Announcing the 2021 MI Charter School Awards winners

Buddy Moorehouse
May 14, 2021 12:02:16 PM

Michigan’s top charter school educators were honored today at the 2021 Charter Schools Week virtual celebration event, with the top honors going to an elementary school principal from Detroit, and an AP science teacher from Kentwood.

Kimberly Llorens, Principal at University Preparatory Academy Elementary – Mark Murray in Detroit, was named the 2021 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year, while Jordan Dischinger-Smedes, an AP environmental science and human anatomy teacher at Grand River Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids, was named the 2021 Michigan Charter School teacher of the Year.

Michigan is home to over 10,000 charter school teachers and more than 1,500 charter school administrators statewide. Over 700 nominations were received from parents, teachers, school leaders, and even students who wanted to recognize the incredible educators working in our urban, suburban and rural communities across the Mitten. From nearly 150 applications, 10 semifinalists and then five finalists in each category were named before the announcements of the eventual winners.

Llorens and Dischinger-Smedes were selected by an external panel of judges based on innovation in their classroom, their commitment to driving their school’s mission, their effectiveness in building lasting relationships with students and families, and how they use data and other metrics to impact student success.

Michigan’s charter school sector is home to some of the most talented, creative and hard-working educators in the country, and Kim and Jordan represent the best of the best. They’re both extraordinary educators in any year, but this year, they’ve taken things to another level. We’re extremely proud of both of them.”

- MAPSA President, Dan Quisenberry

Llorens began her career in education in 1995, serving as one of the founding teachers within the UPrep network and the founding Principal for UPA Mark Murray 12 years ago. Under her leadership, the school’s reading and math scores are consistently higher than almost every other school in the city. For the 2018-2019 school year, third-grade reading proficiency at the school was 40%, while the city average was closer to 12%.

Llorens said that empathy is key to the school’s success – she can see herself in her students and educators as they face big challenges, and she uses that perspective to help them overcome every obstacle.

Our students need to understand that all the adults in our building were once like them. Our school’s vision states that each member of our community – teacher, student, parent, principal – is called to focus on leading and learning. This is how each of us lives out the mission," she said.

UPA Mark Murray is authorized by Grand Valley State University and managed by Detroit 90/90, University Prep Schools. You can watch Kim’s full finalist interview and check out her finalist profile here.

Dischinger-Smedes has been teaching at Grand River Prep for seven years. During an era in which the pass rate for Advanced Placement tests has been falling, the pass rate for Dischinger-Smedes’ students has actually been rising; in AP Environmental Science (APES), it jumped from 25% to 46% from 2015 to 2019.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he even completely redesigned his APES course, converting the 99 required lessons (which are traditionally delivered via lecture), into engaging 10-12 minute YouTube videos that students watch outside of class, so they can focus on asking questions and completing hands-on activities when learning in-person. Dischinger-Smedes has amassed more than 2,000 subscribers and more than 300,000 video views – making impact well beyond his school. His videos have helped students all over the country, and at GRP, score higher on their AP tests and gain college credit.

“In addition to helping others, I was determined not to let the pandemic diminish my students’ opportunity to earn the college credit they had been working so hard for. In some ways, COVID gave me a sabbatical to rethink how I teach, and I’m really grateful for what has come from it," he said. 
Grand River Preparatory High School is authorized by Grand Valley State University and managed by National Heritage Academies. You can watch Jordan’s full finalist interview and check out his finalist profile here.

Each of the winners and all of the finalists will be honored at a ceremony later this spring or summer at the State Capitol.


The other four finalists for the 2021 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year award:

Lisa Crawford, West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, Walker, first grade
Jori Koss, Muskegon Montessori Academy for Environmental Change, Muskegon, seventh and eighth grade
Timothy Osebold, Michigan Mathematics and Science Academy, Warren, elementary school physical education
Kelly Potter, Trillium Academy, Taylor, middle school and high school visual art

The other four finalists for the 2021 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year award:

Kelly Osterhout, Quest Charter Academy, Taylor
Teriena Schwartz, Hope Academy of West Michigan, Grand Rapids
Colleen Vogt, Will Carleton Academy, Hillsdale
Debby Wilton, Landmark Academy, Kimball

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