News from the Arizona Daily Star

4 local teachers recognized for helping pupils hit goals

By Alexis Huicochea, Arizona Daily Star – November 26, 2015

Four Tucson educators are being recognized as Rodel Exemplary Teacher finalists for their ability to spur achievement in high-poverty schools.

The four teachers, representing the Amphitheater, Flowing Wells and Sunnyside school districts, have chosen not only to stay in the profession at a time when many are leaving in droves, they have committed themselves to high-poverty schools where struggles at home regularly spill into the classroom, judges said.

Despite the challenges, however, the teachers have had a positive impact on achievement and are being recognized for their ability to connect with students. They are:

Brie Barber

District: Flowing Wells

School: Walter Douglas Elementary School

Grade: Third

Age: 29

Years of experience: 6

Advice for new teachers: “Buy comfortable shoes and don’t be afraid to ask for help because you can’t do everything on your own.”

Polly Kimminau

District: Amphitheater

School: La Cima Middle School

Grade: Seventh

Age: 53

Years of experience: 29

A tip for parents: “It is vital to keep the communication lines open with your child’s school. It doesn’t matter what grade their student is in.”

Sonya Rosales

District: Sunnyside

School: Elvira Elementary

Grade: Second

Age: 32

Years of experience: 8

What she’s learned from her students: “That all kids need to be challenged no matter who they are … they are ready and they want it.”

Donna Varma

District: Amphitheater

School: Rio Vista Elementary School

Grade: Third

Age: 47

Years of experience: 11

On engaging students: “I think the key to active engagement is for students to take ownership of their learning.”

They are four of two dozen finalists from across the state in the running for the Rodel Exemplary Teacher honor.

Fifteen winners will be named, including three in Tucson. The Arizona Daily Star will reveal one winner a day starting Friday.

Now in its 13th year, the Rodel Exemplary Teacher program seeks to not only recognize the work of highly effective teachers, but to create a pipeline of effective educators by having each winner mentor three promising student teachers.

“The Rodel Teacher initiative is critical to the retention of Arizona teachers for two reasons,” said Mike Henderson, director of initiatives at Rodel Foundation of Arizona. “First, the recognition of exemplary teachers who are serving high-need communities across the state boosts morale and sends a definitive message to teachers that their practice is important and impactful.

“When early-career teachers feel prepared, valued and recognized for their work, they are motivated to remain in our profession as they guide students toward higher levels of critical thinking and problem solving year after year.”

An Arizona State University study showed that Rodel Exemplary Teachers had significantly more children meeting or exceeding standards on the state test than teachers at similar schools.

This year’s Rodel Exemplary Teacher finalists were identified by their school administrators, who were asked which of their teachers they would like to clone. Achievement data was analyzed and observations and interviews were conducted to narrow the field from 42 semifinalists to 24.