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The California League of High Schools named SI Latin teacher Grace Curcio Educator of the Year for District 4 Nov. 8.
Posted 11/12/2012 04:02PM

The California League of High Schools named SI Latin teacher Grace Curcio Educator of the Year for District 4 Nov. 8. She is one of the finalists for state Educator of the Year, which will be awarded this March. You can read the text of her speech and the recommendation by SI Principal Patrick Ruff here. Congratulations to Grace!

Recommendation given by SI Principal Patrick Ruff

I am writing on behalf of Grace Curcio, a distinguished faculty member of St. Ignatius College Prep who is most worthy of recognition by the California League of High Schools. Grace is simply one of the brightest, most creative, and dedicated teachers I have been blessed to work with. Grace’s excellence not only brings great benefit upon her students, but her contributions to her colleagues and the school continued to make all of us better. 

Let me begin with Grace’s leadership characteristics, routinely exemplified in both formal and informal ways. In the classroom, where she leads everyday, Grace exhibits exceptional competence in her academic discipline, and she conveys to her students an enthusiasm and passion for Latin that is infectious and inspiring. Never one to rest on her extensive academic background, Grace continually pushes herself to learn more. She reads professional journals and regularly attends workshops to bolster her professional knowledge base and her understanding of the teaching and learning process. In just the past two years, she has attended an AP workshop on teaching the new AP Latin curriculum, has participated in a workshop on Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, and has attended several Junior Classical League meetings. Grace is always innovating as she brings new knowledge from these learning experiences back to her colleagues and (most importantly) to her students. Not surprisingly, Grace’s students absolutely love coming to her class, as reflected in recent student evaluations, where students noted Grace’s tremendous interest and enthusiasm for her discipline with a 5.98 out of 6.00 on this survey item. (I personally want to meet the two students who gave her only a “5”!)

As a department chair, Grace demonstrated excellent leadership skills in the way that she was able to both anticipate and navigate challenges that arose in her department. Grace’s fundamental strength stems from her capacity to build and cultivate positive relationships with her colleagues. As chair, Grace was able to create and sustain a department culture that respects all viewpoints; she consistently models effective interpersonal skills with her colleagues, always communicating in a gentle yet direct manner.

While Grace was a highly effective department chair, her capacity to lead change  efforts at St. Ignatius has been primarily the result of her ability to lead by example. Grace has always been at the vanguard of professional best practices and educational innovations, and in this way she has been instrumental in our ability to promote and sustain significant change efforts at St. Ignatius. For example, Grace is a key tech-trailblazer and early adopter of new technologies and resources. From being among the first to utilize the tablet PC in the classroom over six years ago, to being the first to use Quizdom handheld student response systems shortly thereafter, and (more recently) to using iPads in a one-to-one environment, Grace has always led the way for her colleagues. Furthermore, Grace generously shares her knowledge with colleagues who routinely visit her classroom to learn how they might integrate new instructional strategies or incorporate technology more meaningfully into their teaching.

Grace’s leadership can also be seen in the numerous committees and boards she has been called to serve on. Grace was a key member of our Schedule Committee, charged with investigating, designing, and recommending the school’s newly implemented bell schedule. She has served twice in the past seven years on the school’s Professional Development Committee, and she has been elected by her peers to serve on the Faculty Development Board, responsible for reviewing her colleague’s professional growth plans and tenure applications. She has also served on several search committees to identify and forward nominees to the principal for several key administrative positions. Grace is also widely recognized as a leader by her peers outside of St. Ignatius, evidenced most by her role in the California Junior Classical League, where she is currently serving as the State Certamen Chair, responsible for organizing the annual state tournament, a quiz-bowl style competition with classics-themed questions.

in sum, Grace is exemplary in just about every way possible, both professionally and personally. As a teacher, Grace fundamentally understands that learning takes place when students are doing the work — classroom activities are engaging, fun, and always purposeful. Grace has the capacity to bring out the best in both her students and her colleagues, because she exudes competence in all that she does and because she’s absolutely delightful to be around. Grace is, quite simply, one of the most well-organized, hard working, and creative people I know. As a fellow administrator recently and succinctly said about Grace, she was aptly named by her parents!

