Imagine a scene straight out of a Publisher’s Clearing House event. When their respective entourages arrived at each of their doorsteps on the morning of May 19 bearing plaques, congratulatory signs and a Lexus (courtesy of Park Place Lexus to use for the summer) – Plano ISD teachers Jacqueline Rosenquist and Jonathan Cao were greeted with cheering and applause.
But these two individuals weren’t receiving a luck-of-the-draw prize; they each had the distinct honor of being named a 2020 Plano ISD Teacher of the Year. Selected by their peers to represent their schools, each of the nominees for district Teacher of the Year undergo an application and interview process with a selection committee consisting of district administrators, community members and the current year’s Teachers of the Year, according to Plano ISD Superintendent Sara Bonser.
Sara was among those gathered to celebrate and recognize each teacher at their residence. “Our Teacher of the Year program honors outstanding teaching and learning in Plano ISD and serves as a platform for these outstanding educators to represent the district as exemplars of the teaching profession.”
Jacqueline Rosenquist and Jonathan Cao will be recognized at the Teacher of the Year Gala in September of this year. The gala is one of Plano ISD’s employee recognition events and is hosted as an extension of Teacher Appreciation Week, according to Superintendent Bonser. “Through this celebration, we want all teachers to know how much their excellence in teaching, leadership, innovation and care for students are valued in Plano ISD.”
Jacqueline Rosenquist, Elementary Teacher of the Year
For nearly a decade, Jacqueline Rosenquist has been teaching students at Plano’s Hughston Elementary School. Although she started her teaching career as a first grade teacher in 2011, in 2012 she joined the fifth grade team of teachers.
“The thing about that 10- and 11-year-old age group is that they have opinions,” she said. “They have viewpoints about what’s going on in the world. They pay attention, and therefore they want to talk about these things. And they want you to stop and listen to those viewpoints and really validate them.
“As teachers, if we go into every conversation with kiddos with the realization that this could be a conversation that could better this kid, that’s when it becomes a privilege.”
Jacqueline, who began college as a political science major, quickly changed her major to elementary education after an a-ha moment in one of her classes. “I was sitting in a political science course that was about Colonial America. While I was sitting there learning about our founding fathers, I was thinking about how amazing it would be to get to teach this to kids.”
Now, as the fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Hughston Elementary School, she gets to teach about Colonial America. “It came full circle since being in that political science class. I’ve always had the heart of a teacher, but I kind of needed to find my way a little bit in discovering it on my own.”
Jonathan Cao, Secondary Teacher of the Year
Inspired by his own successful education, Secondary Teacher of the Year, Jonathan Cao, knew he wanted to offer that same opportunity to as many people as he could, and teaching music seemed to be the best way to do that. “I had a lot of great educators throughout my [youth] who kind of mentored me through that process and made a huge impact in my life during my teenage years.”
After graduating college with a degree in music education eight years ago, Jonathan began teaching in Plano ISD. He has spent the past four years as the Band Director at Vines High School.
“High school is such a crucial time in most adolescents’ lives,” Jonathan said. “It’s when kids are searching for belonging and a sense of their own identity. And every day I get to speak into that. I get to speak into their value and in their worth as a human, through our lessons in band.”
When band students begin their freshman year at Vines High School, they will have been learning from Jonathan for three years. He visits their intermediate and junior high campuses starting in sixth grade. “By the time they hit me in ninth and tenth grade, we’ve had a long time to develop a relationship.”
Jonathan said a benefit of this relationship is that he knows each student’s strengths and weaknesses and communication styles. But, as you can imagine, the challenges of the past few months have really turned the world of teaching and learning upside down.
But diving into an unfamiliar project isn’t an entirely new concept for Jonathan. It’s what he does. “I like to challenge myself with a new skill every year just to keep that weirdness fresh in my memory,” he said. “So that I can remember that sensation of awkwardness and that feeling of frustration that is involved in the learning process.”
This is especially important when it comes to introducing the concept of something like marching band to freshmen, Jonathan explained.
“We’re asking them to dance while they play, and walk around the field while they play, and not bump into 150 other students while they play,” he said. “Oh, and ‘Please wear this 16-inch feather on top of your hat.’”
Essentially, by learning something new each year, Jonathan Cao challenges himself to walk a mile in the shoes of his students. Or as the case may be, march the length of a football field.
The 2020 Plano ISD Teacher of the Year Top 10 finalists include:
Jacqueline Rosenquist, Hughston Elementary School
Kayla Casillas, Harrington Elementary School
Deborah Rivera, Isaacs Early Childhood School
Laurel Hagen, Mathews Elementary School
Kristan Smith, Wells Elementary School
Jonathan Cao, Vines High School
William Mitchell, Carpenter Middle School
Allyson Wallace, Clark High School
Bryan Dixon, Hendrick Middle School
Elizabeth Barth, Shepton High School