Congratulations to Susan Elliott, Colorado Teacher of the Year

The Rocky Mountain News today has an inspirational feature on Colorado Teacher of the Year Susan Elliott:

Elliott, 54, grew up in California. She has been deaf since early childhood.

“When I was 5 years old, I flunked the hearing test when I tried to get into kindergarten,” Elliott said. “And I continued to keep losing my hearing. It got worse and worse every year until I was profoundly deaf in my late teens.”

The cause was genetic.

Elliott has been teaching since 1977. She taught in Denver Public Schools and has been with Douglas County since 1994.

While she has taught at all grade levels, she currently teaches English and social studies at Highlands Ranch High School.

“We have a wonderful team of interpreters,” she said of the people who enable communication between students who speak and those who sign.

“I guess I could say that creativity and the opportunity to be a lifelong learner is what keeps me coming back to the classroom.”

Susan Elliott seems like a remarkable teacher. She is deserving of congratulations for the tremendous honor. It’s interesting to note that she teaches in Douglas County School District, a local leader in advancing ways to increase the quality of the instructional workforce.

Whether students are in affluent Highlands Ranch, inner-city Denver, or a rural community, the biggest controllable impact on their academic success is the quality of the teacher in their classroom. Not everyone can be Teacher of the Year, but there is definitely room to make significant improvements in the teaching workforce.

Anyway, about the same time as Elliott came to Douglas County (1994), the district pioneered one of the nation’s first successful teacher compensation plans that includes pay-for-performance (PDF). Douglas County’s Learning Center also operates a fairly unique waiver program that enables the district to license some of its own teachers – to provide specialized training, to fill difficult positions like special education, and to give limited opportunities to non-traditional professionals to bring their expertise into classrooms.

It may just be a coincidence that Elliott has taught in Douglas County since 1994, but there’s reason to believe there may be more to the story, too.

On another note, it’s good to see that Susan Elliott didn’t get the same discriminatory treatment as the recent North Dakota Teacher of the Year.