Garcia-Velasco received the award from State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo in a schoolwide ceremony Oct. 13.
“Elena exemplifies the best of teachers across the state of Oregon,” Castillo said. "Where others see adversity and obstacles, she sees resilience and potential."
That sentiment pervades Roosevelt where students made double digit gains in reading and math last year, saw construction of a new football field and earned a spot at the International Thespian Festival.
Along with students, audience members included PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, Portland School Board members Bobbie Regan and Greg Belisle, Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan, state Rep. Tina Kotek (D-North Portland) and Wilson Smith, a Nike executive active with Roosevelt partner SouthLake Church.
As winner, Garcia-Velasco will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She also receives a $5,000 check and a generous technology package from Beaverton-based Smart Technology.
In May, Garcia-Velasco won an Outstanding High School Educator Award and a $500 cash prize from the Portland Tribune, Community Newspapers and the Oregon State University College of Business.
Garcia-Velasco credited students in her remarks: “Without you, we teachers are nothing. If I am teacher of the year, that means you are the students of the year.”
Students know Garcia-Velasco for her sharp focus on high achievement.
That focus has a purpose: to help students see themselves as college material and “bilingual world citizens.”
She said students take notice. Recently, a student introduced a peer to Garcia-Velasco, saying: “Ms. Garcia-Velasco will want you to take yourself very seriously.”
Says Garcia-Velasco: “Sometimes people say, 'You are so serious.' But every minute counts. I do whatever I can to help you reach your potential.”
As a Spanish teacher, Garcia-Velasco offers courses including AP Spanish Lit — a rare offering in Oregon high schools and one of a kind in PPS. In 2009-10, Garcia-Velasco's 12 Spanish Lit students bested the state and national averages of students passing the AP exam. Students in the class read the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others in Spanish. Along with Lincoln and Franklin, Roosevelt provides Spanish Immersion.
Smiling, Garcia-Velasco ended her remarks in characteristic fashion: “We should be in class right now!”
Read the Oregonian's profile of Garcia-Velasco
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