FCPS Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities Announces 2022-23 First Class Award Winners

By Communication and Community Relations
May 02, 2023

The Fairfax County Public Schools Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) presented their First Class Awards at the 18th Annual Special Education Conference on Saturday, April 29. Each year, the ACSD celebrates and recognizes educators, administrators, and students in Fairfax County Public Schools who support, implement, or design programs and activities which include students with disabilities that result in improving outcomes for all students.

Winners of the First Class Award demonstrate the following skills:

  • Modeling excellence in their role relative to special education.
  • Positive impact that benefits disabled and non-disabled students alike.
  • Commitment to creating an inclusive environment and mindset.

This year’s winners were:

  • Culinary Arts Program, Davis Career Center. Davis Center students produce top-quality, affordable catering, while also learning valuable workplace skills. Everyone benefits when we support meaningful and productive work for students with disabilities. Anyone who enjoys their catering has learned something important about underestimating this group. Their beautiful work is appreciated by all who have the opportunity to taste it.
  • Shawna Peterson, instructional assistant, Rolling Valley Elementary School. Shawna actively strengthens the trusting, supportive relationship that is necessary to be a communication partner to a student, and understands the balance between helping students and allowing them the space and independence to be themselves. She encourages and facilitates interaction with non-disabled peers, has a positive attitude, and has helped create an environment where all students are accepted by their peers and supported academically.
  • Melissa DeStefano, special education teacher, Silverbrook Elementary School. Melissa goes above and beyond the expectations of the role of special educator. She builds incredible rapport with both students and staff, is always student-centered, and fosters a caring culture that positively affects the school. Melissa co-leads the Student Council, ensuring leadership opportunities for students with disabilities. Melissa's colleagues describe her as an educator who reveals excellence every day.
  • Jae Lee, special education teacher, Annandale High School. Jae coaches and runs Special Olympics and organized a Best Buddies program, which helps cultivate leaders and mentors among all students. He created the “Inclusion Revolution” FanQuest pep rally where everyone celebrated the Special Olympics basketball team. A natural leader who is passionate about making a difference with his students, Jae is exceptional at building positive relationships with students, parents, teachers, and community.
  • Briana Kodadek, special education department chair, James Madison High School. Briana makes all of her students feel appreciated, understood, and supported. She is willing to let students try things out of their comfort zone while supporting them and helps them to expand beyond their special education programming. Briana works closely with general education teachers to make inclusion successful for students at Madison High School. She holds the mindset that not every student learns in the same way and collaborates with school staff so that students have access to their needed supports. Briana values family partnerships and works to ensure that they are included as part of their child’s team.
  • Leslie Leisey, school-based technology specialist (SBTS), Poplar Tree Elementary School. Leslie is hard to find in the school building because she’s always somewhere supporting technology needs of students and staff. She includes disabled and non-disabled students in her student-led technology squad, the morning news program, and worked to incorporate Portrait of a Graduate skills into lessons and assist teachers with adapting concepts for all students. Leslie teamed up with the assistive technology coach and student volunteers at Poplar Tree to create activities for multi-age special education classrooms.
  • Ashley Kiley, assistive technology speech language pathologist. Ashley incorporates Assistive Technology in new and different ways. She is extremely knowledgeable about the variety of devices and their uses, and even added foreign language greetings to help a non-speaking student participate in a themed morning meeting. Ashley offers creative solutions for student technology needs and partners with students and staff to create meaningful classroom activities for students with disabilities.
  • Emily Kaltenmark, assistant principal, Key Center. Emily is constantly moving about the school, making sure students and teachers have the support they need. She works hard to raise morale, add fun, and ensure the staff can unwind and recharge. She is always working to make Key Center a better school and advocates for the school and staff to administrators and the community. Emily provides every student with respect and agency regardless of their disability.
  • Ann Smith, principal, Key Center. Ann is always supporting her staff to do the best they can. She is creative, hardworking, and deeply appreciative of the work of the staff at Key Center. She knows that supporting teachers means helping them to be at their best for students. Ann advocates for the Key Center with FCPS leadership, county government, and community partners. Ann knows and loves each student, and deeply believes in the mission of her school.
  • Sharyn Prindle, principal, Wakefield Forest Elementary School. Sharyn initiated a working group of parents to focus on equity at school that also included students, both with and without disabilities. Her leadership helped to broaden the perspective on equity throughout Wakefield Forest. Sharyn makes a point to be present and active at IEP meetings to demonstrate the importance of education for all students.
  • Community Contributor, Unlimited Potential (UP), Springfield South County Youth Club. UP offers the opportunity for kids with disabilities to learn and play basketball and soccer in a safe and supportive environment. Kids with disabilities are partnered with a teenage “pal” and a non-disabled student volunteer, for the duration of the program. All participants are excited to build new friendships while being physically active and learning a new sport. Everyone, including spectators, learn and grow from seeing this wonderful display of inclusion provided through Unlimited Potential.
  • Mary Beth Harrison-Cunningham, manager, Family Resource Center. Under her leadership, Mary Beth and her team create fantastic public programming that is always focused on helping parents become empowered partners in their child’s education. She is always available to parents for consultation on individual needs, and her feedback and advocacy is always student-first. Family Resource Center presentations normalize the inclusion of both parents and students. Mary Beth and her team provide supports across the whole spectrum of the special education process, from those just entering to those at key transition points.

For more information, contact Mike Bloom at [email protected].