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CLASS OF 2016-2017


Suzanne Rocca

Kindergarten Teacher
Academy for Business & Technology Elementary School

Suzanne Rocca, kindergarten teacher, is always among the first to arrive and last to leave Academy for Business & Technology Elementary each day. Her passion for education includes her constant search for new ways to deliver instructional material to her students while integrating technology into the classroom. If there are school-wide activities planned, she volunteers her time and efforts. Dr. Paul Merritt, school leader, nominated her, adding, "Ms. Rocca has made a lasting impression on the students and families who have enjoyed her work as a kindergarten teacher." He also states that she demonstrates sincere interest in her students' growth, both while in her class and after they have moved on. She is a team member who helps develop new instructional initiatives, and she engages students in social, emotional and character development while also teaching the curriculum content. 


Stacey Gasporovic

11th & 12th Grade ELA Teacher
Cesar Chavez Academy High School

Stacey Gasporovic is in her 10th year at Cesar Chavez Academy High School. Mrs. G., as she is affectionately known, is a highly valued team member in the ELA department.  She maintains excellent relationships with her students and colleagues alike. Stacey is entering her second year as the high school ELA lead teacher, and teaches 11th grade English as well as honors English. In the school’s first year administering the Scholastic Aptitude Testing (SAT), the high school’s SAT reading/writing scores for 11th grade were higher than approximately 30 other Detroit public and charter high schools.
This year due to teacher shortages, Mrs. Gasporovic did not hesitate to step up and sacrifice her planning period in order to teach students who needed a certified teacher. She also volunteered to present at the The Leona Group’s Teacher Institute in August 2016. "Stacey Gasporovic is a burst of energy. She maintains very strong relationships with her students, colleagues and administration. She always makes herself available to her students and is usually the first person to step up when volunteers are needed for special events," said Juan Martinez, school leader.


Jessica Perkins

Kindergarten Teacher
Northridge Academy

When asked how Jessica Perkins made an impact on people's lives, Latricia Brown, Northridge Academy school leader, said, "With a teacher containing the attributes that Ms. Perkins' demonstrates from day to day, the lives of our students and staff are made easier as she approaches families and staff with possible resolutions to problems." Over 10 years of experience in both teaching and serving as an instructional coach for a period of time, has left Ms. Perkins with a commitment to her students' success.

She currently serves as a point coach for the academy’s Success for All reading program and is a self-contained kindergarten teacher. At least eight of her students have behavioral and delayed learning challenges and their parents are not able to lend support. Still, Ms. Perkins thrusts forward in demonstrating her love and dedication to their education. She never complains or speaks negatively, and she doesn't give up on the children.


Jade Blazo

Middle School ELA Teacher
Saginaw Preparatory Academy

"Ms. Blazo has raised the bar for ELA in our building. She has proven that hard work pays off," said Molly Rundell, Saginaw Preparatory Academy school leader. The students in Ms. Blazo's classrooms have demonstrated some of the highest M-Step scores in the Saginaw area. She ensures that the ELA Common Core State Standards are taught to all middle school students with fidelity. Ms. Blazo has taken lessons she's received from multiple professional learning opportunities and has embedded them into her classroom. She continues to be a positive role model for her students as well as instilling confidence in them to reach their goals.


Ben Watkins

5th Grade Teacher
Francis Reh Public School Academy

By integrating technology into his classroom daily, Ben Watkins supports the Francis Reh Academy mission to empower students with the tools necessary to demonstrate their knowledge. Ben incorporates Chromebooks into his lessons so the students get a lot of practice. He holds high expectations for his students, who in turn give him their best every day.

