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Bill Cirone: Honoring Teacher Excellence

Montecito Union School District’s Jennifer Wilson and her team carry on the vision of memorial grant program

Congratulations to the Montecito Union School District’s Jennifer Wilson and her instructional strategy team for winning the first Ellen Dempsey Memorial Grant, an award that pays tribute to a woman whose life was devoted to honoring and promoting teacher excellence.

The grant award was based on excellent, innovative curriculum lessons, and highly effective instructional strategies.

The winning strategy this year, “Thinking Routines: Promoting Critical, Creative and Reflective Thinkers,” was won by a team coached by Wilson, comprising Vanessa Scarlett, also of Montecito Union, Becca McNees of Monte Vista School in the Hope School District, Kimberly Konoske of Ellwood School in the Goleta Union School District, and Lindsay Alker of Harding University Partnership School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

“Thinking Routines,” developed at Harvard University, are systematic ways teachers can promote a culture of thinking in their classrooms. Students learn to build explanations, reason with evidence, make connections, consider different viewpoints and capture the essence of a topic. Those skills help promote a deeper understanding of content.

This is a truly fitting area for an award that honors Dempsey, who was such a giant in the field of teacher excellence. Dempsey, the founder and former national executive director of the National Teachers Network in New York, was a passionate believer in teachers, and coined the Teachers Network phrase “by teachers, for teachers.”

She was a tireless advocate for bringing the teacher’s voice to the educational policy table, believing in the words of former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold that “the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.” Dempsey formed the Teachers Network Policy Institute to provide that voice, always combining idealism, vision and action to make good things happen for teachers.

Now more than ever we see the importance of honoring and supporting excellent teachers and making sure their voices are heard. Teachers are our unsung community heroes and heroines, working every day, under less than ideal conditions, for the betterment of our children. It is our shared responsibility to support all our excellent teachers, who add value to the young people in classrooms countywide, and help ensure that the next generation of workers and leaders are armed with the tools they need to succeed and to make sound decisions. Nothing could be more important during these challenging times.

It is fitting that Dempsey’s vision and actions live on through this memorial grant program. She would be justifiably proud of the good work being promoted in her honor.

Congratulations again to the winners of this year’s award. We are all proud to help keep her dreams alive in such a meaningful way.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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