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November 20th, 2009 by Sameea Kamal
Kelly Kovacic, an Arcadia High School graduate and daughter of councilman Gary Kovacic, was selected as one of the five California Teachers of the Year, announced by the state superintendent earlier this month.
Kovacic was also selected as California’s nominee for the prestigious National Teacher of the Year competition.
The teachers are nominated by their faculty and go through a series of interviews and evaluations at the county and state levels till the pool is narrowed down to five teachers in the state.
“Our five California Teachers of the Year are outstanding educators and amazing instructional leaders,” said State Superintendent Jack O’Connell in a statement. “Each Teacher of the Year has many stories to tell about overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, and igniting inspiration. I am honored to congratulate each of them, and I hope that their successes will encourage other educators and aspiring teachers who are working hard each day to make a difference in students’ lives.”
Kovacic is a Social Studies teacher for eleventh and twelfth graders at The Preuss School, an intensive college preparatory school for low-income student populations located on the University of California San Diego campus in La Jolla.
“I was really honored to be recognized and it was obviously very exciting but I was also very humbled,” she said. “As someone who grew up in public schools all throughout Arcadia I had really good teachers, who really cared about students doing well, that I found very inspiring, and they made the content very interesting,” she said.
Kovacic said she chose to go into teaching after tutoring U.S. history at the Pruess school in its first year of opening, when she realized firsthand the difference teachers can make in students’ lives and help to change and end the cycle of poverty.
“I think the challenge that any teacher faces when working with the population that I do is that they come from very difficult life and lot of obstacles they’re having to overcome,” she said. “There’s a lot of the real world they have to deal with at an age where they shouldn’t have to deal with those issues.”
Kovacic said part of the challenge is to reach out to her students and help them recognize the importance of doing well, providing support to them as they go through other challenges being in a position of poverty and helping them to see school as a stable place where they feel safe and know they have adults to care for them, she said.
In terms of improvements in the education system, Kovacic said she was disappointed to see that the first thing the state and federal government cut in a budget crisis is education.
“When you look at the amount of money poured into prison systems – if that money was put into education it would resolve so many problems hat put people in prison in the first place,” she said.
“We should be creating an environment where teachers are held accountable but also given a support system with opportunities for training,” she said.
Kovacic said that while not all schools are in the situation to work like the Preuss school, many of the strategies can be translated to different types of schools and she would love to see the idea of smaller learning communities where students get smaller classes, extended school days and years.
According to her father, Arcadia Councilmember Gary Kovacic, the recipient has been a natural born teacher from a very young age.
“She’s a very caring individual, she cares about each and every one one of her student and wants to make sure they can achieve to their fullest potential,” he said. “She truly believes that if someone is given an adequate opportunity to achieve, he or she can be a success.”
Gary Kovacic said Kelly works long hours, tutors after school and on Saturdays.
“I think it’s her dedication and her passion, and her commitment to making sure that her students get every opportunity.”
According to her father, Kelly Kovacic is a “true product” of the Arcadia school district, having attended from kindergarten through high school.
“What I experienced throughout my years in Arcadia was a really rigorous curriculum, so I felt like I was constantly being challenged academically and intellectually but I was also given the necessary support to live up to those expectations,” she said.
The rigor of the curriculum and the many leadership opportunities available prepared Kovacic for her undergraduate and graduate education, as well as real-world experience such as working with adults.
Kelly Kovacic had a strong interest in her Advanced Placement U.S. History and Government classes, and was an active participant on the Constitution Team at the high school.
Her father said that this award, like all others, has many people deserving of the recognition, but that it gives an individual teacher an opportunity to send a message out to a greater population.
“I think that it will give Kelly an opportunity to talk with people throughout the state who are looking for some encouragement about the state of public education,” he said. “I think she sends a message that someone with a good education who went to UCSD and Stanford chose to go back into a profession that isn’t high paying, and is often looked at very skeptically by the public, because she really wants to make a difference.”
The state superintendent also chose Kovacic to represent California in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
“I am delighted that Kelly Kovacic is representing California at the national level,” he said in a statement. “Ms. Kovacic is an exceptionally knowledgeable and effective teacher. She demonstrates an unparalleled passion and commitment to her students and school community that extends beyond the school day and the school yard.”
The National Teacher of the Year winner will be selected in April of 2010 by a panel convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers, according to the state department of education. All candidates in the program will be honored at a White House ceremony.
“I am extremely proud of all teachers, here in California as well as across the nation, who in the past year, have had to endure devastating cutbacks in funding and programs as well as layoff notices and elimination of positions,” O’Connell added. “It is more important than ever to honor people who chose to become teachers and to celebrate this most noble of professions.”
Kovacic said she is not thinking as far the national competition, but is instead focusing on how she can use the state honor to make a difference.
“I want to … be an advocate for teachers and our students, and I hope to use this forum to really speak about the necessity to not let our kids down,” she said. “We are modeling to them what we expect of them – to really show how much we value education through the resources we put into it.”
Kovacic said her students were very excited to see her receive the award.
“What I keep telling them is the award isn’t so much about me as it is them – they are so incredible,” she said. “They make my job so worthwhile and I really believe I learn as much, if not more than they learn from me. I really hope that what this brings is a lot of recognition for them.”
Kovacic said she feels blessed to be teaching where she is today and to be part of the education community.
“Teaching is a really amazing profession where everyday you touch and change somebody’s life for the positive,” she said. “What an amazing opportunity to truly make a difference in society!”