2016-10-21 / Schools
Teacher rises to top of the pack
Mountain View’s Jamie Reese up for state honor
Six months after being named Ventura County Teacher of the Year, Mountain View Elementary School’s Jamie Reese awaits word on whether she has made the state semifinals, the next step toward a national 2017 trophy.
Reese, who teaches kindergartners through third-graders who have emotional and behavioral challenges, has taught at Mountain View for five years.
Last year she used virtual reality to take her students with special needs and Mountain View’s general education students to far-flung places like Antarctica.
The naming of Reese as Teacher of the Year in May marked the first time since 1977 that a Simi Valley Unified School District educator received the award.
Given SVUSD’s rebranding efforts and recent inroads in stemming declining enrollment, Reese’s victory is a boon to the district.
“She is a true teacher-leader,” SVUSD Superintendent Jason Peplinski said in May. “When she thinks about initiatives for her classroom, even though she teaches in the special education realm, she really thinks about our entire district and the general education staff as well.”
Trajectory of a teacher
Reese said she’s helped “contribute to a culture shift” at Mountain View.
One example: flexible seating. Her class has no desks, just different types of tables kids can select to work at.
Reese said she gleaned the idea from a weekly teachers chat on Twitter. She took over the forum, initiated by Mountain View teacher Dustin Ellis and Monte Vista Principal Steven Pietrolungo, in February and has expanded it to an average of 40 teachers each Sunday.
“The primary purpose is that it connects us to ourselves,” she said.
Bringing the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program’s virtual world tours to Mountain View last school year was another idea her Twitter contacts gave her, as was “Genius Hour,” which allows students to select topics they’re interested in and share what they’ve learned with fellow classmates.
“If you are connected to what you are learning about, the engagement and learning capacity increases,” Reese said, adding that Genius Hour also embraces the Common Core state standards’ speaking and listening components.
Simi Valley-born Reese grew up in Huntington Beach and moved back to Simi as a teen, attending Royal High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree and multiple-subject credential at Cal State Northridge.
She began teaching in 2007, first general education at Wood Ranch Elementary. With the Great Recession-generated statewide budget crisis, Reese was laid off in 2010. A year later, she enrolled at Cal Lutheran University to get her special education credential and joined Mountain View. She received her special ed credential in 2012.
Since joining Mountain View’s faculty, where she oversees five to 10 kids annually, Reese said, she has deepened her experience and education.
“I’ve learned that if (a child is) not emotionally in a good place, (he or she) can’t master learning,” she said.
Three instructors—Reese, veteran Jeannie Callan and newer educator Amanda Flemings— work within Mountain View’s Emotional Disturbance (E.D.) special education program, which is the only one of its kind at the elementary level in SVUSD.
“(Reese) came to us, a teacher of general education students and was astute enough to adapt her previous classroom interventions to meet the needs of our E.D. population, a difficult feat in itself,” Callan said.
“Jamie was instrumental in helping me as a brand-new teacher,” Fleming said. “She (is) my mentor in so many ways.”
“We’re a team,” Reese said.
Anatomy of a winner
Reese learned about her county level win at a May 20 surprise party at Mountain View, to which Reese’s parents and boyfriend were invited. Principal Jennifer Goldman was also present, as were Peplinksi and Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth, who presented Reese with the Teacher of the Year plaque.
“With each passing year, I have come to appreciate Jamie more and more,” Goldman said. “She has always been a strong educator in terms of her instructional skills, her ability to make connections with students and families and her knack for technology. She is most definitely evolving to a completely different level.”
Reese will learn this month if she is one of the 2017 California Teacher of the Year semifinalists to be flown to Sacramento. From these, five will be determined in December to compete toward a national contest win, to be announced in 2017.