“There’s so much,” said Lisa Forrest-Schultz when asked what makes Nancy Fackelman such a great teacher. “I don’t think there’s enough ink or space in your column.”
Forrest-Schultz is the mother of two students who attended Webster School, 3400 Frankford Ave., where Fackelman teaches special education for grades K-3.
“She’s the type of person who cares about her students and families and coworkers,” continued Forrest-Schultz. “She cares about the community that she teaches in.”
It’s for those reasons and more that Fackelman was one of 60 Philadelphia school teachers awarded the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching this past week.
When Fackelman’s colleague, Dawn Ehmann, who also teaches at Webster, received an email about Lindback nominations coming up, she read the qualifications. They fit Fackelman “to a T.”
Ehmann helped assemble a nominating committee to officially nominate Fackelman for the award.
“We were all really motivated because we knew Nancy was such a deserving person,” said Ehmann.
“I’ve known her for as long as she’s been at Webster,” said another teacher, Bernadette O’Brien, on the nominating committee. “I’ve always admired her for how caring and thoughtful she is.”
Parents and coworkers agree that Fackelman puts her whole heart into teaching special education at Webster Elementary School five days a week, eight hours a day, from September to June.
Actually, for more than that.
For instance, there’s Forrest-Schultz’s oldest son, Peter. Peter, who is autistic, spent his second grade with Fackelman. Ten years later, he graduated high school in 2020.
“She still to this day reaches out and checks on him,” Forrest-Schultz said of Fackelman. “She goes above and beyond.”
Raising Peter was made a lot easier on Forrest-Schultz’s part thanks to his former second-grade teacher.
“She was determined to not let him fall through the cracks,” said Forrest-Schultz. “Even though he’s autistic and has a reading disability, she’d spend any moment she could sending me papers on autism and looking into different treatments.”
Forrest-Schultz’s younger son, Richard, was never one of Fackelman’s students. But she knew Richard was Peter’s younger brother and would frequently stop to talk to him in the school hallways, said Forrest-Schultz.
“She took time to say, ‘How are you today, Richie,’” said Forrest-Schultz. “She’s so genuine.”
To this day, Forrest-Schultz said, Fackelman continues to reach out to support Peter and his family.
Fackelman is known around the school for her frequent food drives that benefit St. Joan of Arc Church’s food pantry.
Sister Linda Lukiewski of St. Joan of Arc told the Star that Fackelman came up with the idea for the food drive with the help of some of the students on a school running team Fackelman was involved with.
“Nancy started talking to teachers themselves about doing a food drive,” said Lukiewski. “The teachers said, ‘Yeah, sure, that’s great,’ so they started collecting food.”
The food drives now happen on just about every holiday.
“She just is so remarkable that she can inspire people to really be very generous,” added Lukiewski.
When Fackelman first learned she would be receiving the award she was “in disbelief,” she said. “But incredibly grateful.”
Her inspiration to teach special education was her brother Daniel, who had spina bifida, was in a wheelchair and also attended a Philadelphia public school for kids with special needs.
One of the best parts about winning the award for Fackelman is that she won it at her hometown school. She was born and raised on Jasper Street in Kensington, although she now lives in Deptford, New Jersey.
“I still have a lot of family in the Port Richmond area,” she said. “I have very strong roots in Kensington and Harrowgate.”
She started student teaching at Webster back when she was a college student at Temple University. This year is her 17th year as a teacher, all of which were spent at Webster.
“I felt so welcome there that I just stayed,” she said.
During the Star’s phone call with Fackelman, she mentioned that she had just finished her most recent food drive, which was done in memory of a former Webster student, Tazmir Ransom, who passed away at age 7 last year.
“We collected over $5,000 for the mission,” Fackelman said, proudly. Once she collects the money, Fackelman and her fellow Webster teachers volunteer to do some food shopping for the pantry.
“I basically kind of led the operation,” she said. “I allocate money to each teacher and we each go shopping. Sister Linda tells us what we need.”
On any given week, Fackelman said, the pantry, which offers pickup at the church on Tuesdays and Thursdays, feeds up to 100 families.
“A lot of the families are within the Webster School community,” she said. “People wait in line up to an hour before it opens.”
Sherri Arabia, the principal of Webster, said that Fackelman “sets high standards and expectations for all students, regardless of disability.”
“Ms. Fackelman demonstrates flexibility,” added Arabia, “and is accommodating when it comes to her students’ schedules.”
Teaching is notorious for not exactly being the easiest or financially lucrative career – especially for those who do it in inner cities. For Fackelman, what makes it worthwhile is not only connecting with the students, but their families and the community.
“I love building strong relationships with the families – that is of utmost importance,” she said. “I feel like once you have the families on board, the sky is the limit.”
According to Arabia, 50 percent of her students have increased Aimsweb scores, a benchmark and progress monitoring system, in reading and 40 percent have increased scores in math. Her daily attendance rate is “well over” 95 percent, according to Arabia, who added that “she reaches out daily to check on her students’ well-being when they do not come to class.”
“At Webster,” said Arabia, “we consider her to be irreplaceable.”