One of the projects he assigned to his 5th graders this year was to choose an outstanding quality a successful person would hold (e.g. "caring," or "educated"). He then created a photo wall of the students holding their words and a quote that exemplified the word. This art helped create a sense of community within the classroom as well as remind the students of the attributes of success. "Mr. Watkins' dedication to the Francis Reh mission of creating Focused, Responsible Achievers makes him an integral member of our team," said Ms. Candice Casey, instructional coach


Ross Juntila

HS Social Studies Teacher
Hope of Detroit Academy MS/HS

"Ross Juntila is a great teacher who uses project-based learning to motivate his students to excel in the classroom," said Ali Abdel, Hope of Detroit Academy school leader. Mr. Juntila does a great job connecting with his students, both in the classroom and during  extracurricular activities. He is described as a "hard worker" who spends a lot of time with his students to ensure they grasp the material he is teaching. To further facilitate great relationships, he coaches hockey and volleyball, helps with student fundraisers and heads up the student council.


Ewa Dabrowska

Kindergarten Teacher
Hope of Detroit Academy Elementary School

Ewa Dabrowska has a passion for education that shines through in her teaching and relationships. This summer, Ms. Dabrowska diligently prepared for the 2016-17 school year and created a classroom that warmly welcomed her students and helped them get ready to learn.  The environment she developed has helped improve student engagement in the classroom.

Ms. Dabrowska is a professional through and through; she constantly finds ways to reflect on what she has done in the past in order to make lessons and relationships better. She has a tremendous desire to grow and learn more about her profession. "She is persistent and inspires others to keep on keeping on, even through the roughest of our days," said Jennifer Choi, Hope of Detroit Academy elementary instructional coach.


Rebecca Wilinski

Media Arts Teacher
Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School

Rebecca Wilinski recently transitioned from a traditional classroom to a rolling multimedia classroom at Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School. Curriculum developed by Ms. Wilinski has allowed students to gain 21st century real-world skills. She utilizes Google Classroom for media arts rubrics, homework assignments and more, as well as digital texts, keyboarding and online publishing to support the general education teachers.  

Ms. Wiliniski also lends support to staff by helping with technology troubleshooting, systems for checking out computers and support for Google applications in the classroom. She is the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) lead for the school as well, supporting classroom use of LiveSchool (an online tracking system for positive behavior), organizing PBIS reward events and helping teachers use PBIS best practices. Her hard work in implementing the PBIS program has paid off and made a tremendous impact. "Not only does she bring a positive energy to our work together, she shows a true investment and belief in our students and our school," said Brittiany Romero, instructional coach.


Kaylin Stewart

4th Grade Teacher
Highland Park Renaissance Academy

Kaylin Stewart teaches at Highland Park Renaissance Academy with love and passion. She engages her students all day, and remarkably, with the same energy level (Wow!). She is the queen of best practices and is truly helping her students to plan and be successful in the future.  Ms. Stewart has been teaching with The Leona Group for almost two years, but she goes at it like a pro, not a novice teacher. She is always looking for materials, ideas and activities that will benefit her students, even on her personal time. She fulfills students' needs by being a tutor, coach and mentor to them.  "Ms. Stewart is one of the most enthusiastic teachers in the building.  Albert Einstein said, 'It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.' This is what Stewart does daily (Rock On!)," says Rachel Talbert, instructional coach.


Alyssa Baron

MS ELA Teacher
Academy for Business & Technology Middle/High School

This is Alyssa Baron's first year teaching at the Academy for Business & Technology Middle/High School, and she has an energy that is uplifting to the staff and students.  She is a great asset to the team.  While ensuring her students receive a quality education, she works tirelessly to bring innovative ideas to the classroom.  Her students learn from the engaging and creative projects Ms. Baron assigns regularly.  Ms. Baron goes above and beyond at the school, participating in the tutoring program, as well as staying with students after school for enrichment activities. "She has shown me that a first year teacher is capable of looking like a veteran teacher," shared Dezirae Daniels, instructional coach.


