The Delaware Department of Education is seeking grant applications for new charter schools interested in opening in Delaware or highly effective existing schools looking to add seats or additional locations.
The funds are part of the $10.4 million federal grant Delaware won in October to strengthen the state’s charter school system. Funds from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program will be distributed over five years to support:
Sharing best practices between charter schools and other public schools;
Evaluating and enhancing the impact of charter schools on student achievement, families and communities;
Strengthening the charter school authorization process; and
Providing subgrants for the planning, program design and initial implementation of new charter schools and expansion and replication of highly effective existing charter schools.
The grant also will help the Delaware Department of Education to improve its charter authorization process by enhancing reporting to include additional measures, providing technical assistance to charter school stakeholders and addressing policy to strengthen authorization practices.
Those applying for subgrants from the state must show how they will use the funds to:
Increase academic achievement for all students in the school as well as educationally disadvantaged students;
Collaborate to share best practices with district and charter schools;
Engage the families of educationally disadvantaged children on school choice opportunities with a focus on Delaware’s rural and urban areas;
Leverage partnerships with local agencies (i.e. social services, behavioral health, mental health, educational support, job placement, before/after care) to enhance school services and ensure sustainability.
The department released its request for applications (find information online here). Applicants must notify their intent to apply by April 30. Applications are due May 31, and awards will be announced in July.
On any given day, you can find Sarah Carpenter organizing parents in the Memphis area. A single mother of four daughters and 13 grandchildren, Carpenter was an advocate long before becoming co-founder and CEO of The Memphis Lift, which she describes as “a parent organization run by parents, for parents.”
Born and raised in North Memphis, Carpenter says her experience as a single parent prepared her to lead The Memphis Lift. “I have always been an advocate for my daughters and for other’s kids,” she says. “I started in 1995 when I was asked to help open a Family Resource Center in a high school and students without involved parents in their lives took to me. Parents would stop me and say, ‘They are passing my son on to High School and he can’t even read.”
Carpenter and her fellow co-founders met during the training component of a public advocate fellowship funded by the Memphis Education Fund, which educated parents about the landscape in Shelby County Schools (SCS). At the time, SCS had the highest number of “priority schools” –those in which student scores on state exams ranked in the bottom five percent – in Tennessee.
Carpenter and her colleagues have since visited more than 10,000 homes to educate others on the state of Memphis’s schools. SCS students can attend four categories of schools: traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, charter schools in the state-run Achievement Schools District, and schools in the district’s Innovation Zone.
For Carpenter and her organization, ensuring that all parents – regardless of income – have access to all the options SCS has to offer is paramount. In January 2018, the district launched a scorecard to help parents compare schools based on student achievement, growth, attendance, and suspension rates. The Memphis Lift helps parents interpret the scorecard and navigate their options, so they can make the best choices for their children.
Carpenter is intimately acquainted with the many options parents have: all of her daughters attended neighborhood schools, yet all but one of her grandchildren attend charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations—mostly nonprofits—typically on five-year “charters,” or performance contracts. They are free from many of the bureaucratic rules that stifle innovation in district schools, but in return they are accountable for their performance: if their students are falling too far behind grade level, their charters are not renewed and they must close.
Carpenter’s granddaughters are not unusual. Charter enrollment in SCS has increased every year for the past four years; currently, 15,200 students—15 percent of the district–are enrolled in 51 charter schools. In spite of the increased enrollment, enrolling in charter schools in SCS is no easy feat, even for the most engaged parent. Enrolling in the highest performing charters, which use lotteries to select their students because so many apply, is even more difficult. First families mustvisit their zoned school or approved school choice location to get a PowerSchool account, then they must register online, then visit charters they are interested in, then apply and hope they win the lottery. For parents with multiple children in multiple schools, the process can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
The topic of charter schools in SCS was highlighted in The Memphis Lift’s Annual Parents Summit, last October. This year’s summit was done in collaboration with the Memphis Education Fund and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools project.