I cannot offer a higher recommendation for a colleague and fellow educator.

Grace Curcio's speech delivered at the awards ceremony:

            Bonum vesperem!  Good evening, colleagues in education!   It is unbelievable to me that I am being honored for doing something so enjoyable.  In fact, I consider myself truly blessed to be a teacher. Fortune smiled and led me to St. Ignatius College Preparatory, where I'm surrounded by a top-notch community of excellent educators who are also excellent people. My students are charismatic, spirited learners who believe me when I tell them that grammar is fun.   I love Latin, and I get paid to convince teenagers that they love it, too.  And my desire to grow as a teacher, within and beyond our walls, is met by school administrators with support, enthusiasm, and the resources to pursue my goals.

            I do love Latin, and I get a kick out of reviving this supposedly dead language using the latest in technology.  I wouldn't be the educator I am if it weren't for the many opportunities and tools at my disposal.   When tablet PC's first came out, I requested one so I could more easily label text in class and post those notes on our class website.  Request granted.  After a California Classical Association presentation on personal student response systems, I went to our Director of Professional Development and asked to learn more about the gadgets.  He purchased several sets for school wide use, and invited a representative from the company to show interested teachers how to use the remotes.  My students actually started looking forward to reviewing for tests!  The iPad is the latest super tool to come to our classrooms, and our Educational Technologist provides numerous tutorials, both virtual and actual.  It has been invigorating to then teach my students how to use iPads sensibly.

            Teaching at SI allows me to be a lifelong learner. Over the years, I've implemented techniques and strategies gleaned from sources both professional and unexpected.  For example, my students' written evaluations indicated that they need to hear correct pronunciation more than just in class.  This led me to use iMovie to present images of flashcards together with a recording of myself saying the words.  Who wouldn't want to hear Latin vocabulary in her teacher's dulcet tones?  Recently I discovered StudyBlue, a website and app that allows me to accomplish the same thing but much more easily.  In response to another request, I began to post five-minute demonstrations that I record using the simple ShowMe app.  And because the annual Roman banquet is a hit, I stage a yearly fashion show, for which students hand-make their own vestimenta Romana.  The classroom becomes a catwalk, complete with photo backdrop and pumping soundtrack.  

            My colleagues are wonderful mentors.  Friends in the English department gave me invaluable help when I needed to improve the way I taught essay writing (and the way I assessed the work) - a necessity for the AP Latin teacher.   I returned the favor by demonstrating iPad basics to a few tech newbies.  Teachers' doors are always open, so if I'm itching to observe better ways to lead discussions or use new technology, I'm always welcome to watch any colleague in action.  Truthfully, that was my favorite part of serving as Language Department Chair.  

            SI administrators are instrumental in my ability to thrive.  When I was asked to serve as the California JCL's State Certamen chair, my administrators supported my appointment by working creatively to reduce my responsibilities to the school newspaper, thus allowing me to oversee the Certamen competition - a quiz bowl tournament with questions on grammar, vocabulary, derivatives, daily life, history, mythology, and mottoes, all rooted in the Classical world.  It's my job to communicate with Latin teachers and students all over California, provide them with updates to the game's rules and expectations, edit and refine the certamen questions database, and generate new questions for the state tournament.  It's a wonderful opportunity to promote Latin throughout the state and to help prepare students to represent California at the National tournament.           

            It is a real honor to be here with all of you.  Thank you to Adele Berg and the California League of High Schools. Thank you to my school administrators, especially Patrick Ruff.  Thank you to my friends, parents, and husband who are here supporting me tonight.  And I thank my students.  Plurimas gratias omnibus ago!

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