Dry Creek Elementary School Teacher Mary Krzysiak, was honored during the Port Angeles School Board Meeting on September 23 where she was presented with the 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year award by OESD Superintendent Greg Lynch.
In addition to teaching multiple subject areas (English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Fine or Performing Arts, Social Science, Leadership, Character Development), Mary developed an Identity Unit based on resilience research in trauma-impacted children. It helped students feel safe to explore and share their sense of self in an established classroom community where they connected traits such as empathy, responsibility and courage in themselves and shared in class when they demonstrated equity and justice to others.
With some of her peers, Mary participated in a Professional Learning Community At Work Institute in Seattle that focused on transforming their teaching and learning. In that peer group, Mary was identified as a key staff member in developing a Guiding Coalition which created a unified, focused goal base for foundational reading. It gave primary students targeted year-long instruction on identifying and writing grade-level sight words. As of March, results included:
· 80% of the primary students had shown growth in reading and writing sight words
· 74% had met their grade level expectations
· Writing volume and stamina increased in all grade levels, and
· Engagement increased as students saw more success in reading and writing.
Mary was her school’s lead teacher for the Creative Start Art Grant from the Washington State Arts Commission. The grant sought to close opportunity gaps for primary learners through teaching arts integration in K-2 classrooms. The school hired local artists for teaching residencies and virtual arts experiences and partnered with local musicians to teach K-2 classrooms music through literacy integration. This led to students creating and sharing songs that represent the story of their classroom, building, and school-wide community while helping 5-8 year-olds process living in a worldwide pandemic.
Other collaborations Mary was involved with include:
· A family quilt project, which helped build the school’s climate and culture of partnership and diversity,
· A Community garden which integrated science, literacy, social emotional learning, and
· Community outreach projects
Mary believes that a major public education issue exists around uniting communities and educators while navigating pandemic fatigue. She believes that listening to all voices, finding common goals, and coming together to meet shared goals will move everyone closer to addressing academic and social emotional losses due to the pandemic. Mary practiced her belief by regularly communicating via phone calls and virtual meetings, and providing students with encouraging videos for their families and themselves. She conducted daily virtual meetings to join students at home and school, building connections for her students. She did whatever she could to keep connected to families, including dropping off materials and notes at the homes of those without internet.
Mary serves on the ELA adoption committee and on the Giftedness Knows No Bounds Team, which is piloting a school-wide model Universal Design for Learning next year.
Mary’s message to all is: “Don’t judge a school community solely by their test scores.” She wants the public to know that these (low test scores) school communities are innovating and caring, and are researching ways to get students learning. She believes that both students and teachers in struggling schools deserve to be seen and heard, not just reformed. Approaching schools with curiosity versus judgment reveals insight that differs from public perception. Mary says, “Come visit us.
· Observe: you’ll find innovative teachers working tirelessly to plan around essential standards to meet the academic and social emotional needs of students, who often don’t identify as learners.
· See: teachers regularly seeking professional development to keep up with best practice.
· Listen: you’ll hear teachers, staff, students, families, and the community collaborating to enhance and promote connected learning.
· Watch: students taking risks, trusting themselves and others to learn.
· Humanize: sometimes students and teachers break down and cry. Know that we are all giving everything we have and still it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. But we keep going.
· Ask: why we stay. See beyond the speculation. Feel our devotion to help our students excel. We are more than our numbers. Then please, spread the word.”
You make our region proud! Congratulations Mary.