La'Tisha Williams

1st Grade Teacher
Mildred C. Wells Academy

La’Tisha Williams believes her first graders are capable of anything they put their minds to. One can walk into Ms. Williams classroom at Mildred C. Wells Academy and find students engaged in science experiments, computer lessons, small-group learning and making presentations to their classmates. When benchmark tests showed that students in her class needed help attaining appropriate grade level results, she was determined to help them succeed. Students were retested in the winter, and their test scores were proof she had done an amazing job!
Ms. Williams finds professional development opportunities for both herself and other staff to attend. She is eager to learn new techniques and implement them in class. Staff, students and parents love her; parents mention how she calls home to check on their child, even if it is well into the evening. "Ms. Williams has shown all of us what it means to be a loving and dedicated teacher," said Emily Wenger, instructional coach.


Amanda Silic

HS Science Teacher
Detroit Public Safety Academy

Amanda Silic has been a part of the Detroit Public Safety Academy staff since it's inception and has remained hardworking and determined through many ups and downs. This included her employment status changing when the school needed a certified teacher in an area of science that she did not teach. Ms. Silic went back to college and took the courses required to teach the class.

As a result of tremendous professional growth, she has taken on more of a leadership role amongst her peers this year. Her dogged determination to help the school succeed shines through as she is a true team player, doing whatever it takes to help students and staff achieve. For her birthday, students decorated her door so that she could walk in and see their love for HER because everyday she is standing at her door waiting to show her love for THEM. Ms. Silic does not give up on students, whatever their challenges may be. "She is truly an educator at heart. We are lucky to have her here at DPSA," said Isaiah Pettway, school leader.


Steve Kalbfleisch

Social Worker
Cesar Chavez Academy Lower Elementary

Steve Kalbfleisch has been described as diligent and hard-working by colleagues. He is highly involved with the programs for both Response to Intervention and Positive Behavioral and Interventions Supports at Cesar Chavez Academy Lower Elementary. He is self-motivated and takes the initiative to get things done. Most recently, Mr. Kalbfleisch has taken over the responsibility of special education coordinator. He is working on establishing processes and procedures that enhance the program. He also has a great rapport with students, staff and parents. "He has a fun and energetic personality that is contagious and that helps cultivate a positive working environment," said Gabriela Jaime, school leader.


Laurie Busemann

MS ELA Teacher
George Crockett Academy

Laurie Busemann is a veteran teacher at George Crockett Academy, and is viewed by her peers as an exemplary middle school ELA teacher. Ms. Busemann takes time to individualize activities and lessons for her students, dedicating herself to going above and beyond her normal lesson plans. She has a positive attitude and a willingness to help staff, students and parents whenever and wherever it is needed.  For the winter NWEA benchmark tests, not only did her 7th and 8th graders meet their growth goals, they exceeded them. In fact, her 7th graders were in the 99th percentile for growth! "She is a true role model for our staff and students. GCA is so lucky to have her," said Amy Sanchez, instructional coach.


Anna Ellis

5th Grade Teacher
Cesar Chavez Academy Upper Elementary

Anna Ellis helps lead a team of teachers at Cesar Chavez Academy Upper Elementary, assisting with deadlines and paperwork. She also provides after-school tutoring for the students in her classroom.  Her most solid talent is seen in the classroom, as she sparks high engagement with all of her students, including those with behavior issues, new to the country or with special needs.
Ms. Ellis wants her students to have a lifelong thirst for knowledge, a passion for travel, bravery to take risks and break barriers, and have compassion for others.  "She wants them to realize that getting an education is not something that only exists within four walls in a classroom or to pass a test, but gives them the tools they need to get out in the world and be inspired to chase their dreams and create the life that THEY decide is ideal for them," said Thomas Goodley, school leader.


Joshua Pippen

MS ELA Teacher
Joy Preparatory Academy

This is the first year of Joshua Pippin's teaching career, but not his first experience with The Leona Group; he is a graduate of the Leona-managed Academy for Business & Technology High School in Melvindale, MI.  Mr. Pippin does an outstanding job with the students at Joy Preparatory Academy; they love him! 
He creates engaging, relevant lessons that make literature and informational text come alive for his students.  Mr. Pippin also leads the middle school staff in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports incentive program.  Students love the "Blue Ticket Club" where they earn tickets to get prizes.  "I admire his hard work and his creativity," said Jessica Rice, school leader.

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