Bellingham educator named state’s top teacher

SEATTLE — A middle school teacher from Bellingham, who works with students just learning to speak and read English, is the 2014 teacher of the year in Washington state.

Katie Brown has taught at Shuksan Middle School for 11 years. Two years ago she became the English Language Learning specialist at the school, so she now coaches teachers and works with students one-on-one in addition to teaching in her own classroom.

“She’s a great instructor herself. She’s a great coach of other teachers. And she gets the big picture,” Shuksan Assistant Principal Janae Hodge said.

Brown’s greatest strength, Hodge said, is as a collaborator.

In accepting the award, Brown gave credit to her team of fellow teachers and staff.

Principal Jay Jordan commended her for building a strong relationship with the parents of her students and helping them become part of the school community.

But he said those are not the only reasons she deserved to be teacher of the year. At Shuksan Middle School more students are passing the state English language proficiency exam since Brown became an ELL specialist, including some who had been struggling for years. English language learners have also improved their passing rates on the state reading exam for all children.

“Katie is the perfect balance between building relationships and being steeped in research and best practices,” Jordan said. “She’s really highly effective.”

Brown will be nominated to be national teacher of the year. Four Washington state teachers have won the national title, including the 2013 winner, science teacher Jeff Charbonneau of Zillah High School.

This eight other regional finalists this year were Jeffrey Dunn of Deer Park High School, Joshua Schlegel of Harrison Middle School in Sunnyside, Sheila Stuhlsatz of Kalama Middle and High School, Laura Currie of Centennial Elementary School in Olympia, Eric Samson of Central Kitsap Junior High School in Silverdale, Amy Abrams of Northwood Middle School in Kent, Bernice Hanan formerly of Maya Angelou Elementary School in Pasco and now teaching at Chiawana High School in the same district, and Matthew Brewer of Soap Lake High School.

Brown, 35, said her goal for the year will be to spread to other schools what has been done in her school. She said she was excited about the opportunity winning teacher of the year will give her to share her views.

“Not a lot of people get an opportunity to be able to have their voice heard,” said Brown, who grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and earned her degree and teaching certificate at Western Washington University. In addition to teaching in public school, she also teaches children Kung Fu and has won international awards in the sport.

One of her students wrote an essay to recommend her for the award.

“This year I wrote a graphic novel and she helped me understand how to create a story in my head … Mrs. Brown motivates us to achieve our goals in school and in life. She does not tell me I can’t do it. She always tells me not to give up,” Jose Majia wrote.

Brown said she wants people to know that students who come to school in this country with limited knowledge of English have as much potential as any other kid.

“They are capable of learning and reaching the same academic standards as long as we provide the right support,” she said.

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