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Release: March 22, 1999

City High School teacher Ellsworth named Iowa Distinguished Teacher

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Paula A. Ellsworth, a special education teacher at City High School in Iowa City, has been selected by the University of Iowa for an Iowa Distinguished Teacher Award.

UI President Mary Sue Coleman will present the award to Ellsworth during a school assembly at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, at City High School, 1900 Morningside Drive.

Ellsworth, a 21-year educator who works in City High School's Behavior Disorders Program, is one of only four teachers selected statewide for the 1998 awards. In addition to the award, she will receive a $1,000 grant from the UI for school equipment and teaching materials.

Coleman will be joined in the award presentation by Richard Shepardson, interim dean of the UI College of Education.

"As a graduate of Iowa public schools, and through my travels throughout the state, I know there are many, many examples of excellent teachers in Iowa classrooms," Coleman said in announcing the awards. "And I know the difference that their commitment makes in the lives of young people.

"The Distinguished Teacher Awards are our way of recognizing some of the very deserving people who don't often hear the words 'Thank you,'" she added.

Ellsworth's supervisors, colleagues and former students describe her as a teacher committed to putting the needs of her often troubled students above her own, as someone who refuses to give up on students or allow them to give up on themselves.

Shirley J. Fouts, a City High associate principal who nominated Ellsworth, said she submitted Ellsworth's name to the school's Executive Council for consideration because of Ellsworth's dedication to students inside and outside the classroom. The Executive Council is made up of the principal, two associate principals, two deans of students, the athletic director and five counselors.

"She simply has such a positive attitude, a can-do attitude for the kids," Fouts said. "She is an extremely worthy, invested, caring teacher. She takes her efforts beyond the classroom. What makes her successful is she'll make a home visit, talk to parents weekly, daily, whatever it takes. Kids love her because she is with them every step of the way."

Ellsworth began her career in 1977 teaching a multi-handicapped class with students ages 10 to 21. She worked as a private tutor and in-home teacher for several years, and from 1986 to 1993 taught children in mild, moderate and severe disability programs at Senior and Central Alternative High School in the Dubuque Community School District.

She has worked at City High School since 1993, where she teaches students with behavior disorders a range of subjects, including biology and physical science, English and reading, algebra, American history and government. In addition, she is a past Spirit Club sponsor and SAT team member for the school.

She received her master's degree in applied psychology from Loras College in December 1993, and her bachelor's degree in regular and special education, with an emphasis in psychology, from the University of Northern Iowa in May 1977.

In addition to her academic work and employment, Ellsworth has engaged in extensive professional development. She devised a program in which mentally disabled students help the elderly with shopping, errands and household tasks. She also wrote and directed a rural work experience training program to aid mentally disabled students transition to competitive work after graduation.

The UI has presented the Distinguished Teacher Awards since former President James O. Freedman initiated the program in 1984.
Freedman established the awards to honor teachers who have profoundly influenced the lives of their students, particularly in the skills of critical reasoning and clarity of expression. The awards emphasize UI's commitment to education and its recognition of the interdependence of K-12, community college and university education.

Coleman redesigned the awards ceremony in 1996 so that she could personally visit the school of each recipient and present the awards. She also created the $1,000 grant as a way of letting each school share in the honor.

The Distinguished Teacher Awards are co-administered by the UI Office of the Provost and the UI College of Education. Each elementary, junior high school and high school in the state is invited to submit one nominee for the award each year.
Winners are chosen by a committee chaired by Shepardson. Other members are UI faculty and licensed teachers and administrators.

EDITORS: As part of the selection process for the Distinguished Teacher Awards, recipients are nominated by supervisors, colleagues, parents and students. Here's a sample of what
Paula Ellsworth's nominators wrote about her:

Supervisor: "In her program for students with behavior disorders, Paula deals with the most challenging students at City High. In a non-judgmental way and with genuine concern, she teaches with student needs paramount in her mind. High interest, creative lessons are central to her classroom due to her resourcefulness."

Colleague: "Because of her rapport with students, she has been able to turn the lives of students (and families) around, many of whom have never been successful before. Many parents and other staff members, recognizing her exceptional abilities, have requested that their students be placed in her class."

Former student (now a college freshman majoring in fashion design and Italian): "I can honestly say that Paula saved me. If it wasn't for her, I know that I wouldn't have ever graduated, much less be where I am today, with such a bright future that I look forward to."

Parent: "Paula Ellsworth was able to form a relationship with my daughter that not only fostered her desire to learn, but more importantly helped her to once again believe in herself. She accomplished this through her unconditional support and guidance, not only in the classroom, but also during evenings, weekends and vacations. I remember many such evenings spent on the telephone with her. She not only offered me the emotional support I needed to make it through one more day, but also made me feel part of the plan that would help my daughter achieve her ultimate goal."