2013 Honoree Jennifer SmithMilken Family Foundation National Educator Award winners for 2013.
Pioneer Middle School
Tustin Unified School District
An engaging and enthusiastic promoter of the sciences, Jennifer Smith exemplifies Pioneer Middle School’s mission statement of “maximizing every student’s academic potential and personal responsibility.” Her interest-based teaching methods challenge students to organize their thoughts, problem solve and then evaluate their decisions or findings. In addition to incorporating technology into her students’ daily activities, Smith embraces the blended learning concept of the “flipped” classroom. With this approach, students watch video lectures (usually at home) and then complete what traditionally would be called homework during class. In this way, she is able to offer more personalized guidance to her students, realizing an estimated 20 percent increase in student achievement for those participating in her flipped classrooms.
Smith has always believed in teaching literacy alongside the sciences, emphasizing the connections between math and science, science and technology and why literacy is vital to success—not just at school, but throughout life. Moreover, by inviting various parents who have science careers to her classroom, she exposes her students to a wide range of STEM-related careers. Thanks to this strong educational foundation, a large number of Smith’s students have enrolled in the area high schools’ Green Engineering or T-Tech Engineering Academies, and have received college scholarships.
While still a relatively new teacher with only six years under her belt, Smith’s dedication is impressive. For both science and schoolwide efforts, she’s generally the one leading the way, including training colleagues in the use of data for assessments of student progress. She’s been involved in numerous school and district committees, such as the Distinguished School Committee, the Schools to Watch Committee and the Science Achievement Committee. Additionally, she has been instrumental in developing science and STEM-focused strategic plans. This work has helped the district receive three grants, as well as garner strong interest in advancing the district’s STEM program from prestigious organizations, including the Smithsonian, Beckman Foundation and Science@OC.
Knowledgeable and professional, she was selected by the Tustin School District to represent their STEM program at the Smithsonian Science Strategic Planning Institute in Washington, D.C. And when Pioneer Middle School needs someone to give the school board a teacher’s perspective, Smith is their go-to choice. From students and parents to experienced colleagues, Smith receives high acclaim for her innovation, energy and commitment to Pioneer Middle School.