Alum Named National Science Teacher

“Anyone in need of any extra help, Mrs. Rini and Mrs. Scherry will be staying after school Monday through Thursday until 4:30. Anyone is welcome to come and get help in any subject area, to work on a project, have a quiet place to do homework, or work ahead in your courses.”

This announcement on Donna Rini’s classroom website at Brookside High School in Sheffield, Ohio, describes the after-school “bonus period” the science teacher has offered to her students for two years. Rini’s extra efforts have resulted in the improvement of science test scores at the high school, where students pass at a rate of nearly 83 percent, according to the National Science Teachers Association.

For her exceptional work in and outside the classroom, the Notre Dame College graduate received the association’s Distinguished Teacher Award this spring. Rini was the first science teacher in three years to be nationally recognized by the 60,000-plus member organization. She received the association’s highest honor during the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Philadelphia in March.

Donna Rini (center) with Reggie Crenshaw of ServiceMaster and NSTA President Pat Shane.Rini is credited with raising the science scores of Brookside students on state mandated tests. With her efforts to coordinate student preparation classes, they now meet and exceed the standards, Assistant Principal Robert Shaffer said.

“Donna Rini is an invaluable inspiration to both staff and students at Brookside,” Shaffer said. “All of her work is excellent. She provides a very positive learning environment, she challenges the students and keeps them focused from bell to bell.”

Rini’s professionalism helps the rest of the staff grow, Shaffer said. In her bonus period she helps students with virtually any subject. On average six to 10 students take advantage of it, Shaffer said.   

Rini is respected and liked by her students not because here classes are easy but because they are rigorous and demanding, fellow teacher Randall Brundage said.

“In 37 years of teaching high school science, it is rare to have a colleague as talented, passionate and professional as Donna Rini,” he said. “Her commitment to science education is unparalleled, her concern for her students unsurpassed and her demand for excellence uncompromising.”

Rini developed and implemented two new forensic courses at Brookside, assisted with the set-up of forensics courses at neighboring schools, oversaw the realignment of the current curriculum at Brookside and is a high school science Olympiad coach. She is also involved in a summer bridge program that helps students transition from middle to high school.

“The drive and enthusiasm she brings to her work each day are responsible for her desire and effort to do everything right for her students,” Rini’s profile on the school’s website reads.

“Her constant wide smile, her pleasant, but commanding tone of voice, her constant positive attitude about being available for any requests for assistance, and the practice that she never tells a student they are totally wrong, are manifestations of her enthusiasm for teaching.”  

A Notre Dame College yearbook photo of Donna Rini in 1985Rini developed her passion for science at Notre Dame College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology in 1985. She also holds a master’s in classroom technology from Bowling Green State University and worked as an ophthalmic technician for many years before acquiring her teaching license seven years ago. 

“I really love what I am doing now,” said Rini, who was surprised by the award even though she knew a colleague had nominated her. “[The award ceremony] was very exciting. It validates what you are doing every day.”

But the real reward is her daily interaction with the students, Rini said. “The kids said, ‘We knew your are the best science teacher in the world anyways.’ That meant much more to me than the award.”

Rini said she and Scherry started the bonus period for those “middle-of-the-road kids who needed extra time and help to get to the next level.”

Not all of them were excited about staying after school but in the end they were glad to have the opportunity, Rini said. When projects are due, up to 25 students come to the bonus period. Their progress is measurable as grades have improved by 15 percent; and there are plans to incorporate the bonus period in the school’s curriculum, Rini said.

Rini takes her students to the next level by combining two characteristics in her teaching. “I like to think of myself as tough but kind,” she said. “I set my expectations high so that my students can achieve them.”

Rini’s students, for example, dissect specimen and do other hands-on-work during the first day of class, Schaffer said. Whether it’s in her biology, forensic science, or anatomy and physiology classes, Rini expects her students to reach the highest level of understanding.

The NDC alumna learned this approach from two Notre Dame nuns in the 1980s – Sr. Jeanne Marie, who taught chemistry, and Sr. Pat, a biology teacher.

“Sr. Jeanne Marie was tough. She pushed me in ways no other teacher pushed me. As much as I hated it, I needed it,” Rini recalls. “And I remember Sr. Pat’s kindness and empathy.”

The nuns at Notre Dame viewed their professions as a vocation and promoted inquiry-based learning, Rini said. “We had to apply what we did,” she said. “It was a new way of learning for me, and that’s the way I teach now.”

By Christian Taske ’07, editor and writer at Notre Dame College.


May 25
4:00 AM
Friday May 25, 4:00am
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E.g., 06/25/18