2013 Teacher of the Year celebrated

AURORA – Granted, the Rangeview High School students clapped as vigorously for the free Blue Bell ice cream they would receive at lunch as they did over the fact one of their teachers won Colorado’s top teaching honor.

Rangeview High School social studies teacher Amanda Westenberg receives flowers from her school’s principal after she was named the 2013 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

But through the teenaged giddiness came true respect for one of their favorite teachers – social studies teacher Amanda Westenberg.

Westenberg was named Colorado Teacher of the Year at a school assembly Friday morning. She said the process leading up to the honor involved many sleepless nights and re-writes of essays edited by her exacting father.

“I think it’s really exciting,” Westenberg said of the outpouring of community support. “The support shows how much teachers mean. Teachers truly impact and change lives. Every single person has a favorite teacher.  I don’t think anyone can say they don’t.”

Senior Jada Boyd made a moving tribute to her favorite teacher, describing for the crowd how she once hated history.

“She was one of the most vibrant teachers I ever met,” Boyd said. “She didn’t sit at her desk the whole time having us read from textbooks. She was up and running around the room giving help and advice.”

She had never had a teacher interact with her so closely, the girl said, asking her if she needed help or had any stories to tell about her life.

One of Boyd’s most notable experiences in high school was her participation in History Day competitions. She created a website under Westenberg’s tutelage.

”I found myself working harder than I ever had,” Boyd said. “When students didn’t have oomph to continue pushing, she didn’t give up on the students.”

Boyd ended her lengthy remarks with, “You changed my life in so many ways, and what you have done cannot be replaced. I love you.”

Perks come with the title

As Colorado’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, Westenberg will not only receive an abundance of mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream, courtesy of program sponsor Blue Bell Creameries, but a new Smart Board for her classroom, a $7,500 check from the Colorado Free Masons, lots of professional development and free college courses at Adams State University, and props from educators far and wide as she hits the educational tour circuit.

Not only that, she will attend a ceremony at the White House and go to space camp for a week.

“We know that there is no more important school-based factor in a child’s education than an effective teacher in the classroom,” said Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which supports the Teacher of the Year program.

Westenberg was selected for the honor based on her expertise, student achievement and her ability to inspire students.  Students praised her for her inspirational leadership around History Day.

Ron Fay, Rangeview principal, described Westenberg as a “dedicated, talented educator who has a positive impact on students and colleagues. She understands the learning process to a degree that is rare.”

Westenberg, a teacher for eight years, serves as the social studies department chair at Rangeview. At the high schol, she also developed interactive Advanced Placement curriculum and was named Rangeview Teacher of the Year in 2010-2011 by her students.

Colleague and teacher Kasi Mireles had this to say about Westenberg in the Teacher of the Year application:

“Amanda has original and inventive strategies for engaging students in U.S. history. When she teaches, she is able to hook students into the content and help them make meaning of the past and connect it to their own lives.”

Superintendent John Barry also gushed about a member of his staff who came here from Hawaii.

“Amanda is dedicated to her students, dedicated to the teachers and staff at school, and now she is dedicated to the state of Colorado,” Barry said.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede