5 Northwest Philly teachers win Lindback Awards near end of tumultuous school year

When it comes to teaching, Catherine Michini is exceedingly humble.

In fact, the longtime math teacher said she felt funny receiving the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation’s Distinguished Teacher’s Award this week.

Being singled out is just not her style.

“It’s definitely an honor, but no teacher is an island,” said Michini, who has taught at Germantown High School for two decades. “It’s a collective job.”

Teaching at a soon-to-close school

For Michini, that rings especially true at GHS.

The teaching staff, she said, must play a more hands-on role with students. It’s an easier effort to handle as a unit.

“At Germantown, many of our students are at the stage of development where they’re just seeds or seedlings,” said Michini. “So it’s our job to provide the nutrients for the soil so they can grow strong and healthy.”

It’s part of the reason why the Lindback Award, handed out each year to one teacher at each of the city’s public high schools, is also a bit bittersweet for Michini.

With GHS closing at the end of the school year, the work will be left to others.

Still, Michini said she’s glad she got the award before she left GHS, a place she called “like home.”

She’s particularly proud of her time at the Northwest Philadelphia school.

“In a way, it’s like my jersey is being retired,” said Michini.

They’ll teach former GHS students 

The upcoming school year was also on the minds of fellow Lindback Award winners Ryan Baxter and Erika McFadden, who teach science at Martin Luther King and Roxborough high schools respectively.

Under the district’s facilities master plan, GHS students can (and are expected to) transfer to either King or Roxborough.

Baxter, who teaches physics and STEM courses — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math — at King, said he thinks the school is prepared for new students.

Some residents are concerned that neighborhood tensions will flare when Germantown students arrive at King in West Oak Lane. Baxter is hopeful any tensions will melt away once everyone gets settled.

“I’m thinking to myself that maybe the bad press about those issues may not be as severe once we look at it in the eyes,” he said.

Either way, Baxter appears ready for the challenge that he fully expects next year to be. It’s what he signed up for when he left the world of academia two years ago.

Baxter has a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Drexel University, but after a few teaching assistant gigs, he fell in love with a profession that “wasn’t even on my radar.”

“I like the creative freedom that comes with teaching a science class,” said Baxter. “If you want to teach a concept, there’s a whole slew of ways to do that.”

Aided by positive change at Roxborough High 

Erika McFadden, who teaches biology at Roxborough, is equally optimistic that next year will go as smoothly as the last few.

McFadden said Roxborough now has a strong school climate and focus on academics that didn’t exist when she arrived eight years ago.

Many in the school attribute the change to the arrival of Principal Stephen Brandt, a Roxborough High alum who has made it his mission to improve his alma mater and a fellow Lindback Award winner. 

For McFadden, the school climate is particularly important.

She said it has allowed her to focus the lion’s share of her time on teaching instead of juggling it with a lot of discipline.

She doesn’t think she could have won the Lindback Award in the past.

“It’s made it easier to do a better job in the classroom,” said McFadden, noting that “it was a lot harder to try different instructional strategies.”

Leaders at Parkway Northwest and Lankenau 

Andrea Siegel, a math teacher at Parkway Northwest High School in Mt. Airy and Amelia Butler, a math teacher from Lankenau High School in Roxborough, were also honored this week.

The Lindback Foundation honored a total of 59 teachers.

Each were nominated by students and staff members and will receive $3,500.

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