First published in the Sept. 18 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
For the second time, kindergarten teacher Roxanne O’Rourke has been recognized as teacher of the year for the Glendale Unified School District and will now represent the city in the contest at the county level.
O’Rourke, who teaches at Horace Mann Elementary School, was awarded as teacher of the year in the spring but was formally recognized by the GUSD Board of Education this week as the Los Angeles County Office of Education prepares to designate the county’s teacher of the year. O’Rourke earned the accolade for her leadership in the early spring, when her school received a waiver to open doors for students to re-enter classrooms and kick off hybrid instruction.
“I feel so honored and humbled to be the recipient,” she said. “We have amazing, dedicated and hardworking teachers in our school district who are very passionate about teaching and committed to student success. I have the privilege of working with many of them at Horace Mann school and as a mentor teacher in our district.”
Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said O’Rouke had her “deepest gratitude” for inspiring students, teachers and district leaders for chartering the path to produce concurrent instruction for students whether they were at a desk or in their homes.
“Ms. O’Rourke is a leader and role model on her campus and in our district,” Ekchian said. “She met the challenge of teaching concurrent hybrid instruction head-on and quickly opened her practice to support her colleagues.
“Ms. O’Rourke is an absolute model for teaching excellence,” the superintendent added at Tuesday’s meeting. “She always keeps students at the center. She builds a culture of belonging in her classroom and makes each and every one of her students feel important. Her upbeat and positive demeanor brings a sense of joy to every lesson.”
GUSD board member Jennifer Freemon, herself a classroom educator, called O’Rourke a trailblazer for being the district’s “model who was really there, showing all of us who were trying to figure it out and were apprehensive about it that it is possible and it can be done.”
Board member Armina Gharpetian said she refers to O’Rourke as GUSD’s “queen of hybrid and concurrent instruction” for her spring performance. Mann was the first GUSD school to bring students back into classrooms, and was selected for its percentage of students who are English language learners, on free or reduced lunch support or considered to be academically at-risk for other reasons. After initially restarting in January, the district postponed all in-person activity until February in response to the winter coronavirus surge.
The district’s other elementary schools all reopened later in the spring, when county restrictions were lifted, and largely utilized Mann as the model.
“At the time that the majority of our schools were not open in person, it was so refreshing and so great to see a classroom with students in the middle of the pandemic and you handle it so well,” Gharpetian said. “You were able to see things outside of the box and make it happen.”
Board member Nayiri Nahabedian added, “Every time I’ve seen you, your poise, your enthusiasm, your clarity, how you work with students comes through, and we’re really, really grateful.”
O’Rourke told the board that, at the end of the day, she was motivated to do the most and the best for her students, who only set foot in their schools for the first time in January — half a year later than they were initially scheduled to return.
“My students inspire me every day,” she said. “I love that I get to share my love for learning with them and I’m thrilled to be in-person with all of my students this school year.”