2019 TORCH Honorees

The Teachers of Ohio Representing Character and Heart (TORCH) recognition celebrates teachers who model strong character and a heart for their students, colleagues and communities. The TORCH recognition selection committee was greatly impressed by the stories of teachers from across Ohio who are dedicated to educational equity and make strong personal commitments to their students. From these nominations, the five teachers listed below will be recognized during spring 2019 — the TORCH program’s inaugural year.

Tequila Pennington-Calwise

Euclid Park PreK-8 School
Cleveland, OH


Ms. Pennington-Calwise devotes herself to making learning fun but doesn’t limit her talents to the classroom. Seeing a need among the girls in her school, she founded the nonprofit mentoring and leadership organization for girls, Lady Bound, in 2006. Four chapters, countless awards and hundreds of girls later, Lady Bound is a positive force in Cleveland, offering teenage girls advantages like Saturday field trips and exposure to adult celebrities and local businesspeople who have wisdom to offer. Ms. Pennington-Calwise mentors new and struggling teachers in her school and does state-level volunteer work, including serving as a member of advisory groups for Cleveland State University and the Ohio Department of Education. 

Her career highlights include appearing on a nationally syndicated radio show as part of a panel that included then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She has received the Hardest Working Woman in America award from Essence magazine and the Verizon Wireless Everyday Hero award.

Leila Kubesch

Norwood Middle School
Norwood, OH

Leila Kubesch

Ms. Kubesch has a heart for youth experiencing poverty, homelessness, or language and cultural barriers and wants to give them a voice. Last year, she helped students create a youth-hosted television talk show to connect them with adult community leaders and experts from various fields. She created a parallel program, Voices without Borders, so her ESL students could participate in their own languages. Both shows use the production facilities of Norwood Community Television and air on that station.

She also looks out for youth in her community in other ways. Last year, she used money from a 2018 Dollar General Store grant she received to equip the school’s library with multicultural-focused books. She also won a 2018 Teaching Tolerance grant for her program that helps youth have a voice through the arts. Ms. Kubesch does humanitarian work outside the school, advocating for Ohio children who have aged out of foster care and are at risk of becoming homeless.

Tami Blue

Sylvania Northview High School
Sylvania, OH

Tami Blue

Tami Blue teaches web design, 2D game design and technology at Sylvania Northwood High School, but her self-assigned second job is to help students from the school’s different races, religions and cultures understand one another and form a community.

She began the school’s Coexist Club to build momentum for educational equity among student groups and now advises the school’s N-Compass Committee, which gives administrators, teachers and students ways to promote acceptance and respect. She also has advised the school’s student council for five years, growing the council’s membership and spurring the group to plan entertaining events all students can take part in. With her encouragement, the group also has planned food and clothing drives to benefit neighbors of the school who are in need. Ms. Blue has worked with other educators, training them in LGBTQ and other social issues.

Her community-building achievements, teaching skills and passion for encouraging academic discipline and growth earned her the Sylvania Schools Teacher of the Year award two years ago.

Sarah Thornburg

Columbus Alternative High School
Columbus, OH

Sarah Thornburg Photo

Sarah Thornburg is chair of the social studies department at Columbus Alternative High School, where she plans and implements social studies instructional programs that guide and encourage students to fulfill their academic potentials.

Nominators say Ms. Thornburg has excellent classroom management skills and has developed a rapport with students, colleagues and parents that is characterized by mutual respect. They also say she has an engaging, exemplary teaching style and a heart for students, her colleagues and her school community members that makes her the most sought-after mentor at her school. She uses a combination of engaging lectures and real-world exposure to prompt intriguing discussions about various topics in the classroom. She also helps her students understand civics as many intertwining processes and interactions that are happening to everyone, every day, partly by providing a historical context for civic engagement and governance in America.

Ms. Thornburg’s school leaders say she is dedicated to creating classrooms and curricula that emphasize continuous improvement. To help guide future instruction, she invites her students to share their experiences with her class at the end of each semester. Nominators feel it is this commitment to growth and student learning that makes her an outstanding educator.

Ms. Thornburg also works actively to connect students to civic initiatives such as voting. She helped establish Youth at the Booth, a program that gives Franklin County high school seniors the chance to work at polls. Since 2006, 15,000 students from across Central Ohio have taken part.

Alicia Spears

Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School
Patriot, OH

Alicia Spears Photo

Ms. Spears recently left her teaching job at a traditional public school district to help open a STEM public school in Ohio’s Appalachian region. Colleagues say Ms. Spears encourages her students to strive for greatness then give back to the community, hoping they will stay to help improve its economy and quality of life.

As a chemistry, physics and engineering teacher, her vision is to propel students toward college and career success, and she voluntarily plays many roles to help Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School thrive. Spears also is admired for creating an exceptional learning environment for her students and fellow teachers, routinely encouraging educators to co-teach classrooms and helping the school’s less-experienced teachers be successful.

Last Modified: 5/23/2019 12:03:38 PM