California program rewards top teachers

Elaine Rosenfield bubbles over with excitement as she talks about teaching math to her third-graders at the Sinsheimer Elementary School in San Luis Obispo, Calif. ``We're involved in getting all children better equipped for math in future,'' she says. ``In the past, just computational skills have been taught; we tried to make human beings into real quick calculators. Now with technology taking over some of those functions, it frees us to go beyond memorizing to understanding and reasoning through problems.

``We're now trying to educate them for the 21st century. The skills they'll need will far exceed anything we've known; we'll be training children for jobs that haven't even been thought of yet.''

Her excitement and far-reaching thinking are a few of the reasons Mrs. Rosenfield was named one of the 12 recipients of the California Educator Award. The $25,000 personal grants, funded by the Milken Family Foundation, were presented by California state superintendent Bill Honig at a luncheon ceremony in Los Angeles last week.

Envisioned as an annual prize, the California Educator Award is the first of its size to be presented to educators. New York City is giving $1,000 grants to top teachers.

The California program gives public recognition and financial rewards to outstanding teachers, principals, and other education professionals who make exemplary contributions to excellence in education.

``I think the award is a strong statement that we respect the profession,'' says Mr. Honig. ``We give the Nobel prize for people who contribute. Teachers contribute as well, and should get that kind of honor.''

The winners were chosen by the County State Steering Committee, representing county superintendents of schools and the State Department of Education.

The 12 - six teachers, five principals, and one administrator - were chosen on the basis of their ability to motivate students to their highest potential; use of creative educational programs, curricula, or teaching methods; effective working relationships with parents; commitment to excellence; and grass-roots support for education.

Rosenfield helped to develop the statewide Mathematics Model Curriculum Guide for kindergarten through Grade 8. She also worked on a program to get girls and minorities to stay in math, to ``counteract the message that it's OK not to be good in math.''

Other award winners include Simon Lopez, principal at Rockwood Elementary School in Imperial County, who said at the awards ceremony that his parents had been illiterate field workers; Steve Connolly, an instrumental music teacher who's been teaching for 35 years; and Mae Johnson, principal at Monterey High School, who was named the California State Legislature's 1987 Woman of the Year.

The award goes beyond rewarding just these particular educators, says Honig. It aims to attract the best and brightest prospective teachers to the field. ``We are going to make it or break it by quality of people in the school system,'' he says. ``In California, we're going to need 160,000 teachers in the next nine years. We want to say teaching is a profession held in high regard.'' -30-{et

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