EDUCATION Classroom teacher’s new task: Bring educators’ voice to the state policy arena

Story image for teacher from The Nevada Independent
Jackie Valley

Stacey Dallas Johnston always has considered herself an ambassador for education.

A longtime Clark County School District teacher, Johnston married a fellow educator. She has mentored six student teachers. And she can’t contain her enthusiasm when former students announce their plans to become teachers.

“I honestly, truly believe in education,” she said. “It’s not just something that I do. It’s really important to me. Strengthening the system, elevating the profession are not just buzz phrases for me. They’re really things I’m invested in.”

Now, she’s taking that passion to a role the state has created that’s meant to bridge communication between teachers in the field and higher-ups in the Nevada Department of Education. Johnston is Nevada’s first teacher leader in residence — a position officials hope bolsters educators’ voice in the state.

Johnston has taught at Las Vegas Academy for the past 16 years and, before that, she spent a year and a half at Robison Middle School. She recently completed a yearlong fellowship through the U.S. Department of Education that focused heavily on national education policy.

The fellowship instilled in Johnston, 42, a desire to know more about the behind-the-scenes education policy work in her own state. A few months later, she saw an advertisement for the teacher leader in residence opportunity.

“It was almost like I wished it and it appeared,” she said.

The state recently finalized Johnston’s selection as its first teacher leader in residence, a gig she’ll hold through the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

She views herself as a conduit who can shepherd information from those on the front lines — classroom teachers — to state officials creating policy that may affect their day-to-day jobs. She hopes it fosters more engagement among teachers from all corners of the state.

“I think teachers are really hungry to share their opinions and voice their concerns and get engaged,” she said. “They just don’t always know how. It’s not always really accessible.”

One project already in the works: creating an advisory cabinet filled with as many as 20 teachers who can give state Superintendent Steve Canavero feedback on a variety of issues.

The new role comes at a time when teachers nationwide are staging walkouts, strikes and wearing red to stand in solidarity with each other as they fight for better wages and improved education funding. Nevada isn’t immune to the unrest. Las Vegas teachers have picketed outside school board meetings to show their displeasure with budget cuts and frozen wages.

An underlying theme of the movement: Respect for the profession.

Johnston said teaching isn’t always well understood by outsiders who don’t realize the job’s instructional demands, emotional burdens and challenges of corralling dozens of youngsters or teenagers in one room each day. But she also doesn’t want the teaching narrative to be so negative.

One of Johnston’s goals is to promote sharing of best practices and success stories among teachers.

“I see kids do amazing things,” she said. “Why aren’t we lifting that up more and not letting the frustration of the system of the job —or whatever it might be — be the thing that people talk about the most?”

The Legislature authorized funds to pay for the teacher leader in residence. A nonprofit education organization called Chiefs for Change is providing travel funds so Johnston can visit teacher leader in residence programs in other states to help mold Nevada’s new position.

 

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