Dr. Carstarphen Announces Austin's Elementary, Middle & High School Teachers of the Year

A high school teacher whose Audio and Video Production classes offer students so much more than technical skills.

A middle school Language Arts teacher who had been a tenth grade dropout — and was shocked to discover he wanted to be a teacher.

An elementary school teacher who switched careers from television news to teaching bilingually — learning patience and perseverance from her students.

Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen today named three exceptional educators as Austin ISD’s 2011 Teachers of the Year for high school, middle school, and elementary school. Dr. Carstarphen traveled to each teacher’s campus to surprise the three honorees with gift baskets donated by HEB to celebrate their achievements.

On Wednesday, May 18, one finalist will be named the Austin Teacher of the Year, and will also serve as the District’s nominee for the Texas Teacher of the Year.

“The exciting search for the 2011 Austin Teacher of the Year is nearing completion,” Superintendent Carstarphen said. “These three finalists represent the exemplary teaching that goes on every day across the Austin School District. I congratulate them on their selection, and thank them for the dedication they bring to their classrooms.”

Carstarphen added that the Austin Teacher of the Year search process is an annual opportunity to celebrate educational excellence.

“As nominations are reviewed, we gain an ever greater appreciation for the dedication and skills of many talented teachers in our schools,” she said. The honored Austin teachers for 2011 are: 

  • David Bellesen, High School Teacher of the Year, the Audio and Video Production teacher at Travis High School, who came to teaching after production work in the music and television industries. In 2004, he had the opportunity to teach Visual Communications at Travis, saw its potential, and was eager to build a video program. Earning teacher certification through the alternative certification process, he is now completing his seventh year at Travis teaching a sequence of classes — now termed Audio and Video Production — that offer students articulated credit with Austin Community College. He teaches his students to write, produce, and direct video productions, but, he says, “my students learn so much more.” They must use reading, math, and writing skills in their work, applying them to real world work experiences. His teaching philosophy is that, “if true connections to the real world are made in the classroom, students will inherently understand why they doing what they are doing.” Mr. Belleson says teaching was in my blood, as his father was a middle school science teacher. A gratifying moment for him was when his father visited his classroom at Travis. He earned a degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Radio, Television and Film.
  • Kim Ross, Middle School Teacher of the Year, Dobie Middle School, teaches Language Arts — an unusual career for a man who had been a high school dropout in tenth grade. Dyslexic, his learning struggles began in elementary school, and as he advanced through middle and high schools, he encountered teachers who “focused more on subject than on children.” He made himself invisible, he said, and easily slipped through the cracks. Life as a dropout, however, led to “nowhere jobs,” and he was shocked to realize that, “I, Mr. Dropout, wanted to become a teacher and create an atmosphere that was different than what I had experienced.” Determined to turn things around, he earned a GED, a bachelor’s degree from UT San Antonio, and teacher certification. Teaching at the elementary level, he came to understand that the “student centeredness” found in the early grades needed to be adopted for secondary students, and his middle school career took off from there. Mr. Ross said that most of his students struggle with low self-esteem, and the culture of his class “is centered on all students experiencing respect and success from the moment they step into our room.” With many of his students being English Language Learners, his goal is to make achievement real, relevant, and accessible. His class motto: Si Se Puede! Yes We Can! Yes We Will!  
  • Caroline Sweet, Elementary School Teacher of the Year, is a fourth grade bilingual teacher at Metz Elementary School. “I didn’t mean to be a teacher,” she says, having earned a degree in Journalism and working as a television news reporter in Missouri. However, a volunteer stint at a center for Latino immigrants opened her eyes to the satisfaction of helping children overcome language roadblocks and achieve great things. “The need for bilingual education became so apparent to me,” she says. “How could a child be asked to participate every day in a school that does not value the child’s home language and culture?” Feeling obligated to using her Spanish language skills, she entered the teaching profession through the alternative certification program, and has been at Metz Elementary for six years. She values the school’s history as the hub of its East Austin community for 95 years. She encourages her students to learn about the neighborhood, its strengths and problems, and introduces concepts of social justice into her lessons. “I believe that helping my students understand how to work towards social justice will set them up to succeed and overcome the obstacles in their own lives,” she said. Though her students are economically disadvantaged and resources limited, she admires their resilience, and acknowledges they are her inspiration. She says that she “will always be their student.” Her mother a retired teacher, Ms. Sweet says she learned from her the first tenet of her teaching philosophy, Be there.

These three Austin Teachers of the Year for their respective grade levels were selected from more than 100 nominees at schools chosen at the campus and grade levels by colleagues, and by selection committees composed of administrators, parents, and professional association representatives.

These finalists will next be interviewed by a District selection committee. The committee’s selection will be announced at the Teacher of the Year Awards Recognition and Austin Partners in Education Salute, which will be held on Wednesday, May 18, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.