St. Paul: Teacher gets role in federal program
Mila Koumpilova, Pioneer Press, August 6, 2012 – One St. Paul teacher will have the ear of top federal education officials this school year.
The U.S. Department of Education tapped Ryan Vernosh to serve as a teaching ambassador fellow – one of a dozen educators who will weigh in regularly on an Obama administration push to overhaul the teaching profession. Vernosh, the 2010 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, said juggling his district job and his part-time federal gig will be an exciting chance to straddle the classroom and national policy worlds.
“I want to lend a teacher voice and a teacher perspective,” he said.
Vernosh is well aware of how federal policy can shape educators’ day-to-day work. He taught in St. Paul’s Maxfield Magnet School when the state singled it out for a federal school turnaround program. The School Improvement Grant program brought federal dollars and sometimes painful changes to about 30 Minnesota schools deemed “persistently lowest-achieving.”
The Teacher of the Year award touted his work in an all-male sixth-grade classroom at Maxfield, which serves mostly low-income students of color in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood.
Vernosh is now a coach with St. Paul’s Peer Assistance and Review program, an educator-led effort to evaluate and support teachers.
Vernosh’s experiences gave him an edge over some 600 applicants for the program, said its director, Gillian Cohen-Boyer. His gift of gab and the bully pulpit that comes with the Teacher of the Year distinction didn’t hurt, she said: Ambassadors not only offer input on federal policy but also get the word out to colleagues.
“Many teachers are not aware of what we do here,” Cohen-Boyer said. “We need help making those connections.”
At times, the Obama administration has been at odds with educators and their unions over issues such as basing teacher evaluations on student test scores.
Earlier this year, the administration unveiled the RESPECT Project, a new competitive program offering funding to states and districts that tackle reforms around teacher preparation, evaluation, retention and professional development. The $5 billion program is part of Obama’s American Jobs Act, which stalled in Congress.
Giving feedback on that project and the school turnaround program will be among Vernosh’s priorities. He also hopes to be a source of good news out of schools serving underprivileged students.
“Within our schools, there are incredible stories of perseverance and resiliency,” he said. “I’m very excited about being able to share the stories of the kids I serve and have them be at the forefront of the policy debate.”