Educator Spotlight: February 2014

Educator Spotlight

educator spotlightAnnouncing the February 2014 Educator Spotlight honorees! Congratulations to our educators.

The Educator Spotlight is a monthly feature on our Catapult Corner Blog. The educators that are highlighted are nominated by their Catapult colleagues in recognition of the positive impact they have on children and schools throughout the country. They are our very own shining stars!

  • Audrey Ellis-Coach-Los Angeles, CA
  • Donna Nicholson-Literacy First Consultant-Rumford, RI 
  • Krystle Mills-Teacher-Norco, CA
  • Teresa Caravaggio-Teacher-Greensburg, PA

Audrey Ellis-HeadshotAudrey Ellis – Coach

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • BS Elementary Education, MS Reading and Literacy, MA Education Administration. Grand Canyon University, Walden University, Cal State.

What is your prior teaching experience?

My first teaching experience was with Los Angeles Unified School District where I worked for three years at Columbus Avenue Elementary School as a first grade teacher. Then, I became a founding teacher at a charter school called Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts and taught K through 2.  During my time at LFCSA, I served as grade-level chairperson for five years, became the testing coordinator and ELL coordinator, and my last year was doing many administrative duties as an assistant principal. To further my professional skills, I attended the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York for four consecutive years.  Through this professional development, I led workshops for teachers at my school and consulted with other schools implementing best practices to promote a Balanced Literacy approach. 

Why did you decide to become a coach?

After working in an administrative role, I did not feel that it was the right fit for me.  I always felt like I could do more if I was more of an instructional leader. I have always felt that my next steps would be to work with teachers and students in some capacity.  After attending any professional development opportunity that was offered to me, I not only thought about ways to implement the strategies in my own classroom; but also, how I could support other teachers and students with the strategies I learned.  In fact, I would often fantasize about becoming a Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, but moving to New York was never in the cards for me.  When I found Catapult and read about the company, I knew that we would make a perfect match.  I feel I have the best job in the world. I get to create professional development opportunities for teachers to engage in best teaching practices. I work in many classrooms side by side with teachers and students trying on new strategies, looking at student work, and setting goals.  Plus, I continue to learn and grow from my own colleagues and programs at Catapult!

Why do you feel coaching is a valuable professional development experience for teachers?

As a teacher myself I was constantly looking for new ideas, strategies, and someone to collaborate with in order to meet all of my students’ needs.  When I had a professional development coach working alongside with me, she constantly pushed me to be a better teacher and leader. She would help me be reflective of my practice and push me to set high expectations for my students.  Since working in this role, I found that the majority of my teachers want the same thing.   They want to provide their students with the best possible learning opportunities.  Coaching provides this opportunity for the teachers, principals, and students.  As a coach I get to work closely with teachers, helping them reach not only their school wide goals, but also their personal professional development goals.  We are allotted time to meet collaboratively reflecting and planning what steps to take to support all students.   Now I often channel my own coach when I work with a staff.  I feel like I get to be that person that helps teachers reflect on their instruction, guide them in exploring new ideas, try on new strategies, answer questions they have, and help build their confidence as valued educators.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story? 

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many schools in Los Angeles as a Professional Development Coach with Catapult.  I feel that at every school I work we have a rewarding success story each year so it is very difficult to choose one.  For example, one veteran teacher I worked with my first year implementing Writing Workshop said she would read the books and get back to me if she had any questions.  The teacher never had any questions, but I offered a three day summer workshop where she attended and walked out saying it was one of the best workshops she had been to and she couldn’t wait to become a coach herself some day.  She has since attended The Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project twice and fully implements the philosophy in her classroom.  Now every time I am on campus she wants me in her room working with her and her students.  I worked with another veteran teacher and our first year we planned out every Writing Workshop unit together.  The second year we revised those units and began working on rubrics.  This year her students are participating in pre-assessments for writing and we are looking a student’s data every time we meet to plan her instruction; plus, her students’ writing this year is phenomenal.   And, at one school we have been working on creating more student centered learning opportunities by developing higher order questioning skills.  After my two years working with the staff, the teachers now have students working in collaborative groups on a weekly basis, students are coming up with more questions than the teachers, and the teachers are thrilled that the students are so excited about learning.   It is because of small moments like these that I walk away everyday saying, “I love my job.”