Charters in Tennessee are authorized either by districts or by the state Board of Education. In cities and states where authorizers close failing charters, their performance is usually far better than that of district schools. Where authorizers fail to close lagging schools, charter performance is far less impressive. Unfortunately, Shelby County Schools has not been rigorous about closing its charters, and their quality varies.
In the most recent SCS scorecard, SCS secondary charter schools perform better than K-8 charter schools when compared to district-managed schools. SCS secondary charter schools outperformed district-managed secondary schools, with 54 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 46 percent of district-managed schools.” District-managed K-8 schools outperformed K-8 charter schools with 41 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 33 percent of K-8 charter schools.
Parents attending the summit supported replacing underperforming charter anddistrict schools with stronger operators, both charters and district school leaders. This can usually be done without disruption to the students, who remain in the school under new leadership.
But for parents at the summit, a quality charter school didn’t mean much without access to it. So The Memphis Lift’s highest priority is a universal enrollment system for all Memphis public schools, through which parents can use a single application to rank their top choice schools. The system then uses a lottery algorithm to match students to schools based on availability and preference. For low-income parents, universal enrollment systems help ensure equal access to quality schools. New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Newark, and several other cities have adopted such systems, which include virtually all traditional and charter schools.
The third priority summit participants chose was improving transportation to schools, because many families simply cannot get their children to quality schools
Carpenter is excited about the future of The Memphis Lift, but she understands how much work still needs to be done. “We have made an impact on waking parents up about how this system is run…but we haven’t moved the needle enough,” she says.
Meanwhile, Carpenter has received multiple requests for advice on how to replicate The Memphis Lift model in other cities. Currently the organization is mentoring parent groups in St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Newark.
Despite her national notoriety and popularity with those in the education reform community, Carpenter is quick to remind us that, “Before I heard the term ‘ed reform,’ I was already advocating for kids in my community and my own kids, too!”
Her advice to parents with children in underperforming school districts is to first “get educated on the landscape of education…You can’t fight for anything if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”
Follow Carpenter and The Memphis Lift on their website www.memphislift.orgor on Twitter @memphis_lift.
By Lynette Monroe, Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Rebecca Francis, like most dynamic leaders of our time, recognized a problem and created a solution. As a former behavioral counselor, fourth grade teacher, and international high school psychology and English literature instructor, Rebecca Francis’ professional resume alone qualifies her to lead in the field of education. But her personal experience as an adolescent in the Bay Area, traveling 45 minutes across town to attend a higher performing school in a more affluent neighborhood, sparked the passion she needed to lead effectively.
Francis has visited over 25 high-performing schools across the nation to learn what it takes to make award-winning, high-quality public charter schools. She believes charter schools offer an alternative option to parents and students who are not satisfied with the options available to them. Although she supports traditional public, neighborhood schools, Francis recognizes the reality that all schools are not created equal and that traveling far away from home can inhibit children’s social development.
“As a little girl, traveling long distances in pursuit of a higher quality education I thought, ‘What is wrong with the school in my own neighborhood? Why does something like this not exist closer to my home?’” Lessons reiterated as a professional, “then, as an educator it became more clear that children on different ends of the income spectrum were receiving vastly different education experiences” Francis said.
Elevate Collegiate Charter School seeks to provide an accessible high-quality option to underserved students in Houston. Their mission is to equip all pre-kindergarten through fifth grade scholars with the academic knowledge and character development necessary to set forth confidently on the path to college. Elevate Collegiate Charter School strongly believes that they are not just responsible for providing a college preparatory education to students, but also to help instill the character traits necessary for them to be positive members in their class, school, and community.
Increased access to opportunity is a major goal of Elevate Collegiate Charter School. “We see education as a tool that all children need to unlock their greatest potential.” Francis says, “To better serve minority and low-income students this charter school will feature double literacy blocks, which we hope will promote advanced literary skills, and an increased prioritization of computer science. In the eight largest tech companies, African Americans make up less than 5 percent of the workforce. So, our challenge is also to figure out innovative ways to infuse coding, robotics, and basic computer software to light that tech spark in the curriculum.”
