South L.A. educator selected as a California teacher of the year
A fifth-grade teacher who grew up in her school’s South Los Angeles neighborhood and actively works to involve her students' largely immigrant parents in their education has been selected as one of five California Teachers of the Year, state education officials announced Thursday.
But Veronica Marquez of Los Angeles Unified's Harmony Elementary School says there’s nothing special about her teaching.
Ninety percent of her students last year tested at grade level or above on state standardized tests in reading and math, well above her school's average. Four of her students hit perfect math scores.
She visits the homes of every student, teaches her pupils how to set academic goals and work toward them, and particularly nurtures those hurting from emotional trauma. She enlivens instruction with song, graphics, technology and books.
But isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do? Marquez asked.
“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing: caring for the kids, being part of their lives,” said Marquez, a 38-year-old UCLA graduate in sociology who has taught for 14 years. “That’s what teachers do. I never thought what I was doing was special.”
In announcing the award, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said Marquez has excelled in teaching multiple subjects, working with gifted students and those learning English, and providing mentoring and training for other teachers.
But he particularly lauded her commitment to stay in her impoverished community.
“Ms. Marquez has made a remarkable journey as a child from the inner city and then decided to stay in her community to help lift other children out of lives of poverty and despair,” Torlakson said in a statement. “She sees herself as a gardener who watches her students bloom under her leadership, and sees her students as scholars worthy of better lives.”
Harmony Principal Sylvia Salazar said the bilingual Marquez was an exceptional role model for the school’s low-income Latino students. She posts her academic degrees on her classroom walls to encourage her students to aim high and sits them down at the start of each year with their test scores to map out their goals. Her classroom instruction is marked by deep conversation and critical thinking, Salazar said.
Marquez said she makes a point to spend time teaching parents -- many of them Latin American immigrants who have never been asked or expected to do so in their home countries -- how to support their children's learning.
One single father told Salazar that Marquez had completely changed his son from a sullen boy who refused to do his work into a motivated student who recently was accepted into a magnet middle school for the gifted.
“She is a gem,” Salazar said. “She exemplifies excellence in education, where children are nurtured, challenged and encouraged to succeed.”
Other winners were David Goldenberg, a history teacher at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine; Sebastien Paul De Clerck, a French and Italian language teacher at Ventura High School in Ventura; I’Asha Warfield, an English teacher at Frick Middle School in Oakland; and Martin Reisert, a sixth-grade teacher at Oak Valley Middle School in San Diego.
-- Teresa Watanabe
Photo: Veronica Marquez