ASU education grads win prestigious national awards

By

Jennifer Priest Mitchell

Nicki Derryberry, a 2009 master’s degree graduate of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and Brittany Matsushino, a 2008 bachelor’s degree graduate, join a prestigious group of fewer than 40 educators across the country who received 2015–2016 Milken Educator Awards this week.

The recognition, given by the Milken Family Foundation, goes to early- to mid-career education professionals for outstanding achievements and for showing promise for the future, and includes a $25,000 award. Recipients are selected based on nominations from state departments of education, each of which appoints a nominating committee assigned to review selection criteria and make recommendations.

Nicki Derryberry

After Derryberry’s first year of teaching in Mesa, 100 percent of her students passed the Career and Technical Bioscience state exam, scoring higher than every other school in the district, and 15 percent higher than students the previous year. More than 95 percent of them passed the AIMS science assessment and 62 percent exceeded the standard.

Derryberry weaves creativity and passion for science into every lesson and venture at Red Mountain High School. She captivates students with her classroom setup in which they work at stations and take responsibility for equipment and materials. Derryberry developed a “Mystery of the missing mountain lion” lesson in which students collected DNA, analyzed footprints and drew conclusions based on evidence.

Her career began in the Chandler Unified School District where she was a student intern and teacher, then an instructional science specialist. In Chandler, Derryberry started VEX Robotics (a curriculum providing concrete, contextualized lessons that integrate math, programming and engineering activities). She provided guidance on the district science fair, which led to Chandler students receiving more than 25 percent of the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair awards. Many of the students progressed to the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She codirected a $350,000 Math and Science Partnership grant through the U.S. Department of Education that provided training and resources to science teachers in grades 6–8.

Dedicated to nurturing careers in science, Derryberry is a member of and volunteer for the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics in curriculum development and outreach. She is a member of the national and state science teachers associations, and serves as a biotechnology team leader and representative for her school’s improvement committee. 

Currently in her second year with Mesa Public Schools, she is the advanced STEM coordinator and a biotechnology teacher for grades 9–12.

Brittany Matsushino

On the 2014 AIMS reading test, 89 percent of Matsushino’s students passed, compared to the state average of 28 percent. On the writing test that same year, 76 percent of her students passed, compared to the state average of 39 percent. Matsushino is a 10th-grade English teacher with high expectations and clear goals in her classroom at Cienega High School in Vail, Arizona.

She inspires students to achieve using higher-order questioning techniques, and engaging content. She coordinates a historical/literary/movie analysis project — HALAMA — in which students apply reading, research, analysis and presentation skills as they study a real-life hero of their choice.

One of her talents is the ability to identify students’ strengths and areas of need. She makes time after school to help them academically, and her connection extends to extra-curricular activities. Matsushino has a leadership position with the student council for the second year, coordinating events and taking enthusiasm and morale to new levels. Student council members put their trust in her to apply real-life solutions to council problems and teach them to make business decisions.

Matsushino is a cognitive coach and mentor to her peers, providing crucial guidance to new teachers as they acclimate to the school culture. Consistently seeking opportunities to improve the campus, she is the voice of teachers on the school’s site council, which shapes school rules and policies.

Her commitment to excellence extends beyond the district through her role as a coordinator for the district’s Beyond Textbooks instructional program. She provides professional development on teaching and learning frameworks in this program. The district’s BT partners include more than 100 school districts and charter schools across Arizona, California, Idaho and Wyoming.