Aug 02, 2018

Program Allows Educator to Spend School Year Advocating for Education Initiative of their Choosing

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana Department of Education has launched a new program that allows one educator, chosen from the previous year's list of Louisiana Teacher of the Year finalists, to spend a school year advocating for an education initiative of their choosing. The inaugural fellowship, announced at the 12th Annual Cecil J. Picard Educator Awards Gala, was awarded to 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year Kimberly Eckert, who will continue her efforts to recruit and train the next generation of Louisiana educators.

"Louisiana, working with Dream Teachers, has taken the Teacher of the Year award and turned it into a true leadership opportunity. Our winners and finalists are scholars, spokespeople, mentors," said State Superintendent John White, noting 2017 Teacher of Year Joni Smith's work to strengthen science education and 2016 Teacher of the Year Kelly Stomp's advocacy for more progressive music education. "We need to be doing more to nourish and support them in realizing their leadership potential."

The fellowship is supported by a $50,000 stipend of state funding that is paid directly to the recipient's school system. It allows the recipient to take a yearlong sabbatical or to decrease their teaching load for the upcoming school year and may be used to pay for substitute teachers, travel costs and other expenses incurred by the recipient related to his or her advocacy initiative.

"Educators who are named Teacher of the Year spend that school year working on education initiatives alongside the Department of Education, serving on the Educator Effectiveness committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and engaging with their peers across the state and nation to better understand the strides that have been made in public education, as well as the challenges that persist," said BESE Vice President Holly Boffy, who was the 2010 Louisiana Teacher of the Year. "Rather than immediately return to their classroom following their year of service and learning, this fellowship gives the educator the opportunity to act on the initiatives they deem most valuable to our schools and schoolchildren."

Eckert, who is an English teacher at Brusly High School in West Baton Rouge Parish, spent some of her time as 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year recruiting new educators and elevating the teaching profession. She served as the spokesperson for the state's "Be a Teacher LA" campaign. She will continue this work by focusing her fellowship on pioneering the national "Educators Rising" program in Louisiana. The program identifies young people, starting with high school students, interested in teaching and provides them with the information, skills and hands-on experience to become successful educators.

"Receiving this inaugural award is absolutely astounding to me because it's incredibly empowering and validating that the Department believes so strongly, not only in teacher recruitment, but also in my work dedicated to it," Eckert said. "I'm so excited to have the time to dedicate to this initiative and to still be able teach my students part of the day. Knowing I have such awesome support to see this work through is a total dream come true."
"This endeavor is much needed as our biggest need in education is to attract the best and brightest students to the profession that leads to all other professions: teaching," said West Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Wes Watts. "The fellowship will allow Kim and future teachers to pursue endeavors that promote education in Louisiana without sacrificing financially and without their school districts losing a teaching position."

Eckert's fellowship will end at the close of the 2018-2019 school year, as the Department prepares to announce the 2020 Louisiana Teacher of the Year. At that time, the Department will begin the process of selecting the next fellow. All 2019 Louisiana Teacher of the Year finalists will be eligible and will be asked to submit a joint application with their school system that details which education initiative they would promote if chosen.

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