Arlington Public Schools is proud to announce the 2022 Principal, Teacher and Support Employee of the Year award winners. This prestigious honor is awarded annually to Arlington Public Schools employees who demonstrate outstanding leadership and commitment to student success and well-being.
“Congratulations to the honorees. Words cannot fully express our immense gratitude for the heroic efforts of our teachers and staff over the past year and throughout the pandemic,” said Superintendent Francisco Durán. “Our employees are what makes Arlington a great school division, and together, they create safe, supportive schools for all students. We are fortunate to benefit from the diverse talents of this year’s award recipients—they serve as an inspiration to students and to us all.”
For the first time this school year, APS opened the Teacher and Principal of the Year nomination process to the community and received over 130 nominations from staff, students and families. A diverse selection committee of APS leaders and past award recipients voted on the winners. Based on the new nomination process, APS designated a Teacher of the Year to represent the division and each level—elementary, middle and high school.
The Support Employee of the Year nomination process was open to staff only, and the nominees were voted on by the APS Employee Advisory Committee.
The honorees will be celebrated in person at the annual Celebration of Excellence on Wed, May 4, at Washington-Liberty High School.
Here are the winners in this year’s 11 categories:
Jessica Panfil, Claremont Immersion, Principal of the Year
During her 12 years in Arlington Public Schools, Dr. Jessica Panfil has demonstrated exemplary leadership that has enabled students and staff to thrive. As principal of Claremont, Dr. Panfil manages a dual-language immersion program with over 700 students that serves as a model in our community. Her zealous encouragement and efforts to promote creativity and innovation are evidenced by students’ involvement in STEAM, bilingual, and rigorous activities in and out of school. Dr. Panfil’s ability to establish meaningful personal connections with all members of the community shows the depth of her skill as a leader and educator. Dr. Panfil is a trusted and inspirational mentor who “exemplifies true leadership through the systems she has put in place, which empower her grade-level teams to plan engaging and rigorous instruction in two languages.”
Dr. Panfil began her career in education as a Teach for America fourth grade bilingual classroom teacher in New York City. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American History at Columbia University and her Master of Education degree at The University of Georgia. Later, she received her Doctor of Education from the University of Virginia.
Iris Gibson, Langston High School Continuation Program, APS Teacher of the Year and High School Teacher of the Year
Iris Gibson is a Business Education teacher at Langston and the lead Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher for high school business and IT. Ms. Gibson’s dedication to her students is evident in her classroom. As described by colleagues, “Ms. Gibson is skilled in developing innovative lesson plans that effectively draw her students in, and she fosters a classroom full of energy, where students are engaged, discussions occur, and technology is innovatively incorporated.” When schools moved online due to the pandemic, she adapted to the technology requirements and established herself as the go-to person at Langston for help with technology. With patience and understanding, Ms. Gibson helped other teachers transition to online teaching. Ms. Gibson taught business and economics at Marymount University for nearly 14 years before transitioning to APS in 2016 to help more students reach their post-secondary goals. According to colleagues, “Ms. Gibson is one of the first teachers to arrive at school and the last teacher to leave. Each day she meticulously evaluates her lesson plans to make sure she is meeting the learning and emotional needs of her students.”
Katie Willet, Williamsburg, Middle School Teacher of the Year
As a dedicated science teacher who holds National Board Certification (NBCT), Katie Willet is a leader within the school when it comes to personalized learning. She has organized her seventh-grade science class for students to set their own individualized learning goals and pursue learning activities at their own pace. She has worked closely with university professors in her field to gain a deeper knowledge of personalized learning and continues to implement and refine best practices in her classroom daily. Willet is a leader in her school community who has served in various leadership roles beyond her classroom responsibilities. She has served as Williamsburg’s Instructional Lead Teacher and serves on the Advisory Committee for Teaching and Learning, where she tirelessly advocates for the needs of students and staff. In the words of her Principal Bryan Boykin, the true mark of a Teacher of the Year is not just a teacher who inspires students, but also lifts the entire community by serving as a model for other staff. Ms. Willet does this at Williamsburg, and we are all better because of her talent and dedication to education.”
