In her fifth-grade classroom at Downey Elementary School, Susan Johnson encourages students to explore, investigate and experience all that science has to offer. Distilling topics into understandable nuggets of knowledge, she makes school fun for her kids, as well as for the many people who watch her on the Internet.
As a literacy lab teacher, her room pulls double duty as a professional development center for the district and local university. Colleagues, college professors and students visit her class in person or observe her teaching remotely via her in-room webcam. Johnson is a master teacher and role model who engenders independent thinking and self-directed motivation. The school has posted the highest gains on state testing in the entire district—all the more admirable considering that Downey is a high-need school with a 95 percent minority population and 91 percent receiving free and reduced-price lunches. From 2009 to 2010, fifth-grade scores on the 4Sight Benchmark Assessment moved from five percent proficient or advanced in the fall to 59 percent in the winter, an extraordinary leap! Scores from 2006 to 2009 show a quantifiable growth trend as well as positive advancement from fourth to fifth grade for the same student cohort.
A team leader and role model, Johnson opens her room to teachers, who accompany a trained literacy coach to examine her best practices. As master teacher, Johnson helps train pre-service teachers and always pitches in with districtwide initiatives. She also serves as summer school site director and teacher, passionately sharing her expertise even after the school year ends.
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