Olmsteads honor secondary school teachers

Williams College has announced the recipients of its annual George Olmsted, Jr. Class of 1924 National Prizes for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching.

This year’s honorees are Leonard G. Bugel of the Stratton Mountain School in Stratton, Vt.; Nancy L. Kelley of the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, Pa.; William F. Esner of West Hempstead High School in West Hempstead, N.Y.; and Emily Y. Washington of the Hamilton School of the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, D.C.

Every year, members of Williams College’s graduating class nominate high school teachers who have strongly influenced their pursuits of intellectual and personal growth. A committee of faculty, staff, and students selects the four winners

Leonard G. Bugel

“He has the uncanny ability to explain things in many different ways to ensure everyone in the class understands what is going on,” wrote Marina Gisquet ’99 in nominating Leonard G. Bugel.

A teacher of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School, Bugel’s enthusiasm and energy creates an environment that inspires and encourages his students.

Bugel was a founding teacher at the ski-racing school which seeks to create an environment in which student-athletes can pursue excellence in academics, athletics, and personal development. “When the school was just an idea, Len was involved in getting it off the ground, and has devoted 23 years to its development,” Gisquel writes.

SMS Assistant Headmaster W. Lawrence Herrick says, “Bugel is a staunch defender of the world of ideas, and is unwilling to accommodate any one who would water down the nature of academic requirements in the school. He believes in kids and their efforts to establish themselves as young adults. He is a counselor, guide and very good friend to many students, some of whom mark their experience of high school and perhaps education as a whole by their experience with Len.”

Bugel received his B.S. in mechanical engineering and mathematics and his M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts. He remains current in his field and actively participates in the enhancement of science and science education on a national level at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab for teachers, where he does science research and is able to incorporate this research into the science curriculum at SMS.

Nancy L. Kelley

“Dr. Kelley helped mold me into an idealist with a sense of urgent responsibility to give something back to the world that had given me so much,” writes Jonathan Pak ’99 in his nomination of Nancy L. Kelley.

As associate head and a history teacher at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, Pa. since 1991, Kelley is lauded for having an unbiased perspective in her teaching of history.

Her “band” theory of the way history should be taught provides students with the knowledge of global history across different periods of time and encourages them to think about the misinformation and ignorance which leads to racism.

Kelley’s teaching style introduces the immediacy and reality of pressing issues through organized field trips and activities. Pak writes, “Through Dr. Kelley, my class on Global Issues was able to meet people like Cornel West, author of the book Race Matters, which we had studied.”

She also established a highly popular contemporary issues club which regularly meets to discuss a movie or a public speaker such as Maya Angelou or Anita Hill. “These events did more than lead to dialogue among students, but actually changed the way I and others view the world and our place in it,” says Pak.

“Her dedication and respect for the intellectual prowess of her students is utterly unique. With her, a 15 year-old can feel like an adult with a valid opinion and valuable perspective. The confidence this kind of respect can build in a student cannot be over-appreciated,” says Pak. He attributes his own dedication to service, responsibility and idealism to Kelley’s influence, writing, “No one has had near the impact on my personal and intellectual growth that she has.”

Kelley received her B.A. in History from Chestnut Hill College, her M.A. in History from Bryn Mawr College and her Ph.D. in Social Science from the Medical College of Pennsylvania.

William F. Esner

“I will never forget the kindness, concern, dedication, intelligence, and vivacity that Mr. Esner exhibited at the front of the classroom and in his daily interactions with students,” wrote Kate Dreher ’99 in her nomination of Esner.

For the past 12 years, Esner has been a teacher of all levels of biology at West Hempstead High School in West Hempstead, Mass. During that time, he has also served as the director of science for the West Hempstead Public School system.

His energetic teaching style and interaction with his students, has made him a favorite among students. Esner’s excitement in teaching biology is reflected in the many pieces of chalk he breaks and in his “fascinating, fact-filled and sometimes frenzied” lectures. According to Dreher, “In response to Mr. Esner’s enthusiasm, I came to view these classroom experiences, and the accompanying daily homework assignments and regular hundred-question tests as satisfying challenges. I felt motivated to match Mr. Esner’s level of commitment and to develop a similar appreciation for the wonderful processes associated with life.”

Outside of the classroom, Esner has terrific rapport with his students. Anthony DiBetetto, the principal at West Hempstead, writes, “His office is always full with students who come to do research on the computer or just do homework and talk science with students and teachers.”

He was one of the first people in the school to receive an Internet hookup so that his office could be an educational resource center for students.

His dedication to his students and open door policy allowed Dreher to take physics independently by “performing the requisite labs after school or at home, and reading the chapters in his office for one period a day.”

Esner is active in the development and expansion of student science programs and opportunities. He has played a key role in expanding the number of advanced placement courses offered, increasing science fair and Science Olympiad opportunities, budgeting for the purchase of new, advanced lab equipment, and arranging for students to visit onsite labs such as the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratories.

Esner received his B.A. in biology and biology education at Queens College in 1974. He earned his M.S. in secondary education/science in 1976 and his Ph.D. in school administration and supervision in 1980 from St. John’s University. Esner is an active member of the Long Island Science Education Leadership Association.

Emily Y. Washington

“In Ms. Washington’s classroom, I was introduced to a world of learning that has sustained me,” writes Stacy Tweedy ’99 in her nomination of Emily Y. Washington for the award. Since 1974, Washington has been an integral part of the Washington, D.C. Public School System as both a teacher and coordinator of English and humanities. Washington, who currently teaches at Hamilton Academy, a program for disadvantaged and troubled students in the D.C. public school system, has had a strong influence on pupils like Tweedy who she taught at another school in the D.C. system, School Without Walls.

“Ms. Washington had a special knack for making sophisticated academic debates readily accessible to 14 year-olds,” says Tweedy. “It was the first time I found myself engaged in an academic subject, and that I felt like the work I was doing had meaning beyond my grades.”

Washington’s humanities program is described by Tweedy to be focused on interdisciplinary work and cross-cultural studies. The school encourages students to examine all angles of an issue and to formally engage themselves in academic debates.

Washington’s dedication extends beyond the classroom. Her enthusiasm made it possible for students at Tweedy’s school to take classes with adjunct university professors from prestigious colleges. She also encourages students to take courses at local universities.

At Hamilton Academy, she has made it possible for students to take the SAT and continue on to college, which was rare prior to her influence.

Washington has been a strong advocate for the improvement of all Washington, D.C. schools for more than 20 years. In 1996, she was appointed to the Board of Trustees for the D.C. Public Schools.

Washington attended Howard University, receiving her B.A. in English and political science in 1970 and her M.A. in education and reading in 1975.

The Award

The Olmsted Prize consists of $1,500 to each of the recipients and $750 to each of their schools. The chair of this year’s committee was professor of chemistry David Richardson. All award recipients are invited to Commencement for formal recognition of their achievements.

The award, established in 1983, is funded by an endowment from the estate of George Olmsted, Jr. ’24, who died in 1976, and gifts from his wife, Frances, who died in 1993. Olmsted, a Williams College graduate, was the late president and chairman of the board of the S.D. Warren (Paper) Company. He was a strong, lifelong proponent of superior teaching.