Roseville charter school has two statewide award finalists

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 16, 2013

 Connor Creek Academy fifth-grade teacher Kristen Allen and Principal Karen Smith are both finalists in the state charter school association’s teacher and administrator of the year awards. They will find out if either of them won their respective categories on Nov. 5.

Connor Creek Academy fifth-grade teacher Kristen Allen and Principal Karen Smith are both finalists in the state charter school association’s teacher and administrator of the year awards. They will find out if either of them won their respective categories on Nov. 5.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

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ROSEVILLE — The principal and a fifth-grade teacher at Connor Creek Academy East in Roseville have each been selected as finalists in their respective categories for statewide charter school honors.

Principal Karen Smith has been named one of five finalists for the Michigan charter school administrator of the year award through the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA). Teacher Kristen Allen is one of the five finalists for the MAPSA Michigan charter school teacher of the year award.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Smith said. “I’m just working with the kids and focusing on the kids’ needs. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Smith said the process started when they were each nominated by other people — in her case, by teachers on her staff — followed by going through her own process of difficult and specific questions, from test scores to community involvement.

Allen said she also had to handle questions requiring data about how students have improved in her class.

“I basically answered one question a night for five nights in a row,” Allen said. “They were pretty extensive questions.”

The two educators learned that they had been selected as members of the final five in the beginning of October and will find out Nov. 5 at the Michigan Charter School Conference in Detroit if they have been chosen as the winners.

According to MAPSA, there are 298 charter schools in Michigan that educate about 9 percent of all school-age children in the state. The award finalists run the grade-level gamut from kindergarten to 12th-grade teachers, from a science teacher in a school focusing on at-risk students to a high school Latin teacher.

“Michigan’s charter schools have some of the most talented and dedicated educators in the country, and this year’s finalists truly represent the best of the best,” Dan Quisenberry, president of MAPSA, said in a statement. “When you look at the list of finalists for these awards, you see an impressive diversity of schools and educational offerings.”

Both women have been with the school for some time. Allen started fresh out of college 10 years ago, teaching sixth grade for a year before moving to her current fifth-grade classroom. Smith spent 20 years as a teacher before being asked to serve as a school administrator 14 years ago, shortly after the school board she was serving on voted to found the charter school.

Smith said the school’s low turnover rate has led to having a strong staff that “believes in the vision and mission” of the school, which in turn has led to her and Allen becoming finalists. Allen also added that they both take part in extracurricular activities — Allen currently is running a kids’ football program and mentors new teachers, while Smith has weekly “girl talk” sessions with sixth-grade girls on topics ranging from bullying and self-esteem to social drama.

“I truly believe that my experience in the classroom truly helped my experience as an administrator,” Smith said.

For new teachers, Smith suggested that they work to develop a positive relationship with their students, adding that if they realize how much their teacher cares, the more receptive they are to learning.

Allen echoed that advice and said that she spends time making sure that her students realize how serious she is about learning, but she will also let her guard down and act a bit silly at points.

“Once you’ve established that classroom management, it’s important to be a bit goofy with the kids,” Allen said. “They get to know you as a person, and then they want to behave more.”

She also suggested that teachers should be willing to adapt to new educational techniques and technologies they may not be entirely comfortable with, if it can help their students grow and learn more.

Smith said the awards decision is made by a third party unconnected to Michigan, and she said if either of them win, it would be the first time anybody at the school has. She had been co-nominated with two other administrators around 2004, she said, but they ultimately were runners-up.

“Even if I don’t win, I’m very honored and privileged to be a finalist. It wasn’t a goal or anything,” Allen said. “But now I have to live up to this.”

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