Title IV, Part C, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), entitled, “Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools,” supports the increased accessibility of high-quality public charter schools. State entities can even receive grants from the federal government to open and prepare for the operation of new charter schools. ESSA defines a high-quality charter school as an educational institution that shows evidence of strong academic results or growth and has no significant issues with fiscal management or procedural compliance. ESSA gives states more flexibility to states to decide how to incorporate charter schools into their accountability systems, but most state charter school laws hold charter schools to the same standards as their traditional public school counterparts.
Why Houston? Rebecca is an alumna of the University of Houston where she earned Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in African American Studies. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation and there are currently roughly 22,000 students on alternative school option waiting list.
Elevate Collegiate Charter School seeks to provide the individualized learning support towards mastery that ESSA encourages. It will do so by hiring teachers with experience teaching underserved populations and who have the passion to do so effectively and consistently.
To learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the innovative opportunities it affords to Black students check out nnpa.org/essa.
A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members.
The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.
Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.
The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.
But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.
Anti-Charter Policy Pushes
Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…
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The Post Salon co-sponsored a community dialogue on schools Sunday, Dec. 9. along with Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), Educators for Democratic Schools, the New McClymonds Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee of Parents and Education.
Speaking at the meeting were Oakland teachers, parents and community leaders concerned about low teacher salaries, upcoming budget cuts and the threat of closing schools and selling or leasing the campuses to charter schools.
Mike Hutchinson from OPEN said, “There’s only one way to stop this. That’s to organize.” And he presented information to indicate that the district is not really in a deficit. Taylor Wallace explained why the state does not have Black and Latino teachers and called for changing this serious situation. Oakland teacher Megan Bumpus represented the Oakland Education Association and explained the teachers’ struggle with the school district.
Among ideas presented at the Salon was a brief draft program that includes demands on the State of California, which bears much of the responsibility for Oakland’s problems.
While the district may be guilty of misspending, it is the State of California that is responsible for funding and is depriving the public schools of the money they need to serve the needs of Oakland children.
And it is the State that decides who is allowed to teach and creates obstacles that keep some of the best young teachers out of the classroom.
More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.
At the end of the dialogue, participants adopted a motion to hold a press conference at the State Building in January.
Draft of a People’s Program:
1. No public school closings. Closing schools does not save money. It hurts kids and neighborhoods.
2. No sale of public property. A major element of privatization is selling off the legacy of publicly owned property and institutions left to us by earlier generations of Oaklanders.
3. No budget cuts to the schools. California is one of the richest economies in the world. It has a budget surplus, a Democratic majority in the legislature, and the capacity to fully fund schools.
4. End the teacher shortage and the lack of Black, Latino, indigenous and Asian teachers by eliminating such barriers as multiple standardized tests and multiple fees and by reforming the non-elected, unrepresentative State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
5. Rescind the remainder of the debt imposed on Oakland by the State legislature 15 years ago and spent by state-appointed administrators without input from Oakland residents
6. A living wage for all school employees. A first-year teacher, a custodian, a school secretary should all be able to live in the city where they work, if they wish to do so. That’s a “community school.”
7. End the discrimination against schools below the 580 freeway.
8. FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team) out of Oakland. Democratic control of our school budget and school governance.
9. Open the books of the Ed Fund, which was created by non-elected State Administrators and does not provide transparency.
10. Reduce class sizes, standardized testing, test prep, age-inappropriate expectations, unnecessary bureaucracy, and mid-year consolidations.
Engage parents and teachers in a collaborative recreation of special education and the education of immigrant and emergent bilingual students.
If you have thoughts or comments on this draft program, send an email to Salonpost02@gmail.com
WASHINGTON – Better integration of education at all levels, eliminating the distinction between higher education and career preparation and more cooperation among local, state and federal policymakers can remove barriers and better prepare a workforce that increasingly includes individuals who don’t fit the traditional profile of college students.
