JEFF Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, has every quality needed in a good teacher: energy, passion and an innovative, can-do spirit.
Efforts to improve public education are better informed by paying attention to Charbonneau. The Zillah High School chemistry, science and engineering teacher will spend the next academic year traveling as an advocate for public schools and the teaching profession.
Charbonneau and his school district set high expectations for all students.
Zillah students are expected to earn 24 credits before graduation. Some Washington state education leaders have been trying without success to shift to a mandatory 24 credits from 20 to ensure students take enough math, science and English courses, plus arts and music, to be college ready.
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The 400-student Zillah High School has a 96 percent graduation rate.
Charbonneau teaches in a district where nearly half the students come from low-income families. He expects students not only to pass his classes, but also reach for college-level science.
He built partnerships with nearby community colleges and universities that offer students a way to graduate from high school with college credits.
While in high school, students can earn three credits in engineering and six in architecture through Yakima Valley Community College; they can also earn credits in physics and chemistry through Central Washington University and, next fall, Eastern Washington University.
Charbonneau works beyond his classroom to instill a schoolwide culture of excellence. He set up a science club that travels. He builds sets for the drama productions, works on the yearbook and launched the middle- and high-school robotics club and competition. Charbonneau got the robots donated by local companies.
And the guy at the school wrestling matches working the computer scoring program? Yes, it’s Charbonneau.
Excellence in teaching requires passion, innovation and a willingness to do whatever it takes. Charbonneau embodies these criteria.
Charbonneau will be at the White House Tuesday, honored by President Obama along with other teacher finalists.
Washington state is struggling to better support public schools. But the fact that Charbonneau is the second teacher in seven years from our state to be selected National Teacher of the Year is encouraging. Andrea Peterson, a music teacher from Granite Falls, won the honor in 2007.
Good teachers who meet the challenges and excel in education inspire our students to do the same.