During the faculty convocation held at Farmington High Wednesday, Superintendent Kathleen Greider introduced Kelly Sanders, literacy specialist at West District School, as the 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year for Farmington Public Schools.
She is also a semi-finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.
“I’m thrilled and while this is a great honor, I feel I should share it,” Sanders said in a phone interview. “When I stood up at the convocation, there were so many on my side. So many mentors and colleagues have helped me along the way.”
A member of the Farmington faculty since 1989, Sanders initially taught kindergarten at West District, then first grade and Reading Recovery at Union School before returning to West District 11 years ago. She has also served as a workshop presenter at professional development activities for the school district, and since 2008, has been the program leader for the Summer Learning Academy in Farmington.
As a literacy specialist, she works with students who need extra support in reading and writing, spelling and vocabulary.
“I also work alongside teachers in the classroom; we call it coaching,” Sanders said. “We see what works and problem solve together. Teaching is like the ultimate team sport. It’s a collective effort and as teachers we need to fling the doors open and share our resources. That’s how we improve.”
Each school has its own literacy specialist and they work together across town to align their practices.
When it comes to students, Sanders believes that all students can achieve high levels.
“My job is to figure out how each child can succeed,” she said. “Everyone learns differently and it’s up to the teacher to crack the code. There’s intrigue in unlocking it.”
Greider stated in a press release that Sanders’ high expectations are evident in the countless hours she dedicates to analyzing student data with colleagues, developing personalized interventions for our neediest learners, and implementing instructional best practices to ensure that all students achieve academic and personal excellence.”
Sanders said she leaves no stone unturned and has been compared to “a bulldog on a pant leg – and that’s how she was described in a recommendation letter written by her principal, Sharon Lowery.
“Kelly is the gold standard for excellence in teaching,” Lowery said. “Whether working with students or peers, Kelly is the happiest when helping others to learn.”
Sanders was instrumental in developing a district-wide model of assessment-driven intervention with an emphasis on early intervention strategies in literacy, Greider said.
“Her guiding belief is that effort equals achievement and this belief is the foundation of the work she does with students and peers,” the superintendent said. “As a result, she has changed the course of a significant number of young children’s lives by relentlessly diagnosing and discovering the right next step in instruction to build confidence and skill in her students.”
It’s all a labor of love, Sanders said.
“I can’t wait to get to work in the morning,” she said. “There’s something special to do each day.
Sanders said she credits the Farmington school system for its educational vision, which is very clear from the top.
“The longevity in leadership has allowed teachers to hone their craft, to get more done,” she said. “That’s the magical thing about Farmington.”
Ironically, although she came from a long line of teachers, Sanders didn’t think she wanted to be one herself. Five years after graduating from college, however, she found her calling.
Sanders, who grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, is a published author. With Tracy Kane she co-wrote a children’s mystery novel entitled “Forest Secrets.” She also shares her love of writing with Farmington’s students, traveling to other schools for author visits and encouraging all children to believe in themselves as real writers.
“Becoming an author was a great thing for helping me teach writing,” Sanders said. “Writing the book was such a process.”
Sanders served as an adjunct professor at Saint Joseph College for one year in the 1990s, and won the 2012 Karen L. Parizeau Memorial Scholarship from NEAG School of Education.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s degree from Smith College, and is currently enrolled in the UCAPP program to earn an administrator’s certification from the University of Connecticut.
Sanders lives in Unionville with her two daughters.