Those were some of the suggestions made by two experts at a policy roundtable discussion Wednesday presented by Higher Learning Advocates, a nonprofit organization devoted to connecting federal policies with the needs of postsecondary students, employers and communities.
At the roundtable, titled “Bridging the Education-Workforce Divide: Upskilling America’s Workforce,” Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and Dr. Jason Smith, partnership executive director of Bridging Richmond talent hub in Virginia, discussed challenges to bridging higher learning and the workforce and issues of access and success for students.
“The conversation itself is problematic and where to place emphasis in the pipeline,” said Smith. “We have to stop separating education and workforce preparation. We take those two parts and separate them out, and I think that’s really problematic. We need to start thinking about it all as being workforce preparation.”
Given the demographic changes and projections of postsecondary school populations in the United States, neotraditional or new traditional may be better terms for students long described as nontraditional. Through most of America’s recent history, the profile of an average college student was an unmarried middle-class White student attending full-time immediately after high school with parental financial support, living on campus and earning a bachelor’s degree in four to five years.
Today, however, only 13 percent of college students live on campus, 26 percent are parenting, 38 percent are older than 25, 40 percent attend part-time, 42 percent live at or below the federal poverty line, 47 percent are financially independent, 57 percent attend two-year colleges and 58 percent work while in school.
Add to those factors the unprecedented cultural diversity of student populations and diversity of postsecondary education options and the need to remove barriers to quality, affordability and successful outcomes for students becomes clear, said moderator and HLA deputy executive director Emily Bouck West.
A significant change in recent years, Thompson observed, is more students who perceive that they don’t have access to higher education and that they lack opportunities to succeed in that space, in spite of financial aid and other support systems designed to help students achieve both.
“Our job is to put value back in that value proposition,” said Thompson. “How do we change that? How do we talk about quality?”
A central part of the discussion should be greater alignment of educational arenas from preK-12 to two-year and four-year institutions, Thompson said. Providing quality education in a seamless continuum with career preparation as a central driver can help skeptical prospective postsecondary students – especially from underrepresented groups – see that education beyond high school is affordable and valuable, doable in a reasonable time and leads to employment, he said.
Breaking down silos between different types of postsecondary institutions can benefit students, said Smith, whether community colleges, baccalaureate programs, vocational-technical programs or online for-profit learning.
Data-sharing and articulation agreements that promote more thoughtful and efficient transfer of credit between schools can benefit students, Smith added. For example, a student may transfer from a community college to a four-year university without having earned a credential, but may find after one or two courses that those credits can be reverse-transferred to the community college and qualify the student for an associate’s degree.
Post-secondary students drop out or stop out for a range of personal issues, from financial to family concerns. Better credit-transfer rules and other such policy changes – which local, state and federal policies could promote – would increase the number of students completing a credential and help move more workers into the employment pipeline.
“One very different thing for students today is it is no longer the experience that you went to one institution and stayed there until you completed it,” said Smith. “People now are looking for learning they need for employment now. And where can I go later to add on? How can I stack into something that helps me over a long period of time?”
Smith and Thompson agreed that employers and schools must begin to work more closely together, and earlier in the formal education process, to ensure that student learning fits employer needs and expectations.
“There’s a need to get employers more involved on the front end in creating programs that matter and teach what they’re looking for,” said Thompson. “Everybody doesn’t have to go to college, but should have education post-high school that works. We need to be far more intentional in putting people on pathways, with employers engaged throughout the process for a continual-improvement model. We in higher education have to rethink how we’re doing business. And so do employers.”
Policies around financial aid also need to be revisited as both an access issue and a success issue, Thompson and Smith said. Paying for school and having the financial resources to meet human needs are concerns for traditional students as well as students from low-income and underrepresented groups, and guidelines around student loans and the Pell grant should be aligned with those needs, Thompson said.
Policymakers at the state and federal levels can play a role by incentivizing “disconnected” systems in higher ed to work better together for post-secondary students, said Smith.
Curriculum redesign informed by the employment sector as early as elementary school and wise use of outcomes data can close completion gaps and help students become culturally competent workforce participants, Thompson said.
