Award-winning teacher stresses student success

Amadeus Smith

National 2006 teacher award winner Kimberly Oliver discusses the lack of equity in schools and how high quality teachers make a big difference. STEVEN MANTILLA| DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

A lack of equity in the educational system is damaging students, said Kimberly Oliver, a kindergarten teacher at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md.

Oliver, 2006 National Teacher of the Year, spoke to Kent State education students yesterday about this topic and some crucial factors that contribute to academic success.

She is the first teacher from the state to win the award, given to her by President George W. Bush in April.

Oliver received a bachelor’s degree in English arts from Hampton University in 1998 and a master’s degree in elementary education from Wilmington College in Delaware two years later. She earned an early childhood generalist certificate from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards in 2004.

Her endeavors at Broad Acres began in 2000. At the time, the school was being restructured because of a drop in academic performance. Her one-on-one work with children paid off in 2001 when her school had the highest percentage increase in test scores in the school system.

During her six years at Broad Acres, she has recognized a few key factors she thinks should be applied to education.

Oliver explained most people think all schools should receive the same amount of assets. But, in fact, some schools need more resources to keep opportunity levels balanced. This misunderstanding can often lead to a gap in academic achievement.

Lauren Alexander, senior early childhood education major, said she noticed the gap closes when the student receives extra educational resources, such as tutoring.

“You can actually see the child taking steps toward making the gap smaller and eventually closing the gap,” Alexander said.

She said students need to be prepared for education early on, noting that students who fall behind early usually stay behind. She compared early childhood education to the foundation of a house, saying that without it, a house crumbles.

Oliver also said a student may hear that a sibling “got all the brains in the family” and, in turn, give up on education. Students must first recognize a connection between effort and intelligence to succeed in academics. Oliver used her students as examples, but used false names.

She used “Douglas” to show the way students discover the connection. Douglas just finished working on an alphabet puzzle when he ran to Oliver’s side. Without saying a word, he pulled her over to the finished puzzle.

“I said, ‘You must have worked hard’,” she said. ” After I said it, he put his hands on his hips … and said, ‘Yeah. That makes me smart.'”

Another factor she feels contributes to success is strong teachers.

“Teacher quality is the single most influential factor in academic success,” Oliver said.

Each teacher should constantly try to perfect his or her craft, she said. The teacher must develop a relationship with each student because students have different interests, learning styles and goals.

Oliver is able to focus on everyone because she has 15 students. She said a small class size is normal for Title 1 schools. According to the Puget Sound Educational Service District’s Web site, Title 1 schools are schools that are defined as having 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch.

The National Teacher of the Year Program is a project under the Council of Chief State School Officers and is sponsored by ING U.S. Financial Services and Scholastic Inc. For more information about the program, visit

Contact the School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].