Skip to main content

Four Finalists Named for Teacher of the Year

TOY collage final, 2024-2025.jpg

Four teachers have been named finalists for the 2024–2025 MCPS Teacher of the Year. They are: Janie Earle, kindergarten teacher at Poolesville Elementary School; Carrie Kraynak, English Language Development teacher at Flower Hill Elementary School; Morgan Patel, social studies teacher at Montgomery Blair High School; and Melissa Porter Parks, English Language Development teacher at Gaithersburg High School.

Read more about the finalists:

Janie Earle is a kindergarten teacher and team leader at Poolesville Elementary School. She is in her eighth year of teaching.

Earle 1.jpg

Like many educators, Earle’s love of teaching started at a young age. She can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. Colleagues and parents say she has an energetic, positive and nurturing personality. She regularly provides updates to parents on classroom activities and warmly welcomes their involvement in school-related activities. She’s also a collaborative and supportive colleague, readily sharing expertise, insights and resources with fellow educators.

She tailors her teaching methods to accommodate students’ diverse learning styles and abilities, and instills in them confidence to take on challenges. Her encouragement, positive reinforcement and personalized approach create an environment where every child feels valued and motivated to learn. Her focus on differentiation, hands-on approaches to learning, effective use of supporting staff and even a full-time classroom volunteer, enable her students to meet expectations.

Earle 4.jpg

Earle’s classroom is a world where she emphasizes respect, collaboration and kindness, ensuring that her students not only thrive academically, but also develop essential social and emotional skills crucial for their growth. She makes learning fun, breaking up the academic portions of the day with dancing, educational songs and movement to keep the students alert and engaged. She engages students of all backgrounds and their families, and celebrates all cultures. She has an innate ability to recognize and celebrate the strengths and backgrounds of each student in her class, and they, in turn, feel encouraged to contribute their perspectives and experiences to the learning process. She promotes empathy, understanding and cooperation.

Poolesville is a close-knit community, and Earle often is in the community, attending school and town events with her family. Seeing her outside the classroom thrills her current and former students.

She previously taught kindergarten at Ashburton Elementary School.

Carrie Kraynak is an English Language Development (ELD) teacher and team leader at Flower Hill Elementary School. Colleagues say she is a beloved member of the staff; they call her a joyful and positive force that lights up every room.

Kraynak 1.jpg

Nationally Board Certified, Kraynak implemented a targeted reading program for first grade students. She uses a range of strategies to support students’ language development and academic growth, which creates a supportive environment and enhances comprehension and language acquisition. In her specialized literacy class, she incorporates pictures, poetry, songs and objects from everyday life as teaching aids to complement daily phonics instruction.

She’s also found innovative ways for Emerging Multilingual Learners (EMLs) to contribute to the school culture—by encouraging their participation in using their language skills on the daily morning announcements, and by creating pep rallies to inspire EMLs to perform their best on the ACCESS annual English language proficiency test.

Kraynak 3.jpg

Her students showed improvement in the 2022–2023 school year. Literacy scores among first grade EML students increased from 42 percent to 62 percent that year. In foundational literacy, Flower Hill’s performance outpaced the district’s by 16 percent, a testament to Kraynak’s influence in setting and achieving high standards.

As a member of the Instructional Leadership Team, she creates professional development opportunities for her teammates, coordinates their schedules and offers her classroom as space for novice teachers to observe and learn. Her classroom was even observed by the U.S. Department of Education, which recognized her exemplary literacy instruction as rigorous.

Perhaps a joint letter from a group of Kraynak's third graders summed her up best: “She’s kind and patient. She’s always happy and she sings songs and plays games that help us learn. She makes me feel calm and happy, and if I’m confused I know she will help.”

Morgan Patel has taught social studies at Montgomery Blair High School for 11 years.

Patel 1.jpg

A Nationally Certified Board teacher, Patel has taught National, State and Local Government, Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology and Psychology, but has spent the majority of her career teaching AP Human Geography. AP Human Geography is a class that helps students learn about important world issues and devise potential solutions to those issues. After introducing two sections of the course in 2014, so many students began taking it that four more sections were added by 2020. In 2018, Patel started creating presentations on the benefits of taking AP classes, presenting to the school’s Instructional Leadership Team, as well as to student groups, including the Minority Scholars Program to encourage more minority students to enroll. These efforts have helped; the course has become one of the most popular electives the school offers—and 55 percent of her more than 160 students are minorities. “I would recommend her class to all Blair students just so they could experience her teaching,” one student commented.

Patel believes that one of the most important jobs for a teacher is to help students cultivate the confidence and skills that they need to achieve in academics and in life. She focuses on making sure that students who enroll in an AP class are comfortable and confident learning at a higher level by communicating high expectations and helping them realize they are capable of meeting them. Teaching AP involves instructing important skills, including managing time, note taking, reading and conducting research.

Patel 3.jpg

Her class “prepared my son so well for college,” one parent wrote of Patel. “She not only made the subject come alive but she was very intentional about teaching effective study habits that would transfer to other subjects as well. She is so good at modeling curiosity, excitement about learning and good strategies for learning.”

She has sponsored the Freshman Class Council since 2014, and has sponsored other clubs, including African Diaspora United and the Eritrean Culture Club. She also coached five seasons of junior varsity softball, four seasons of team handball, one season of allied softball and assists with varsity softball.

Melissa Porter Parks is the English Language Development (ELD) resource teacher at Gaithersburg High School, the largest ELD department in MCPS. She oversees more than 800 Emerging Multilingual Learners (EMLs), including students who have experienced interrupted education.

Porter Parks 2.jpg

Porter Parks grew up in poverty, received free and reduced price lunches, and worked several jobs while attending high school. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, and is a first-generation college graduate. She works diligently for and with her students from their first day of school through graduation, regardless of their background. She works alongside the Student Government Association to create a support experience; newly enrolled students receive a backpack of basic school supplies along with a Gaithersburg Trojans T-shirt, allowing them to assimilate quickly. She also created a student ambassador program, which matches newcomers up with welcoming experienced students by country of origin, first language and interests.

She has the extraordinary ability to connect with students on a personal level to understand their individual needs and learning styles. She consistently weaves multicultural literature and culturally relevant topics into the curriculum. She cultivates strong relationships with families and community partners, building a network of support that extends beyond the school walls. Staff and community partners have hosted drives to help families receive free clothing, household items and other items, such as baby formula, diapers and personal hygiene products.

Porter Parks 1.jpg

Porter Parks’ support and encouragement have made a difference in the graduation rate of EML students since 2018; that rate has increased from 33.3 percent to 60 percent in 2022. More students are also meeting college and career readiness goals, and more students are accessing higher education opportunities. She organizes higher education financial aid information sessions for undocumented students and their families. She’s also involved in International Night, an event that helps students represent their cultures through song, dance, food and presentations.

Students say she has changed their lives. Porter Parks “has always motivated me to complete my goals no matter how tough they are,” one said. “She cares and she shows it every day.” Another added: “I have an IEP and she has always seen me as a person and not a student with a problem.”

Porter Parks holds a master’s degree in teaching, and has completed the coursework for her doctorate in educational leadership from Drexel University.

The MCPS Teacher of the Year will be announced during an awards ceremony on May 1. The winner will go on to compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year.