Brittany Oman, Arlington Science Focus, Elementary School Teacher of the Year
As a special education teacher, Brittany Oman has worked tirelessly at all grade levels and in a variety of teaching models to help students grow and succeed academically, socially and emotionally. She works diligently with her students, colleagues, and families to show progress each year. She excels at IEP writing and data collection to support the students’ needs and strengths and serves as a mentor for staff at all levels. Ms. Oman proudly integrates diversity, inclusion, and equity into her daily lessons. This year, despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, Ms. Oman took on additional responsibilities such as revamping the school’s Student Council Association. Her passion for supporting students and developing young minds into thinkers and believers led to one of ASFS’s most diverse student council races to date and the most inclusive slate of candidates chosen. She goes above and beyond to reach all students and make them feel that they can make a difference in the ASFS community.
Support Employees of the Year
A-Scale: Aurelia Sicha, Instructional Assistant
Thomas Jefferson Middle School
Aurelia Sicha is well-versed in strategies for teaching students with intellectual disabilities, students with autism, and for managing their more difficult behaviors in all settings around the school environment. She is gifted in understanding the emotional and social needs of the students and in supporting the students consistently and appropriately. Ms. Sicha is an integral part of the program and its success. She is respectful of all staff and their concerns about teaching students. She is particularly adept at communicating with Spanish-speaking families. She understands their concerns about their children and responds to their inquiries with empathy and professionalism. Ms. Sicha is not afraid to take initiative and the quality of her commitment does not waver.
C-Scale: Estela Reyes, Food Services
Carlin Springs Elementary
Estela Reyes started at Carlin Springs as a floater manager filling in for an extended period. She instantly found her place in the school community and easily formed relationships with students, staff, and families. In addition to working in the cafeteria, she has gone above and beyond, organizing and working with the family market food distribution program. Ms. Reyes is ready to greet kids every morning as they get off the bus with a breakfast and a smile. She is extremely organized and efficient, which helps her team effortlessly serve the students every day.
D-Scale: Mariflor Ventura, Bus Attendant
Mariflor Ventura helps newly immigrated Latinx families settle into life in Arlington. As a bus attendant, Ms. Ventura accounts for the safety of students of all ages and abilities. She creates pathways for first-generation students in many ways, including making connections for students to receive winter coats and gear if they do not have warm clothing. Ms. Ventura uses her Arlington neighbors network to provide adequate resources for enrolling students in school, and in August 2021, she organized a back-to-school drive. Her mutual aid group, Casa Mariflor, formed a pathway to success for first-generation students in APS. Ms. Ventura exemplifies an employee going above and beyond their job description, as she cares for students both inside the school bus and beyond.
E-Scale: Dr. Keith Reeves, Instructional Technology Coordinator
Discovery Elementary School
While his role at Discovery is Instructional Technology Coach, Dr. Keith Reeves contributes to the school well beyond the scope of his job. He is an active leader in the school community, consistently making decisions and taking initiative to lead projects based on what is best for children. He uses this laser focus in all that he does. Dr. Reeves frequently co-teaches and has been instrumental in helping Discovery staff develop the standards-based instructional program. He also took a lead role in organizing his school’s efforts to receive Purple Star designation for going above and beyond to be welcoming to all families, including military-connected students and families. Beyond that, he is eager to be involved in all aspects of leading a school and is passionate about contributing to the greater cause, always willing to offer help in any way possible.
G-Scale: Jonathan Martinez, Administrative Assistant, Special Education
Syphax Education Center
Jonathan Martinez exemplifies what it means to provide “service with a smile,” with his professional demeanor and willingness to go the extra mile to support students and staff. Because he has a heart for serving students with disabilities, no task is too great or too small. His flexibility, professionalism, positive interactions with staff, his care for the well-being of students and his level of care and investment in his role in service to students is admirable and make him the quintessential employee.
M-Scale: Rosaura Palacios, Custodian
Rosaura Palacios is a diligent worker who performs her job in a friendly and cheerful manner. Her strong work ethic is reflective in the quality of her work. Her enthusiasm for her duties has not waned in her over 25 years of service to APS. Ms. Palacios arrives to work each day with a smile and a warm friendly greeting for everyone she passes. She cheerfully and meticulously takes care of the building and performs tasks with a smile.
X-Scale: Irma Sierra, Extended Day
Arlington Science Focus School
Irma Sierra does a great job building relationships with custodial staff, teachers and administration throughout the school. Words that describe Ms. Sierra include hardworking, funny, helpful and supportive. She always volunteers to work or substitute at another site when they need help. She comes back with ideas and input from other sites that she thinks could be helpful. She is a staff member that makes everyone feel like family and she will always have your back and be someone to lean on.