May 2, 2013
“My strength is creating a relationship with my students built on honesty, trust, and respect. But mostly, I just kill them with kindness. My expectations are high, my curriculum is rigorous, and my students’ success rate is excellent. All this happens because everything I do is rooted in being kind and encouraging …
“When students believe that I am genuinely invested in their success, and every action I make is based on that belief, the most at-risk student will rise to the occasion. Simply put, I believe that student success begins with the relationship they have with their teacher.” – Kelly Choi
Kelly Choi, an innovative math teacher and faculty leader at Dos Pueblos High School, is the 2013-2014 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone made the announcement Thursday at a press conference during the monthly meeting of the County Board of Education.
One of a number of outstanding nominees for the honor countywide, she was selected by a committee including representatives of former teachers, administrators, PTAs, and school board members.
Choi will become the county’s official representative on July 1, and her nomination will be reviewed in the fall for consideration as California Teacher of the Year. The state winner will then be advanced into consideration for 2014 National Teacher of the Year.
Superintendent Cirone congratulated Choi for her dedication, leadership, enthusiasm, creativity, and remarkable contributions inside and outside the classroom.
A teacher for 17 years, the past 15 of them at Dos Pueblos, Choi has led efforts to integrate technology into the classroom, develop ways to use it effectively in instruction, and train other teachers in its use. She is one of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s technology coaches and the director of her school’s Charger Academy, which gives intensive attention to students who are most at risk of not graduating from high school.
“Technology is moving faster than the schools,” Choi said. “No longer does all knowledge transfer from teacher to student or all communication happen face to face. Even the teachers who are excited and ready to integrate and use technology are faced with the restrictions of outdated technology and slow networks. To me, the solution lies in people supporting each other and sharing their resources.”
She also is director and a co-founder of the Academy, which in each of the past four years has identified 30 ninth-graders who are most at risk of dropping out, based on their high truancy, frequent disciplinary issues, and low grade-point averages, and helped them succeed.
“The Academy was established to provide students … the personalized attention and support they need to be successful in both school and life. The Academy connects school with community through mentorship programs, internship opportunities, and partnerships with organizations throughout Santa Barbara, with the ultimate goal to graduate productive and responsible citizens with a comprehensive life plan,” Choi said.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and a secondary teaching credential at California State University, Sacramento, and began teaching sixth- and seventh-grade math at Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon, California. After two years she moved to Dos Pueblos High School, where she teaches ninth- through 12th-grade math classes and has designed two courses, one in algebra skills and another as preparation for the California High School Exit Exam.
She wrote a successful application for technology funding and is now the staff development coordinator for that Digital High School grant. As a district technology coach, she is working with colleagues to integrate the use of tablet computers into their instruction. She is a member of Dos Pueblos’ School Improvement Leadership Team, has been co-chair of its Intervention Committee and the district’s Textbook Adoption Committee, ASB leadership co-advisor, senior class advisor, Faculty Senate leader, and an item writer for the state exit exam.
She is also an active volunteer with Brandon Elementary School in Goleta, co-chairing its annual carnival and helping with its fundraising auction as well as coordinating student volunteers from DPHS throughout the year to help with student and parent activities at Brandon School. She is a frequent speaker or panel member who presents information about her school’s Academy and about at-risk students in general.
Wrote Shawn Carey, Dos Pueblos principal: “What is at the heart of Kelly’s success as a teacher is her steadfast commitment to serving students and their interests above all else. She knows all of her students as individuals and she is consistently the calm voice at the table reminding everyone of the student perspective. … through her efforts to inspire a group of dedicated teachers, challenge the status quo of traditional school structures such as funding models and master schedules, rally the resources of a community, and insist on never ever giving up on students, Dos Pueblos has graduated dozens of students who were otherwise slated for failed educational and personal outcomes.”
Wrote colleague Heather Magner: “Kelly is the most graciously relentless person I know. Because of her steely determination combined with her trademark sincerity and warmth, we were able to start a new Academy at our school and, solely because of her leadership, able to keep it not just running but constantly improving for the last four years. …. Working with Kelly has been one of the most inspiring experiences of my career. She is an unparalleled team player, a tireless worker and an invaluable problem solver.”
Wrote Assistant Principal William Woodward: “Kelly sank her heart and soul into developing The Academy, and her work has been a remarkable success story. For example, in the 2009-10 school year, discipline referrals for Academy students fell from 221 to 56, and the average GPA went from 1.41 to 2.39. Students who would have had little to no chance to graduate without this support network proudly walked across the stage last year at graduation. … And of course, at heart, Kelly is a fabulous math teacher.”
As Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Choi will be available to speak countywide. She can be reached at Dos Pueblos High School at (805) 968-2541, or at the County Education Office by calling Steve Keithley at 964-4710, ext. 5281.