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September 22, 2006
By Lisa Loomis
Many adults have said that they would like to be a third- or fourth-grader again just for the chance to be a student in Katie Sullivan's classroom at the Warren Elementary School. Whether it is teaching kids to love snakes, taking them camping, demanding mutual respect or teaching math, Sullivan has earned a reputation locally for the joy and reverence she brings to the classroom. She received the state's highest honor in education this week when she was named Vermont Teacher of the Year by education commissioner Richard Cate.
Cate and the Vermont Board of Education in naming Sullivan 2007 Teacher of the Year praised her curiosity, the classroom environment she creates.
Sullivan received the honor in a ceremony at the Warren Elementary School on September 19. As the 2007 Teacher of the Year, Sullivan will travel statewide and nationally visiting schools and working with teachers. In addition, she is Vermont's candidate for the National Teacher of the Year award, sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Sullivan will travel to Washington, D.C., this spring for a reception at the White House and will spend a week in Arkansas at Space Camp.
When I was a teenager, my mother would say, "You should be a teacher," and I would always reply, why would I want to do that? Well it turns out, I guess she was right. Then a few months ago, our principal said you should apply for the teacher of the year, and I replied to him, why would I want to do that? Because I wasn't sure I could live up to the challenge of representing Vermont teachers, it seemed a daunting task. But then in my search for an answer to why I would want to apply, I discovered many good reasons, but the most compelling was that it would be an incredible opportunity (I mean already the state board and the commissioner of education are in our school, how cool is that?) it would be an opportunity to increase my circle of friends, and colleagues and mentors, but, more importantly, it would be an opportunity to talk to people - to have dialogs about something that is close to my heart, and that is equity and justice in schools," Sullivan said in her acceptance speech this week.
Because, I believe that every child should go to a school where he or she feels safe and valued and respected and included. But that doesn't just happen automatically. It takes teaching and role modeling and deliberate attention to all the details, from policies, equal access to resources and even down to the seemingly small stuff like saying, "We don't put up with put downs," she continued.
Sullivan has been a teacher for 24 years, 14 of them at the Warren Elementary School. She taught in Philadelphia at Friends Select from 1984 to '91 and in Ripton, Vermont, in 1991-92 before coming to Warren. She was previously honored as the Washington West teacher of the year in 2003 and the Environmental Protection Agency's environmental teacher of the year in 1999.
She received a B.A. studying environmental education at Pennsylvania State University. As a participant in the Vermont Mathematics Institute, she earned her masters in education from the University of Vermont in 2003. She has been a Math Network Leader for Vermont's Professional Development Networks since 1995 and is active in many other state, district and school initiatives. Until recently, Sullivan served on the board of directors of the Friends of the Mad River and continues to be a regular volunteer for RiverWatch and other river projects, as well as a participant in several community events such as Valley Vision 2020.
"I'm honored and I hope to use the honor as a platform to talk about diversity and creating learning environments that respect and honor diversity," Sullivan said in an interview.
"I'm looking forward to meeting and working with a lot of teachers whom I wouldn't ordinarily get to work with and I'm excited about the new technology that this award brings to our classroom. And I'm really looking forward to getting to talk about some of the things that I think are important about education, such as equity, in school," she added.
"Educators have the power to create an environment of equity and tolerance, but sometimes it takes courage," said Sullivan. "I see it as my responsibility to be a role model and, if necessary, an activist for educational practices that foster understanding, acceptance and inclusion of everyone whom we are trusted to educate. I need to be the kind of person I hope my students will become," Sullivan wrote in a press release from the Department of Education.
She lives in Waitsfield with her husband, Michael Hock.