Donna Nicholson-HeadshotDonna Nicholson – Literacy First Consultant

  • Rumford, RI
  • BS, Child Development and Early Childhood, M.Ed. K-8 Admin, SPED/ESL Endorsements. Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence College, Rhode Island College, & Univ. of Illinois

How did you become a Literacy First consultant?

“On the Internet” 11 years ago. I had retired from the Providence School District after 34 years  and had such great training and experience doing  professional development and coaching for the District , I had  to keep doing the work so I did a Google search for Literacy Consultant opportunities.  Sherry Davis “sort” of talked me into joining the Literacy First team.  I have never looked back.

What do you love most about being a consultant for Literacy First?

My  Literacy First/ Catapult colleagues and the schools/Districts where I work, make it  worth the time, effort, and hours of traveling.  I have met such wonderful, smart, dedicated  fellow consultants within Literacy First and Catapult.  They make me smarter and a better consultant.

When  a Leadership team shares the success and growth in their school and can see that change  is making a difference in student learning, I  am so excited ( and cheer).  But when teachers walk up to me and share a strategy which they were taught in a training and celebrates that it work, I do cartwheels.  However,  it is when I walk into a classroom and  there is a buzz of learning going on, students are working and talking together is when I truly become the most excited. They are so engrossed in the activity and partner work,  no one notices that we walked it. This is why I love Literacy First.

What is your greatest Literacy First consulting success story?

This is a tough question, there have been so  many.  There have been several schools which started as a failing or target school in year 1 and became Schools of Excellence.  The biggest success stories for me would be the teachers who  initially doubted the Literacy First process and would question certain strategies during  the first 2/3 months. But then they would have the “aha” moment and would acknowledge that ALT/AOL etc makes a difference.  They would be the teachers who would make a special effort to invite me to their classrooms and then become the school’s biggest cheerleaders for Literacy First-true key communicators.

What have you learned from your experience as a consultant?


Listening without speaking including body language.

We are all learners.

How to be a road warrior.

Teachers are wonderful and have a hard job.

A constant amazement of my fellow colleagues and how much I learn from them.


Krystle Mills-HeadshotKrystle Mills – Teacher

  • Norco, CA
  • Liberal Studies, BA. California State University, San Bernardino.

Why did you become a teacher?

I always loved school and learning.  I would “teach” my younger brother during our summer vacations, became a Sunday School teacher at our church as soon as I was old enough, and knew that teaching would be the right career choice for me when it came time to pick a college major.  I became a teacher with hopes that I could help children gain that same love of learning that I had early on.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love that Catapult Learning gives me the opportunity to help the students who are often struggling the most.  I like the small group atmosphere which allows me to be able to bridge the gap and provide them the support they need.  Helping these students succeed is very fulfilling.

I also love working for Catapult because it allows me to do the two things that I love! The part-time schedule gives me time at home with my two boys (age 1 and 3) where I can be “mom” and time in the classroom to teach.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I can think of quite a few examples but one in particular stands out to me.  I had a student come to my reading group who struggled with test-taking and reading comprehension skills.  He continued to progress throughout the year and by the following year was one of the top readers in his third grade class! I love passing by former students and their parents in the halls and hearing about their improvement beyond the Catapult classroom.

What have you learned from your students?

Each and every student is unique and has unique needs.  But when they are placed in a comfortable environment and given high expectations many of them rise to the challenge! I’ve learned to set the bar high, provide support, and look for the results.

T Caravaggio-HeadshotTeresa Caravaggio – Teacher

  • Greensburg, PA
  • BS Elementary Education, MS Reading

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because I really enjoyed working with children.  As I began teaching I realized I not only enjoyed children, but older students and adults.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

Catapult Learning affords me the opportunity to teach many different students and at different schools.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

My greatest success would have to be the student whom was placed in second grade even though he was a non-reader; it was the look and the tears on his face the first time he was able to read a primer book. “I can read!”  This is what teaching is all about.

What have you learned from your students?

The students have taught me many things.  I guess the most important one is each student is one of a kind and needs to be treated as such.

Catapult Learning has long recognized that our teachers, coaches, specialized services professionals, and consultants are the foundation upon which our company stands. We literally wouldn’t be here without their tireless efforts to help struggling students succeed!

Thanks again to all of this month’s honorees! You can thank them too, please leave your comments for our educators below!

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