“Schools need to align ourselves with a student success paradigm so we’re on the same page when talking about issues of quality and engagement,” he added.
Treating higher education as one system rather than multiple systems and helping students experience wrap-around services in a more integrated way “would go a long way” toward promoting the success of all students, Smith said.
“There needs to be a shift from an access-for-all mentality to a success-for-all mentality.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones.
A few weeks ago when I heard Charleston County School District for the first time had received accreditation I thought, “What the what?”
I was both surprised and concerned. I had never imagined our county school district until then was not accredited. I knew that Charleston County School District has some low performing schools, but it never occurred to me the district was not accredited. I mean, very few things are any good unless it’s accredited. Sure we have some individually challenged schools, but surely the district was accredited, I had just assumed. So hearing that CCSD was just getting accredited for the first time had me flabbergasted.
I remember when I was applying to colleges all those years ago; one of the things I looked at was the school’s accreditation status. I felt like a degree from a non-accredited school wouldn’t mean very much, so accreditation was important. How could it be Charleston County School District was not accredited? So I asked a few questions.
I’m finding that this accreditation business is a very complex issue. The first thing I learned was that although the district as a whole had never been accredited, certain schools – the county’s high schools especially – were. That made sense. High schools had to be accredited otherwise their graduates might not be accepted at institutions of higher learning.
Okay that was a concession, but I still was left wondering how an elite, arrogant community like Charleston County didn’t have an accredited public school district. In one brief exchange with a friend, I asked whether the fact that we received accrediting for the first time was good or bad. My friend answered with an emphatic “good!” I respect my brother Jason’s perspective, but I can’t imagine how being accredited for the first time in its history can be a good thing for a 200-year-old school system. By the way, Charleston County school district is the last Lowcountry school district to receive accreditation. I guess Jason figures better late than never.
Jason and I never got the chance to fully discuss the subject of CCSD accreditation, so I’ve still got a lot of questions I think our community also should be concerned about. First and foremost, just what does being accredited mean? Maybe the folks at South Carolina State University could help. They were facing some real challenges about accreditation.
Like SCSU did as an institution of higher ed, Charleston County School District got its accreditation from one of the foremost accrediting agencies around for education systems– AdvancEd. I looked ‘em up and they apparently can cut the mustard. I was concerned CCSD administrators weren’t just giving us another dog and pony show, hiring some no-name company to take a pay off in exchange for a good rating. But AdvancEd appears to be reputable.
And AdvancEd didn’t just hand over the all-clear without some stipulations! For those of us who have lived here a long time the stipulations seem repetitive – improve governance, classroom culture, school alignment, allocation of resources and community engagement – stuff constituents have complained about for years. AdvancEd gives its accreditation for five-year cycles and will allow the district a few years to make the improvements if it wants to keep the accreditation. I’m anxious to see how that plays out.
At the top of the heap of the stuff that has to be improved is board governance. Charleston County always has had a racist, elitist and self-serving school board. It’s now devolved into a dysfunctional one as well. I’ve seen some back-biting entities – that’s not the nature of the beast, that’s the nature of stupid people! That’s also our fault (voters) because we continue to elect people to the board who don’t serve the interest of the community as a whole. We continue to elect people to Charleston County School Board who serve parochial interests – people who obviously have no understanding of the reality that high tide raises all boats.
I tell people all the time our school system, with all its flaws and inequities, works exactly as it is intended. The system isn’t designed to provide equal education opportunities to all children – and I don’t know where this new cliché about education opportunities depending on zip codes comes from. What does that mean?
Okay, okay, okay. It’s complicated. But you put people in position to achieve certain outcomes. People are spending a lot of money to get elected to the county school board. The first time I heard a guy had spent $50,000 to get elected it blew my mind. Now folks are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected. They’re forming slates of candidates. You don’t have to be real bright to realize that means people have agendas and are willing to go all the way to achieve those agendas.
