06-15-12: Kalles Junior High educator has 'passion' for teaching
06-15-12: Kalles Junior High educator has 'passion' for teaching

For Kris Diamond, success is often measured in small steps.

It might be a student who makes a friend for the first time or a classmate who gets a high five from a peer in the school hallway.

It could also be more personal, such as when a typically non-verbal student speaks to her for the first time.

Diamond has experienced countless student successes such as these during her 11 years teaching special education at Kalles Junior High School.

Her contributions to students and their families over the years have earned her this year’s Puyallup School District Secondary Teacher of the Year award.

Diamond’s name will be submitted to the Puget Sound Educational Service District to be considered for the regional Teacher of the Year award, which is expected to be announced in August. Those who win at the regional level are considered for the 2013 Washington State Teacher of the Year award.

This is the second teaching honor in the past decade for Diamond, who earned National Board Certification — one of the highest recognitions in the teaching profession — in 2005.

“Education is her passion and her mission in life,” said colleague Sue Hoornbeek, speech and language pathologist at Kalles Junior High. Hoornbeek is one of numerous educators, students, and parents who submitted letters nominating Diamond for the Teacher of the Year award.

“Daily I see evidence that students at Kalles are more understanding and tolerant of differences in others because of the integration work she has fostered,” she said.

Other supporters frequently use the word “passion” to describe Diamond’s contributions to education.

During a Teacher of the Year recognition at the April 23 Puyallup School Board meeting, Principal Mario Casello read a comment from Kalles Junior High school psychologist Linda Westpfahl:

“She shows passion for finding and building areas of strength within the children she works with. There is passion in her work with parents to help them see their child’s growth across time as she works with them on their Individual Education Plans. And I see passion in her work with other team members when designing interventions, reviewing evaluations, and planning programs to occur as part of the special education services for her kids.”

Casello also personally commended Diamond’s teaching. “It’s your heart,” he said. “It’s the passion that you have for your students. I have never met a teacher who has advocated so much for her students and goes above and beyond to get truly what’s best for the kids.”

Diamond has been praised for numerous efforts over the years, including mentoring young teachers in special education as well as junior high students who want to help as peer tutors alongside students with special needs.

The veteran teacher designed a guest reader program to invite staff members and peers to read to students and enjoy literature together, and she worked with the Kalles Booster Club to raise money for the school and her students. This past year she used fundraising money to purchase 10 iPads for her classroom.

She has also helped organize an annual talent show for students with special needs with Good Samaritan Hospital’s Children’s Therapy Unit; provided her students with community access activities such as trips to the mall, post office, and stores; and attended dances and other extracurricular school activities with her students so they could join in activities with their peers.

“Her volunteer time and dedication has enabled many, many students to experience the thrills and rites of passage that are part of the junior high experience,” Hoornbeek said.

Parent Kristie Roof, whose son was in Diamond’s class for three years at Kalles Junior High, describes her as a “one-of-a kind teacher.”

“Kris sees the potential in the students and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to see them succeed or reach their potential, even if it means more work on her end,” Roof wrote in her nomination letter.

Diamond teaches a class of 11 students this year, most of whom have mild to severe cognitive needs resulting from conditions such as autism and Down syndrome.

Many of the students submitted their own Teacher of the Year nomination letters, including hand-drawn pictures of their teacher. Student Kaleb Kindschuh wrote that he likes Diamond because she is “a good teacher and because she is really nice and happy.”

Diamond has several teacher assistants who help in the class, working with students one-on-one or in small groups. Depending on their needs and comfort levels, some students spend part of their school day in general education classes and the rest of the time in Diamond’s special education class.

“We figure out where students are functioning and meet them where they are at,” Diamond said.

Diamond has known since sixth grade that she had a passion for working with students with special needs. She remembers the happiness she felt working with autistic children as a camp counselor in Ellensburg. “I thought, I can do that. I want to do that.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in special education with K-8 certification from Seattle Pacific University and her master’s degree in special education from Grand Canyon University. This fall, Diamond will expand her teaching career by moving into a third-grade teaching position at Pope Elementary School.

At the board meeting, she thanked her colleagues in special education for their work, Casello for “leading with integrity and passion,” and her students and their families.

“These kids are the strongest kids you would ever want to meet,” she said. “I love their humor and their sincerity. They all have a heart of gold.”