2022 Educators of Excellence

New Memphis knows that great leadership is needed in every corner of our community — from the board room to the classroom. Educators are essential leaders in our community as their impact and investment is critical to our city’s future success. In addition to our programming for educators, New Memphis launched the Educators of Excellence award in 2018 to recognize and celebrate the outstanding work of exceptional educators as valued members of our community. Thanks to the Crews Family Foundation for their support of this prestigious award, which includes a donation to each educator to support their efforts in making this year the best it can be. Prek-12th grade full-time teachers, instructional staff, or school or network administrators are eligible for the award. Here are the five deserving winners for this year. Join us in celebrating the 2022 Educators of Excellence.

Grant Monda is Executive Director of Aurora Collegiate Academy. Aurora was recently named The TN Charter School of the Year and a Reward School, while also ranking 3rd in TN for charter elementary schools by US News and World Report. Grant is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and a graduate of Rhodes College and Christian Brothers University. In addition to his work at Aurora, he sits on several education committees reviewing charters for the state of TN, and is the co-board chair of Young at Art for the Dixon Galleries. Grant is a graduate of the New Memphis Embark and New Memphis Fellows programs. He is joined in life by his beautiful wife Brittany and wonderful daughters: Birdie and Maizie.

Grant’s personal mission statement is "Figure it out." He says, "I have learned that if you don't know an answer or a solution, it is your responsibility to figure it out. For me, it demonstrates a sense of urgency when educating students."



Robin Brice is currently a special education teacher at Grandview Heights Middle School. She serves as the Special Education department chair and the assistant girls basketball coach. She received her Bachelor of Art and Masters of Art in Integrative Studies at Northern Kentucky University and is currently attending Grand Canyon University as an EdD candidate focusing on organizational development. Robin Brice is a proud 2020 Teach for America Alumna and mentor at tnAchieves. Robin has 10 years of service in education, educational advocacy and community organizing through professional organization such as Leadership for Educational Equity, 901 Organizing Network for Equity, and Diverse Learners Cooperative. She is an alumna of the New Memphis Stride program.

As Robin says, “I am an Educator of Excellence because I am a constant advocate for appropriate scaffolds and academic rigor for exceptional children. I am an Educator of Excellence because I recognize deficits and instead of creating excuses, I create plans for bridge the gaps. I am not afraid of partnering with the community in order to achieve our bigger goal of driving student success outcomes.”



Nekishia Woods Dobbins teaches English at Memphis Business Academy Middle School and is in her 11th year teaching in Memphis. She consults on curriculum implementation for her charter school's district and serves on the executive board for Gestalt Community Schools. She received her Bachelor of Business Administration from Middle Tennessee State University and also holds a Masters degree in Business Administration. She has participated in various professional cohorts such as Memphis Teaching Fellows and Leaders of Color, and she has also served as an adjunct professor for Southwest Tennessee Community College's department of Business and Legal Studies. She's an active member of her beloved sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and the proud mommy of a witty 1st grader, Penelope.

Nekishia embodies the many hats of a teacher - as she said, “On their report cards, I may be listed as the English teacher, but to my students I am the person who shows up daily to pour into them, enriching their lives forever.”


Valen Warner teaches English at East High School. She mentors new teachers through the Memphis Teacher Residency and has been an ELA Fellow for Shelby County Schools. She has been named a Fund For Teachers Fellow and has received numerous local and national grants to build a diverse classroom library and support new teachers as they build their own classroom libraries. This past year, she earned her Reading Specialist certification and completed the process to become a National Board Certified teacher. She is an alumna of the New Memphis Stride program.

Valen exemplifies the magic that happens when a teacher is retained over time. “My desire to serve our city’s most vulnerable students has shaped me into an Educator of Excellence, an educator who is willing to persevere through difficult circumstances. I feel a special calling to work with children who have experienced educational inequity and who, as a result, do not feel confident in their abilities as learners. This calling has led me to stay in the classroom, despite many challenges: ever-changing education policy, new curricula, bureaucracy, limited resources, high teacher turnover rates, and a global pandemic. I have learned to continually pursue my own growth despite the challenges that I face.”


Yanli Cui just finished her eighth year teaching Advanced Precalculus, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, and dual enrollment Multivariable Calculus (University of Memphis) at White Station High School where she has sponsored and coached the prestigious math team and the mathematics honor society, Mu Alpha Theta chapter. Yanli has served as a facilitator for MSCS district learning day and as a mentor for MSCS AP Calculus teachers in the last few years; she is also a College Board AP Reader for the AP Calculus Exam and once served as a judge for Mu Alpha Theta National Convention Calculus III chalk talk contest. With two students receiving the Presidential Scholar Awards at the White House in the last four years, Yanli herself is the 2017 State Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Sciences Teaching (PAEMST) and recipient of the 2017 Mathematics Association of America Edyth May Sliffe Award. In the past, Yanli taught physics in China and mathematics at University of Memphis and Crichton College.

Yanli brings the subject of math to life. As she said in her application, “Math is all around us. A donut is a torus modeled by revolving a circle around the y-axis; a slice of pizza is a form of Gaussian curvature. Relating to everyday life, I strive to instill within my students a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them that will propel them to succeed academically throughout their lives.”

Posted by Anna Thompson at 14:42