Promise and Potential from the Top of a Hill

California Teacher of the Year Kelly Kovacic (in teal) is shown here with her students from The Preuss School UCSD.

California Teacher of the Year Kelly Kovacic (in teal) is shown here with her students from The Preuss School UCSD.

It’s a crisp, cool Friday morning, and the auditorium at the Edward A. Roybal Learning Center, a new public high school campus on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles, is filling up quickly with students, teachers, administrators, community members, and a few stars. Despite being early in the morning, with a three-day weekend ahead, there is an energy buzzing in the room.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, singer/songwriter John Legend, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Olympic boxer Oscar de la Hoya, and Southern California teachers David Arias and David Mena enter the room and take their seats. Each is here today to talk about the importance of education and the benefits of having a teacher force that more accurately reflects the diversity of our student population in the United States. While 20% of our public school students are Latino, only 7% of their teachers are Latino.

The education news in California the last few weeks has not been good. Just a few days earlier, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced it will be issuing 5,500 pink slips to teachers in an effort to address the pending budget crisis. Despite the challenging economic backdrop, the panelists remain upbeat as they share with the largely Latino audience their thoughts about why bright, dynamic students should pursue a career in teaching:

  • Education is our nation’s most important asset;
  • Teaching provides the singular opportunity to change a child’s life by building confidence, focusing on excellence, and providing the skills necessary to improve our local communities and succeed in our global community;
  • A teacher has the ability to inspire an entire generation that will be called upon, whether it likes it or not, to shape the future of our democracy;
  • Our classrooms need the skill, wisdom, breath of experience, and unique perspectives that a diverse faculty possesses; and
  • With a large number of teachers preparing to retire, there may be as many as 250,000 jobs to fill.

Following the panel discussion, the moderator takes questions from the audience. As a high school teacher, I am glad to see students demonstrate the power and importance of critical thinking and civil discourse. They thoughtfully and passionately share their concerns about inadequate funding for higher education, the uncertain future of the DREAM Act, and proper support for their teachers.

It’s clear that this generation has the energy and talent to lead. A world-class education system is critical to the future of our country. It is national security, health care, economic stimulus, and civil rights all rolled into one. And, recruiting and retaining passionate and accomplished teachers from diverse audiences like the one in this auditorium at a high school on a hill, is the key to it all.

Kelly Kovacic

Kelly Kovacic is a 2010 California State Teacher of the Year who teaches at The Preuss School UCSD, a 2010 Blue Ribbon School located in La Jolla, California.

Read Teaching Ambassador Fellow Jeff Camarillo’s blog about the event.


  1. I agree with you Lyndee, students do need role models in general. So many young adolescents today don’t receive the attention and care they deserve at home. Through school teachers can be that one positive role model for these students. Teachers can display integrity, values, beliefs, and morals through their actions and decisions. Role models are such a vital role for teacher to fill.

  2. I believe children have a stronger connection to individuals of their same background. With this being said, I feel it is important for every child to have a role model they can relate to of their same ethnicity. It would be great to have teachers act as this role model, but I believe there should be a higher interest in the quality of education they can provide rather than how many students relate to their ethnicity. It should be education alone not whether the teacher is Latino, Black, White, Indian

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