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Cloverdale Comments - September 2015

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Cloverdale Comments - September 2015

by Carol Russell

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” —Henry Adams

Spend any time with the four remarkable teachers from the Cloverdale Unified School District (CUSD) whom we recently interviewed and it’s clear they are each 100% invested in their students, their school, and the learning process itself. As always, each year brings a new bevy of young people to their classrooms. Yet each of them realizes that these are human beings who will not only do the schoolwork but who are also learning how to live life. That’s why some of their greatest joy comes from even the simplest achievements of a student and from the light that shines in his or her face as an idea becomes a reality to them.

Backgrounds and knowledge are all different, but these four were each born with an innate drive and ability to educate and all share a confidence and a fresh excitement about CUSD. Come meet them! 

Chris Bowen, a Jefferson Elementary teacher, realizes she cannot save the world, but each day she greets her 4th grade students pledging to “make the best day possible” for them. Her ultimate goal is to empower her students, enabling them to make valuable life choices. 

Lisa Fogg, 5th grade teacher at Washington Middle School, incorporates “M.M.F.I.” (Make Me Feel Important) into her students’ experiences, finding the human interactions and relationships between the staff, students and families the most fulfilling part of her days.

Sandy Kitowski, in her 30th year of teaching, had great preparation for being the sole teacher at Johanna Echols-Hansen Continuation High School (JEH). A 1980 graduate of Cloverdale High School (CHS), Sandy was the lone female player on the “boys” basketball team! In her one-room school, she uses her boundless, steadfast energy to motivate and challenge students who have been given a second chance for a diploma and success.

Wendy Conner teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Social Sciences, English and English as a Second Language at CHS. Wendy’s passion lies in bringing new experiences to her students, enabling them to find their own value and power.

What impressed us most was that, despite differences in personality and style, these dedicated, thoughtful and perceptive educators share an understanding of their profession’s overarching issues, innovations and challenges, including those that extend well beyond their classrooms. For example, they all agree that the adoption of Common Core, a set of educational standards, is an incredible step forward for CUSD, its teachers and students and they appreciate the flexibility the curriculum allows, letting them tailor their teaching to a student’s needs. Even more, they are excited about  Common Core’s focus on the process of critical thinking which “empowers the kids to think” while providing more “thinking time and sharing of answers and opinions.” 

Along with all their colleagues, the team efforts of Chris, Lisa, Wendy, Sandy “made it work” during CUSD’s struggles with the Great Recession and various other pressures. Recently, they’ve seen invigorating energy brought by CUSD’s new Superintendent, Jeremy Decker, and incoming staff. 

The passage of Measure G a few years ago enabled capital investments in schools that provided modernized, safer classrooms. In addition, upgrading from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to STEAM (STEM plus the Arts) has expanded the creative element and increased investment in the students’ learning process. This refreshment of both schools and curriculum has elicited greater pride among students, teachers and townspeople that encourages respect for the system and an accompanying expectation of excellence.

We talked, too, about an area considered extremely important by all the teachers, who each foster an appreciation for the diverse cultures within our community as well as their bi-lingual students’ success. As one of them says: “It is not enough to be bi-lingual, you must be bi-literate.” Each teacher encourages students to study their native language in school, just as English is studied, and to continue speaking and reading it. 

All four of our teachers have taught through many ups-and-downs and yet all are still are filled with the passion that brought them into their life’s work. They can see our community moving forward as their students move forward in their individual lives. And when you met them it’s clear, come what may, they’ll continue to influence each student through that same deep-rooted passion.