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October 13, 2011
Elena Garcia-Velasco Named Oregon’s 2011-12 Teacher of the Year
Roosevelt Spanish Language Arts Teacher Receives Top Teaching Honor
(Portland, Ore.) – State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo announced today that Elena Garcia-Velasco, a Spanish Language Arts teacher at Roosevelt High School in Portland, has been selected as the 2011-12 Oregon Teacher of the Year. As Oregon’s Teacher of the Year, Garcia-Velasco will attend the National Teacher of the Year forum in Washington, D.C. where she will meet President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“The Oregon Teacher of the Year is one teacher who stands for many—a teacher who exemplifies the qualities we look for in an outstanding educator, mentor, and leader,” said Superintendent Susan Castillo. “Elena Garcia-Velasco is all of these things and more. She is a passionate and dedicated educator with a deep commitment to equity, closing the academic achievement gap, and helping all of her students achieve at high levels. A leader in her school and district, Elena works tirelessly to help her students learn, grow, and achieve their dreams.”
Elena teaches Spanish Language Arts at the Spanish English International School (SEIS), one of Roosevelt’s three small schools. SEIS serves a highly diverse, high-poverty, highly mobile student population—a population traditionally underrepresented in advanced coursework. But in Ms. Garcia-Velasco’s classes, students are challenged to perform at high levels, analyzing extremely complex pieces of literature, writing sophisticated compositions, and connecting their lessons with current issues and the world around them.
Elena Garcia-Velasco knows that rigorous coursework is the best preparation her students can have for their futures, and she is credited with helping to create a college-going culture among her students and their families. Many of her students enter high school not seeing college as an option; Elena is motivated to change that. And change it she does. One recent student was not only the first in his family to graduate from high school, but thanks to the strong foundation he received at SEIS, he received a full scholarship to Brown University.
“I have spent the last fourteen years of my life paying very close attention to the issues my students face on a daily basis and responding with the best instruction I can possibly offer them,” said Elena Garcia-Velasco. “I’ve essentially focused my efforts around removing any obstacles to college access. In the process, I’ve designed programs to fit their needs and push them to go beyond what they envision for themselves, to exceed their own expectations.”
Elena epitomizes the involved and accessible teacher. She is available to her students and their families before and after school, and she even leads a weekend study group for students who want to go deeper into the content or just need a bit of extra help. In addition to her teaching duties, she participates in multiple school committees, has served as a key leader in curriculum development, and leads instructional workshops for the school district.
“I have always found Elena to be a remarkable colleague,” said SEIS teacher Catherine Theriault in a recommendation letter. “She has never settled for mediocrity; on the contrary, she has extremely high expectations of our students and fervently believes that this is the only way they will transcend the limitations of poverty. She deftly scaffolds instruction and will spend endless hours after school working with individual students to help them become proficient in the content of her coursework… Elena is an educator with tremendous integrity who elevates our profession to a higher standard.”
The Oregon Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest educational research and assessment development firms. Thanks to AIR’s support, Oregon is able to offer a $5,000 cash award to the Teacher of the Year. Elena Garcia-Velasco succeeds 2010-11 Teacher of the Year Colleen Works, a social sciences teacher at Corvallis High School.
The Oregon Teacher of the Year is selected after an extensive application process. Nominees from schools throughout Oregon submitted packets of information that included testimonials and letters of support from their principals, superintendents, and colleagues. From the written material, applicants were judged on leadership, instructional expertise, understanding of educational issues, professional development, and vision.
AIR is the principal sponsor of the Oregon Teacher of the Year Program. Other sponsors include SMART Technologies, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Salem Trophy.
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