Erica Stephens, a fourth-grade math teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School (JPF) in Memphis, Tennessee, believes all children deserve a high-quality education, regardless of their zip code. In her classroom, students internalize the standards and understand what is expected of them every day. Stephens, who has also taught kindergarten and second grade, uses innovative approaches that encourage students to explore real-world solutions to real-world problems. Stephens sits on the school’s leadership and data teams and uses her deep understanding of data analysis to understand every student’s needs and shape her instruction accordingly, tutoring those who need extra help after school. She wants every student to have the opportunity to succeed and become a productive citizen. Stephens delivers positive, lasting results for students, focusing on the foundational skills they will need to succeed in high school and college math classes. Last year, her math classes exceeded projected growth scores on the Shelby County Schools’ formative assessment, with 86% of her students testing at the proficient level or higher.
Stephens is equally committed to helping her fellow educators succeed in the classroom. She delivers professional development in her building, for the district and on a national level, including leading discussions on Eureka Math, a curriculum she pioneered in the district. As fourth-grade team leader, Stephens has participated on the principal’s advisory team. She helped coordinate and implement District Learning Day, a districtwide initiative for math curriculum and assessment for Shelby County’s math teachers. Stephens writes curriculum for the district and mentors both novice and veteran teachers to help them improve pedagogy skills. JPF has captured many of her lessons on video for a library of best practices to share with other teachers.
A passionate advocate for educators, Stephens believes they should be held in the same esteem as doctors, lawyers and engineers. She has pushed local, state and national policymakers for continued investments in education as a Tennessee SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) Fellow and America Achieves Fellow. Stephens served on JPF’s National Blue Ribbon Committee in 2016-17, when the school earned national recognition. A leader in the JPF community, she is active in parent organizations, helped organize Math Family Night, and has worked with the STEM Club, Drama Club and Courtesy Committee. Former students have gone on to careers in STEM fields and education, crediting Stephens with teaching them to love learning and persevere throughout their schooling.
Stephens earned a bachelor’s of science in 2002 from Middle Tennessee State University.
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