Send these 3 to the head of the class


November 06, 2005

Melinda Abbott

kindergarten teacher

Last month, Melinda Abbott found herself surrounded by the best of the best among Maryland public school teachers as one of seven finalists in the Maryland Teacher of the Year competition.

She ended up losing to Kimberly Oliver, who teaches kindergarten at Broad Acres Elementary School in Montgomery County. But Abbott's fellow teachers and students at Northfield Elementary School in Howard County are very proud of her nonetheless.

Abbott displays the mixture of intelligence, education and experience that the best of this region's teachers have to offer.

She graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor's degree in social work. She worked in long-term care for special-needs adults and children before earning her certificate and master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa.

Abbott taught kindergarten in Pennsylvania's North Penn School District, then moved to Evergreen, Colo., where she taught gifted and talented enrichment and kindergarten.

She also worked briefly as a social worker specializing in long-term pediatrics and adult care. Both of Abbott's parents were teachers, and at times when she was growing up, people used to tell her she should be one too, she said when she was picked as Howard County's teacher of the year.

"You do this job because you love working with kids," she said. "We get so many rewards from ... those little moments of discovery you get to witness when you're working with children."

Dennis Jutras

history teacher

Dennis Jutras, a history teacher at Polytechnic Institute, is another public education standout. He also was named this year as Baltimore's teacher of the year.

Jutras, 40, is a former executive in the fashion accessories industry and has been teaching for just five years.

In that time, he has helped to build a strong history program at Poly, an elite Baltimore high school that has traditionally focused on math and science.

He created a history library, helped develop two courses, and is the faculty adviser to the student government association, school newspaper and other groups.

Jutras also created a political science course that uses debates to discuss controversial contemporary issues, and introduced students to oral histories by recording the stories of school alumni who served in World War II.

Last year, 99.6 percent of his department's students passed the High School Assessment for government, the highest success rate in Maryland. He's also popular with students for the little things he does, like handing out lollipops during stressful tests.

The history teacher praised his students when asked to comment on his recognition. "They keep me fresh," he said. "They keep me honest. And I hope, in some small way, I've been able to empower them the way they've empowered me."

Jodi Grosser-Gonzalez

language teacher

Jodi Grosser-Gonzalez, who was named Baltimore County's teacher of the year this spring, taught for 10 years at Randallstown High School beginning in 1993, before moving to New Town High School.

Grosser-Gonzalez, 37 and the mother of a 3-year-old boy, grew up in a small town in Michigan and went to Grand Valley State University as an accounting major. After taking an entry-level English class, she worked as an English tutor, deciding she liked it so much that she changed her major to English with plans to become an English teacher.

She taught English at a community college in Michigan for a year after graduation and then moved to Maryland for a fresh start after a broken engagement. She couldn't find a school in need of an English teacher, but several were hiring Spanish teachers.

During her time at Randallstown, she co-chaired the faculty council and became the world languages department chairwoman. She also coached the cheerleading team to its first countywide championship

On a countywide level, Grosser-Gonzalez has written curriculum and presented workshops to colleagues on a variety of topics.

She now heads the world languages department at New Town High School, where she also advises Club Caliente and started Es Academico, an interscholastic quiz bowl competition in Spanish.

School officials praised her commitment to her students and the community.

"I work in a profession I call my passion," she said when named the county's top teacher. "There is no other job on this planet that can make me feel that alive."

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