Bellingham teacher Katie Brown was named Washington state Teacher of the Year at an awards ceremony Monday, Sept. 23.
Brown, an English Language Learner specialist at Shuksan Middle School, has been a teacher for 11 years. She was one of nine regional finalists considered for the award.
"I was up there with so many amazing teachers from all over the state," Brown said on the phone Monday afternoon after the ceremony at the Experience Music Project's Sky Church in Seattle. "This type of award is basically an award for Shuksan, for everyone at the school."
As an ambassador for schools this year, Brown hopes to use the opportunity to help Shuksan in some way, which she'll weigh in on with other teachers once she's back at school this week.
Brown transitioned into her role as ELL specialist two years ago, after teaching social studies and language arts. As ELL specialist she has helped contribute to the success of teachers, students and their families by helping staff implement the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. It helps ELL students continue in their different classes while working on language skills. She also coaches teachers, facilitates professional development, and works on involving families.
Under Brown's direction, the number of ELL students passing the state's Measurements of Student Progress at the school went up by 20 percent in just one year, and the number passing the Washington Language Proficiency Test was the highest recorded for the past two. Shuksan currently has 52 students in the ELL program, but about 118 students don't speak English in the home, Brown said.
Last year Brown also helped start a series of ELL Family Nights, where she meets with families that speak many different languages, giving them the chance to ask questions about school curriculum and stay informed about their child's education.
At the first of six meetings, only eight parents showed up, Brown said. By the last gathering, attendance was up to 42.
"In our first meeting it was only Spanish-speaking families," she said. "By the last meeting we had five different languages represented."
Brown has developed relationships with interpreters, who call each family to invite them to the meetings, and translate her talks via a new radio headset system.
"It's incredible," Brown said. "Our superintendent invested money in an electronic transmitter system, so each family can listen to me speak in real time while listening through their headsets on different channels."
She is the second teacher from Whatcom County to win Teacher of the Year since its inception in 1963. The first was Bellingham High's Jamie Yoos, who won in 2010.
As winner of the state award, Brown will go on to be a nominee for National Teacher of the Year. In the national program's more than 50-year history, four Washington state teachers have taken home the title, including 2013 winner Jeff Charbonneau of Zillah High School.