We’re talking about a system that provides billions of dollars to the local economy and facilitates how our community is shaped in many ways. Public education is serious business! It ain’t just about insuring little Johnny learns to read. Lil Johnny doesn’t need to read to push the hamburger button on a cash register at Burger King. And soon they won’t need lil Johnny at all because customers will be placing their own orders! Some kids get a good education in Charleston County because some kids will push hamburger button, others will own the restaurant or design the buttons.
So what about school district accreditation? I’m still a little confused about the why and how it will affect public education in Charleston County. But as I argued with a friend recently, every little bit helps. Accreditation certainly can’t hurt. I think the real issue is will we move beyond getting accredited.
[/media-credit] Participants in the DanceLogic program. (Facebook)
Shanel Edwards, co-instructor of danceLogic, stated that “danceLogic is helping these girls have access to the arts realm and science world as possible career paths, it is allowing them to stretch their own boundaries of what success looks like for them. ”DanceLogic, a unique S.T.E.A.M. program that combines dance and computer coding leading to the development of original choreography and performance, is continuing onto its second year. Girls ranging from the ages of 13 through 18 years participate in the program held at West Park Cultural Center in Philadelphia and learn the value of focus, dedication, and teamwork, as well as industry standard coding language.
During the dance class, led by instructors Edwards of D2D The Company and Annie Fortenberry, a performer with Ballet 180, the girls learn dance skills and movement techniques. This is followed by an hour of learning industry standard coding language under the direction of coding instructor Franklyn Athias, senior vice president of Network and Communications Engineering at Comcast. “I’m helping the kids see that someone, just like them, was able to use Science and Technology to find a very successful career,” Athias expressed in a press release.
The girls use coding to create their own choreography. “The combinations of dance and logic have good synergies. Learning something like dance requires practice, just like coding,” said Athias. “The dance is more physical, but it requires the students to try, fail, and try again. Before long, the muscle memory kicks in and the student forgets how hard it was before. Coding is really the same thing. Learning the syntax of coding is not a natural thing. Repetition is what makes you become good at it. After learning the first programming language, the students can learn other programming languages because it becomes much easier.”
“My favorite thing about the program is that the students can explore leadership roles. By building their own choreography and supporting each other in coding class, they navigate creating and sharing those creations, as well as resolving conflict to make one cohesive dance. There’s a lot of beauty and bravery in that process,” stated Fortenberry.
]The very first session of danceLogic culminated with the girls performing choreography and sharing what they learned through coding and how it has impacted their lives.
by Lesia Winiarskyj, for the Connecticut Education Association
2019 TOY finalists and semifinalists gather with CEA leaders. Pictured left to right are Robert Rose (Glastonbury), Leanne Maguire (Torrington), Gregory Amter (Hamden), CEA President Jeff Leake, Jennifer Freese (Newington), Sheena Graham (Bridgeport), Ryley Zawodniak (Mansfield), CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas, Jessica Harris (Wallingford), Camille Spaulding (Spaulding), Kelly Shea (Manchester), Sean Maloney (Brooklyn), Ellen Meyer (Danbury), John Cote (Lebanon), Penny Zhitomi (Shelton), and Jessica Papp (Canton). Not pictured is Barbara Johnson (Colchester).
For 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year (TOY) Sheena Graham, making personal connections with the young people in her classroom is all in a day’s work—and one of the things that has endeared her to generations of students. Those meaningful, enduring connections are among the common threads that bind this year’s TOY finalists together. While they all came to teaching in different ways, with unique points of inspiration, each shares a strong penchant for building positive relationships with students, showing children that they matter not only as learners but as human beings.
Sheena Graham reflects on what, and who, inspired her to be a teacher and a lifelong learner.
At a December 5 ceremony at The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts honoring Graham and more than 100 district-level teachers of the year—including 11 state semifinalists and three finalists—teachers from Bridgeport to Mansfield received high accolades for delivering on the promise of an outstanding education for all students, but also, on a more personal level, caring about their students as individuals.
