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Sherwood choral teacher a finalist for Teacher of the Year

by Judith Hruz


Johnathan Dunn, choral teacher at Sherwood High School, is one of three teachers named finalists for the 2022-2023 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

The other two are Irma Najarro, a dual-language fourth grade teacher at Washington Grove Elementary School, and Michael Edwards, world studies and global humanities sixth grade teacher at Julius West Middle School in Rockville.

“I’ve been in shock and to say that I’m grateful would be an understatement,” Dunn said after learning he was a finalist.

Others are not surprised.

“Like most music teachers I’ve encountered in my career, Mr. Dunn connects with his students on a deeper level, often serving as counselor, therapist, cheerleader and trusted mentor,” said his Sherwood colleague, Michael Maddox. “His classes are the highlight of his students’ day.”

Dunn and Maddox, along with Alex Silverbook, are the producers/directors of the popular 50-year-old Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival.

Dunn has been a choral teacher at Sherwood High School for nine years and is known as a joyful and enthusiastic educator who works tirelessly to see that his students benefit from his lessons.

He teaches chorus, piano and music perspectives. Believing that music is a way to connect, he makes the music department a home for everyone. He encourages all students to perform in concerts and get involved in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival production. He also leads other school events, including vocal direction for the fall musical production and the Night of Jazz event in the spring.

Outside school, Dunn contributes his time to community events, and is active as a leader in music ministry and worship. A graduate of Catholic University, Dunn is a composer, arranger and pianist whose career began as an aspiring concert pianist. He has served as artistic director for the Washington Youth Choir.

Dunn is also restorative justice coach at the school, and in the 2020–2021 school year, took on an administrator position responsible for the ninth grade. He is in his final semester of graduate studies at Hood College, earning a master’s degree in educational leadership.

In his 19 years with MCPS, he has been a choral educator at James Hubert Blake High School, Cabin John Middle School and Francis Scott Key Middle School.

“When I had Mr. Dunn, I always left school feeling more inspired, and more self-confident,” said former student James Fitzgerald.

When he learned he was a finalist, Dunn sent an Instagram message:

“To my Sherwood students from today, to those at SHS, and schools from year’s past, I thank you! Thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me and the opportunities you’ve given me to grow into the communicator/educator/school leader I am today. To Mr. Timothy Britton and every principal that ever gave me the opportunity to work in their building and support their students/families, I thank you! To my current family, the greater Sherwood community, I thank you for accepting me and giving me the opportunity to be a presence in our music department and school.

“Teachers across this district and our great country work tirelessly to support the needs of students and families. They do it without an award or a recognition such as this. On the heels of everything we’ve been through as educators and human beings the past two years and beyond, know that your labor is never in vain, and your presence in the life of a child matters. I thank God every day for the opportunity to interact and teach my kids, and I celebrate my colleagues who gracefully get up every day to do the same!”

In her 16-year-career, Irma Najarro has taught at Washington Grove and South Lake, both Title I schools.

Colleagues describe her as a conscientious, patient teacher who infuses socio-emotional skills with compassion and positivity. She works hard to recognize students’ individual needs, encourages their talents and fosters their self-esteem, the school system says.

She teaches in Spanish and English, a task that requires content knowledge and the ability to create a learning environment that elevates Spanish while teaching students how to make connections between the two.

As an immigrant herself, she has shared her story of assimilation to a new country and uses her experiences to help students overcome their struggles.

Edwards has taught at Julius West since 2019. Known for his ability to connect with students, he is a popular, caring and open-minded educator who shows empathy and listens to all points of view.

He coordinates the school’s restorative justice and the No Place for Hate (NPFH) programs, which both incorporate strategies to proactively build a positive school culture. He has been instrumental in creating lesson plans that educate students on the impact of racial and ethnic slurs and gender identity issues, as well as the importance of respect and tolerance for all.

A Paint Branch high school graduate and the son of a teacher, Edwards is the school’s junior varsity soccer coach, and has also served as a swim and soccer coach for other schools and clubs. He holds a master’s degree in educational leadership.

The winner, who will be announced during a virtual celebration on April 28, will go on to compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year honors

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