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Vancouver elementary teacher selected as Washington’s American History Teacher of the Year

OLYMPIA — June 30, 2011 — Karen Morley-Smith, a fifth grade teacher at Sunset Elementary in Vancouver, has been named Washington’s American History Teacher of the Year for 2011.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn praised the selection. “The enthusiasm that Karen brings into her classroom for history and the people who have made history is what makes her so special,” he said.

“Our kids need to understand where we’ve been as a country,” he added. “Karen’s unique approach to teaching history through the stories of those who have lived through it is helping our kids better prepare for their own roles as citizen leaders. ”

Morley-Smith is relatively new to the classroom, but she has already distinguished herself as a leader and an innovator. During her first year at Sunset, Morley-Smith utilized the National Endowment for the Humanities’ We the People curriculum to coordinate a mock congressional hearing for all the fifth graders in her school. Since then she has become a We the People trainer and works with OSPI’s Social Studies Cadre of Trainers. Morley-Smith is also a voracious researcher: in 2008, she attended the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute.

Morley-Smith sees the focus on high-stakes subjects – reading, writing, math and science – as an opportunity to show her students how those subjects have played a pivotal role in our history. For example, grade-level standards for earth and space are explored through the geographic history of the North American continent.

“It’s clear that Karen’s students are excited about history,” said Kelly Martin, program supervisor for social studies and international education at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Her students’ work is thoughtful and detailed and shows just how much focused attention Karen puts into planning and executing lessons. Plus, one of her students was selected for the state’s Daniel J. Evans Civic Education Award this year, which speaks volumes about the level of engagement in her classroom.”

As Washington’s American History Teacher of the Year, Ms. Morley-Smith receives a $1,000 honorarium from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, an opportunity to participate in a Gilder Lehrman Summer Seminar and will be considered for the National History Teacher of the Year. Sunset Elementary School will become a Gilder Lehrman affiliate school, and will also receive a core archive of history books and materials.

About the Award
Washington’s American History Teacher of the Year is selected by a committee of education leaders and subject matter experts. The criteria for selection include:

  • at least three years of classroom experience in teaching American history;
  • a deep career commitment to teaching American history including local and state history;
  • evidence of creativity and imagination in the classroom that address literacy and content beyond state standards;
  • close attention to primary documents, artifacts, historic sites, and other primary materials of history, including oral history; and
  • evidence of thoughtful assessment of student achievement.

The National History Teacher of the Year Award promotes and celebrates the teaching of American history in classrooms across the United States. Every year it honors one K–12 teacher of American history from each state and U.S. territory. The award alternates between elementary and secondary teachers. Nominations for 2012 will be open to secondary teachers.


About OSPI
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine Educational Service Districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.

OSPI does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual preference/orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.

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Nathan Olson
OSPI Communications Manager
(360) 725-6015

For more information

Washington’s American History Teacher of the Year

National History Teacher of the Year


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