2013 Connecticut TOY Blaise Messinger, the evening’s emcee, thanked teachers for creating classrooms that send a clear message: “This is a place of inclusion, of learning, of safety. This is a place of hope.” Like many of the evening’s speakers who credited their own teachers with making a major impact on their lives, the Cromwell teacher noted, “I can draw a straight line from one certain teacher to where I stand now, on this stage.” Addressing the honorees in the crowd, he said, “You are that teacher for someone. You are that teacher who will be remembered.”
Personal connections “I am so proud to be here on a night that honors our Connecticut teachers, not only those who have distinguished themselves as teachers of the year, but all the many thousands across the state who work hard every day to build bridges, make meaningful connections, and educate the whole child,” said CEA President Jeff Leake.
TOY Finalist Ryley Zawodniak, a fifth-grade teacher at Mansfield Middle School, has made that her mission throughout her career.
“As a language arts teacher,” she says, “I have a window into students’ lives—their triumphs and struggles—as they write about what’s most important to them. I see that as a gift as well as a responsibility. Yes, I am responsible for covering content, but first and foremost, I am responsible for knowing each of my students and forging a connection with them—not only to discover new avenues to motivate and challenge them but also to help them feel safe, heard, and understood.”
Zawodniak points to a defining moment in her days as a student that shaped the teacher she is today. “I didn’t know it then,” she said, “but it would later push me to make meaningful contributions in education.” She recalls the December day in 1985 when classmate Louis Cartier came to her New Hampshire high school with a shotgun. “This was pre-Columbine, pre-cellphones, pre-intruder drills. My experience as a student that day, which ended in Louis being shot and killed by a police officer, resonated with me over the years, after I became a teacher.” She remembers Cartier as a bullied student who had dropped out of school and ultimately reached a breaking point.
“Consequently, one contribution I make in education is to see students first as people. Their social and emotional needs are of the utmost importance to me, and I seek to support all learners. Louis Cartier taught me that lesson.”
Parents have commended Zawodniak for “tapping into each child in a unique and personal way,” and students say she makes them feel “like one big family, where every voice is heard.”
Like Zawodniak, fellow finalist Jennifer Freese, a science teacher at Martin Kellogg Middle School in Newington and a CEA member since 2006, is a firm believer in the importance of supporting students’ social-emotional well-being to help them cope with conflict and stress.
“My students keep me going every single day,” she says.
AUSTIN – Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced today the six Texas teachers that have been named finalists for the 2018 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The 2018 awards recognize kindergarten through sixth grade mathematics and science teachers whose innovative methods bring teaching to life in the classroom.
PAEMST is the highest recognition a mathematics or science teacher may receive for exemplary teaching in the United States. The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on the behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The 2018 Texas finalists in elementary mathematics are:
Ellaree Lehman – Third grade mathematics and science teacher at R. E. Good Elementary IB World School in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District;
Angelica Nino – Third grade bilingual mathematics and science teacher at De Zavala Elementary School in the San Antonio Independent School District; and
Kirsta Paulus – Third grade teacher at Genoa Elementary School in the Pasadena Independent School District.
The 2018 Texas finalists in elementary science are:
Allison Bearden – Sixth grade math and science teacher at Oakcrest Intermediate School in the Tomball Independent School District;
Celene Rosen – Third grade math and science teacher at Barksdale Elementary School in the Plano Independent School District; and
Brenda Williams – Fourth and fifth grade Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teacher at Argyle Intermediate School in the Argyle Independent School District.
To achieve recognition through this program, a teacher first must apply to enter the competition or be nominated for the award. A state panel consisting of master teachers, content specialists, and administrators reviews the applications and selects the most outstanding mathematics and science teachers for the National Science Foundation to consider for national awardee status. After this initial selection process, a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators may select two teachers from each state and U.S. jurisdiction for the national award.
PAEMST awardees receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation, a certificate signed by the President of the United States, and a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C., to attend recognition events and professional development opportunities.
For additional information about the PAEMST program, visit www.paemst.org.