), advocating for using new technologies and incorporating school improvement plan initiatives, such as higher-order questioning, active classroom and student discourse into curriculum. He uses modified instructional materials for struggling learners, such as content readings by lexile level and sentence frames, while maintaining challenge and rigor for higher-level learners.

Edwards is beloved because he makes history exciting and interesting, creating lessons that are relatable and providing real-world connections. He holds weekly one-on-one meetings with students about grades and work completion, and provides consistent feedback. He asks them to set personal and class goals, and encourages them to achieve at a high level. He creates positive relationships with them, so they feel comfortable taking risks, one of the key tenets of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

A Paint Branch high school graduate and the son of a teacher, Edwards is the school’s junior varsity soccer coach, and has also served as a swim and soccer coach for other schools and clubs. He previously taught sixth grade at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership.

— “Mr. Edwards changes lives for the better,” said a seventh grade student. “He does not shut down anyone’s opinions or thoughts. He boosts students’ confidence and makes them feel special when school can be challenging.”

Johnathan Dunn has been a choral teacher at Sherwood High School for nine years. He is the kind of teacher who shapes students’ academic experience. He brings positive energy, love and kindness to everyone he encounters. A joyful and enthusiastic educator, Dunn works tirelessly to see that his students benefit from his lessons.

He teaches chorus, piano and music perspectives. Believing that music is a way to connect, he makes the music department a home for everyone. He takes great pride in making sure that all students have an opportunity to express themselves and experience the joy of music, regardless of their background, physical capabilities, learning differences, mental health challenges or musical proficiency. He encourages them all to perform in concerts and get involved in the Rock n‘ Roll Revival production, a 50-year tradition at Sherwood. With a cast of more than 300 students—from the highly skilled to first-time performers—Dunn unites them for a creative three-hour show. He also leads other school events, including vocal direction for the fall musical production and the Night of Jazz event in the spring.

He has coordinated teacher- and parent-led educational sightseeing and musical theater trips for chorus students to New York City. He has an open-door policy, and students regularly visit to talk with him about academic struggles or other concerns.

Outside school, Dunn contributes his time to community events, and is active as a leader in music ministry and worship. A graduate of Catholic University, Dunn is a composer, arranger and pianist whose career began as an aspiring concert pianist. He has served as artistic director for the Washington Youth Choir. A finalist in the National Symphony Young Soloists’ Competition in 1993, he performed the Grieg Piano Concerto at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dunn is also restorative justice coach at the school, and in the 2020–2021 school year, took on an administrator position responsible for the ninth grade. He is in his final semester of graduate studies at Hood College, earning a master’s degree in educational leadership. In his 19 years with MCPS, he has been a choral educator at James Hubert Blake High School, Cabin John Middle School and Francis Scott Key Middle School.

— “When I had Mr. Dunn, I always left school feeling more inspired—and more self-confident,” said former student James Fitzgerald.

The winner, who will be announced during a virtual celebration on April 28, will go on to compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year honors.

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