For the second time in three years, a social studies teacher from the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District has been awarded a White House Teaching Ambassador Fellowship and will spend a year-long sabbatical working with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s senior staff.
Marciano Gutierrez, 29, is one of five – and the only Californian – selected for the honor out of 625 teachers nationwide who applied. An additional half-dozen teachers will be part-time ambassadors while in their home districts.
Barry Groves, superintendent of the Bay Area high school district, called Gutierrez a “fabulous teacher” and a “thoughtful passionate advocate for teacher quality, especially when it comes to serving traditionally under-served students.” Gutierrez would be in his seventh year at Alta Vista High School, a 160-student continuation high school serving primarily low-income Latino students who have struggled in a comprehensive high school in a wealthy district. These students are like Gutierrez’s neighbors in Fresno, where he escaped the trap, he says, of low expectations when he was assigned to a magnet school across town. The first in his family to attend college, Gutierrez graduated summa cum laude from Cal State University, Fresno, and received a full scholarship to Stanford, where he earned a master’s in Education. He now mentors students in the Stanford program.
Gutierrez started work this week in Washington, where he will work directly with Brad Jupp, Duncan’s senior program advisor on teacher initiatives. Gutierrez will focus on teacher retention and recruitment issues, particularly how to attract good teachers to high-needs schools like Alta Vista. He says he’ll also be looking at innovative ways to evaluate teachers. On that issue, it may take the diplomatic skills of a teacher ambassador to bridge relations between the Obama administration and the California Republic. Duncan made statewide teacher evaluation reforms, using standardized tests to measure student progress, a prerequisite for states to seek a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. Gov. Jerry Brown opposed that provision as an illegal mandate, and there’s been little traction in most districts to change California’s current ineffectual evaluation process.
Gutierrez, who began looking into alternatives last year as a fellow for another program while teaching in Mountain View, regrets “the binary approach” of either using standardized tests to evaluate teachers or keeping the status quo. He’s interested in other measurements, including portfolios of student work and district tests measuring student growth through the year, without reliance on a single summative standardized test. “I teach my kids how to think and look at the world with a critical lens,” he says. “At the end of the year, they take a 60-question multiple-choice test that does not engage any of that. So it’s fair that teachers are resisting that to measure their performance.”
Contrary to what critics say, Duncan and officials at the Department of Education are listening to what teachers are saying, Gutierrez said, and their position “is not stagnant.” Part of his job as an Ambassador Fellow will be to investigate best practices in high-needs schools to see what other districts are doing to attract and retain high-quality teachers. His own experience at Alta Vista, where he is the lead social studies teacher who helped rewrite the curriculum, shows that “providing leadership opportunities to teachers, whether with formal titles or through an ongoing ability to influence a school site, will help retain teachers.”
His mission as an Ambassador Fellow will be to provide a teacher’s perspective so that federal policy is “informed, relevant and accepted.”
“We cannot wait for reauthorization (of No Child Left Behind by Congress) to let teachers’ voices be heard.” He and the other Fellows are scheduled to have their first meeting with Duncan next week.
“It is critical that we work collaboratively with teachers to develop policies that will truly transform and elevate the teaching profession,” Duncan said in a press release. “I am proud of the work our Teaching Ambassadors have done to talk with and listen to other teachers across the country as well as the direct input they have given staff.”
Gutierrez’s departure marks the return to the district of Michelle Bissonnette, a social studies teacher at Los Altos High, who served in a similar capacity in the Department of Education during the past two years.