July 29, 2008

Teacher Plans to Explain Things to Congress


Kristin White is the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-plunge-in type.

Whether it's to dissect a frog or clean the 53-inch sturgeon she had just pulled from the Columbia River last week when we caught up with her by phone, she's all about action.

Her car's bumper sticker says, "Go play outside," and she means it.

"I need space. I like to get my hands into things," said White, a seventh-grade science teacher at Shahala Middle School since the building opened in 2001.

"I enjoy hands-on learning. When I got to science (in school), I got to do stuff, not just paper-and-pencil stuff."

White, 48, is serious about teaching science, too. Serious enough to earn certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in 2006, an exhaustive accreditation process that sharpened her skills.

In fact, she'll spend the next school year coaching other science teachers, part of a new state grant program that will support 25 science coaches. It's not the first time; she has trained colleagues here, partnering with Educational Service District 112. She also organized a recent state meeting of board-certified teachers.

That's how White was chosen to lead a delegation of six Washington board-certified teachers to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., this week. The national board group will meet, then send state delegations to lobby their members of Congress for support.

"This is something totally new to me. I'm pretty excited by it," she said.

So, what will she tell U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, his eight House colleagues and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell?

When Congress reauthorizes the No Child Left Behind Act (as is expected), it must reaffirm that certification "sets the standard for teacher excellence," she said. Research shows students perform better under a board-certified teacher, she said.

Federal scholarships help hundreds of teachers pay up to $2,500 for testing when they pursue certification each year.

The group wants advanced certification for school principals, not just for teachers.

A priority must be "getting those highly qualified teachers into those schools that really need them," such as chronically poor or low-performing schools, she said.

White expects solid support from Washington's political delegation. "I think that education is always a hot button," she said, noting Baird and Murray's slots on key education committees.

New focus pays off

No Child Left Behind reforms have a positive side, she said. "It's made us look at ourselves, be more accountable for what we do."

That includes White, who took on the certification challenge. "I wanted to challenge myself. I'm never satisfied, so I have to pursue things," she said.

How has it helped?

"It's made me a much more reflective teacher more attentive, more focused," she said. "Now, when I look at (students') work, I look at their thinking, how they derived that, the steps taken. Are there misconceptions? That's a huge thing in science."

White lingers with students one-on-one or in small groups. She'll post a problem at the start of class and have the class talk through a solution, to reinforce correct methodology.

Sharing such techniques, Shahala's science faculty pushed last year's eighth-graders to a 71 percent WASL science passage rate, 26 points greater than the state average.

Leading by example

White also serves on a state review panel that is updating science learning standards for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

The past decade, there's been a huge push on reading and writing literacy and scores in those WASL sections. Currently, math is a huge priority. In 2013, the science WASL portion becomes a standard high school diploma requirement. It's high time, White said.

"I have continually been an advocate. I get to teach life science, environmental science and physical science," she said.

Alternative fuels, saving polar bears, new genetic or medical breakthroughs? That's all science at work, she reminds her students. She takes "any opportunity I can to encourage kids to pursue a science field," she said.

It was easy for White to dig science, growing up in Hockinson the eldest of three girls and tending to chickens, ducks and horses, she said.

For today's urbanized students, it's another story.

White does her best - demonstrating, for instance, that painted nails are no obstacle to a good frog dissection.

"I think it's the teacher. If you have a good teacher, who rolls up her sleeves and does something if I can do it, girls see that," she said.

Howard Buck covers schools and education. He can be reached at 360-735-4515 or

[email protected]


Originally published by HOWARD BUCK Columbian staff writer.

(c) 2008 Columbian. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.