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Maywood Elementary instructor wins $25,000 prize for teaching prowess

November 17, 2010 | 11:47 am

An elementary school teacher in Los Angeles was surprised Wednesday morning with a no-strings-attached $25,000 prize designed by the Milken Family Foundation to motivate and retain talented teachers.

Tamara Garfio, a third-grade teacher at Maywood Elementary School, received the Milken National Educator Award, one of 55 such awards given to teachers nationwide this year, at a schoolwide assembly.

"I'm in shock, complete shock," she said. "I just love my job."

Garfio receives the prize at a time when Maywood Elementary is on an upswing, with a marked improvement in academic performance in recent years. The improvements have taken place at the school southeast of downtown Los Angeles despite the challenges of having a student population in which most qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and a good portion of them are still learning English.

In The Times’ value-added analysis of Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools published in August, Maywood was one of the best-performing schools. And Garfio, according to the analysis, received high marks for effectiveness in math, English and overall. She was ranked in the top 5% of effective teachers in the district.

Value-added analysis rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized test scores year after year.

The Times observed Garfio’s classroom last spring, watching as she taught a split class of fourth- and fifth-grade students. She was eight-months pregnant and deep in preparations for the upcoming standardized testing. Garfio stressed that she wanted her students to be ready and that they needed to understand the material the exams covered. But she said they should not simply memorize just enough to get by.

“It’s not so much about the answer; it’s about the process,” Garfio said to her students as they went over practice test questions. “I want you to ask why.”

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-- Rick Rojas and Jason Song

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