When he set out from his isolated, northern Minnesota hometown, Charles Sanderson traveled a long way and experienced a wealth of activity.
But he would ultimately find himself doing what he was meant to be doing in a place that felt right: Woodburn.
A Woodburn Wellness, Business and Sports School language arts teacher, Sanderson was recently named as the Willamette Education Service District regional "Teacher of the Year" by the Oregon Department of Education.
ODE, working in conjunction with Oregon Lottery, announced Oregon's 2020 regional winners on May 16, while noting that last year, Oregon's Teacher of the Year program expanded to include the celebration of exemplary educators from every region.
"Today's educators must be equipped with more skills than ever before to meet the unique and important needs of each student they serve," ODE Director Colt Gill said. "Recognizing these outstanding regional teachers is a privilege and their commitment to the calling of teaching deserves our thanks."
While Sanderson is grateful for the recognition, he also tips his hat to Woodburn School District, its students and the community for helping him learn and grow as an educator; a role he has cultivated over the years inside and outisde of the classroom.
"I worked at a homeless shelter for youth. I was an AmeriCorps volunteer at an alternative high school. I led youth conservation crews with youth," Sanderson said. "And even though it wasn't directly serving youth, I traveled the world – Indonesia, Thailand, Norway, and across the US -- leading biking and hiking tours.
"As a result, it certainly wasn't soul searching that led me to teaching; instead it was finally being who I was meant to be all along."
There was also a legacy involved as his father was a well-known community college instructor in his hometown. In fact, there were times when the younger Sanderson even resisted the idea of teaching, telling folks he'd be an Uber driver – or anything else – before donning the title of teacher.
That changed when a good friend of his, who also happened to be a teacher at French Prairie Middle School, recommended that Sanderson give WSD a look. He did, and it was a done deal.
"You know, you talk about relationships where you fall in love at first sight? Well, for me Woodburn was that," Sanderson said. "It was the people, the community. Instantly I moved here. I live 8 minutes from the high school."
Sanderson had the pedigree and the world experience; now he had the right place to bring all the pieces together.
"The most critical piece has been students and families who have taken the time to have honest conversations, revealing gaps and holes that you can't learn anywhere else but by having real conversations," Sanderson said. "Living eight minutes from the high school makes a huge difference, letting me be at events and be involved in what matters to students beyond the classroom.
"The unique small school model means that I know every student at our school and the vast majority extremely well."
OED spokesman Marc Siegel noted that educators were identified through a regional application and selection process facilitated by local Education Service Districts. Applicants submitted testimonials and letters of support from principals, superintendents, colleagues and students for consideration, and were assessed on leadership, instructional expertise, community involvement, understanding of educational issues, professional development and vision by a diverse panel of regional representatives.
"It is a great honor to be selected for this recognition, and we are very proud of Charles and very fortunate to have him as a colleague," WSD Superintendent Chuck Ransom said.
Each Teacher of the Year receives $500 from the Oregon Lottery, and each becomes a nominee for for "2020 Oregon Teacher of the Year," which will be announced in September.
2020 Oregon Regional Teachers of the Year:Dave Case, Hood River Valley High School, Social Studies, Hood River School District Susie Chaney, Reedsport Community Charter School, Mathematics, Reedsport School District Manda Currier, Buff Elementary School, Special Education, Jefferson School District Katelyn Dover, John Tuck Elementary School, First Grade, Redmond School District Joshua Dunnell, Farm Home School, Mathematics, Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District Jon Fresh, Westview High School, Special Education, Beaverton School District Renee Klein, Marcola School District, Special Education Tia McLean, Helman Elementary School, Kindergarten, Ashland School District Mercedes Muñoz, Franklin High School, Special Education, Portland Public Schools TJ Presley, Pilot Rock Jr./Sr. High School, Mathematics, Pilot Rock School District Charles Sanderson, Woodburn Wellness, Business and Sports School, Language Arts, Woodburn School District Janel Sorenson, Sutherlin Middle School, Science, Sutherlin School District Alissa Tran, Molalla High School, Art, Molalla River School District
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