By Pixie Sulser
“All children can learn to read if we tap into their strengths and help them understand their weaknesses,” says Debbie Brisendine, Ramona Unified’s Reading Teacher of the Year and a first-grade teacher at James Dukes Elementary.
Brisendine’s principal, Pauline Leavitt, complimented Brisendine’s work with children in all areas, but particularly in reading. Leavitt describes Brisendine as a master in her field, praising her efforts in assessing student needs and constantly monitoring their progress.
“If you walk into her classroom at any time, the kids can tell you their lexile numbers (a reading range), their reading fluency scores and all about the books they are reading,” said Leavitt.
On the Winter MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test, 100 percent of her students were proficient in reading.
“One hundred percent is not only exceptional but an extraordinary reflection of Debbie’s dedication to help every student in her class succeed,” said Leavitt. “She does not make excuses about a student’s background. It does not matter if they walk through her door behind in their education, it does not make a difference if the student is receiving special education services or if the student simply has a lack of motivation to learn, she makes it a goal to help every child read at grade level.”
Brisendine believes it is important for the students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses so that they can be a part of the goal-making process.
“I want the students to own their reading skills, if that makes sense,” said Brisendine. “I truly believe every child can read. If one thing doesn’t work, there are 10,000 more things out there that I can try.”
A 15-year veteran of Ramona Unified School District, Brisendine started her career teaching fifth and sixth grades. About seven years ago, she chose to try first grade.
“That was when reading became so critical to me,” she said. “I realized that, without reading, children don’t have access to the other curricular areas.”
Besides teaching and being a mother, Brisendine raises Peruvian Paseo horses and is a published author of a children’s book based on the character trait of perseverance.
Each year administrators from all school sites in the district nominate a teacher they believe is expanding the horizons of students. The nominating administrator submits a write-up describing the accomplishments and qualifications of their nominee.
From all of the applicants, a committee selects the Reading Teacher of the Year, said RUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Cathy Pierce.
“The Reading Teacher and principal attend an award luncheon with other district representatives,” said Pierce. “Rather than it being a competition, the luncheon is a unifying gathering of the most accomplished reading teachers throughout San Diego County. Debbie will certainly represent Ramona well.”