GSE alumna honored at White House ceremony

GTEP graduate Carren Poff, ’08, was honored in August at the White House as a “Champion of Change.” She was one of 12 recipients of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program who was recognized for outstanding effort in improving her school. She teaches English, writing, senior reading, language, and “Freshmen Success” at Ontario High School in Eastern Oregon.

GTEP professors predicted that great things were in store for her. “I was delighted to hear of Carren’s selection as a Champion for Change, though I was at all not surprised by her accomplishment,” says Micki Caskey, her cohort leader. “I recall vividly her commitment to teaching, focus on continual improvement, and dedication to adolescent learning.”

The SIG grants are typically awarded to schools that show significant gains in meeting school improvement goals. In 2010-11, Ontario High School increased reading scores by 17 percent; increased math by 17 percent; increased writing by 7 percent; increased attendance by 1.5 percent; and reduced the white/Hispanic achievement gap. All of Ontario’s freshmen have visited a college campus and free ESL courses are offered to parents.

According to a White House press release, the Champions of Change are “recognized for their roles in building a culture of high expectations, improving instruction, creating safe environments for learning, and fostering professional collaboration among many other notable efforts to elevate the quality of education in their schools.” Ms. Poff in particular was selected because “both students’ belief in themselves and their academic test scores increased as a result of Poff’s mentorship and instruction.”

She was called “a young teacher with an unquenchable desire for every student to feel a sense of worth and to feel confident about abilities and options in life.”

As the head of the Ontario High School English Department, Ms. Poff led her colleagues in work to align the English curriculum to Oregon’s common core standards. Ontario School District sits on the far eastern border of Oregon near Idaho, and has a high concentration of migrant and ESL students. Ms. Poff works with her students to not only improve learning outcomes, but to help them set higher academic goals, such as college.

Ms. Poff says the trip to Washington DC still seems unreal. When she was first notified via email, she thought it was junk mail and deleted it …. several times. Finally, her superintendent, Nicole Albisu, pulled her into her office for a conference call where it was explained that they were all going to the White House. She was in tears. “It’s extremely humbling,” she says while giving her entire department credit for working as a team through the changes that led to their success.

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