Cindy Evans, the newly announced 2021 Marin County Teacher of the Year, believes in the power of learning.
As a special education teacher, Evans works with students who have complex learning needs. Yet, Evans affirms that all students have an innate capacity to learn and she helps her students overcome their individual challenges by creating a classroom that prizes inclusivity and acceptance.
“She is one of those teachers that everybody would like their child to be in her class,” says Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools.
Specifically, Evans implemented an inclusion program in her classroom at San Jose Middle School in Novato that works in collaboration with the school’s general education program. Evans’ classroom promotes integration between her students and that of their general education peers.
“When you enter my room, you will see a beautiful mixture of students all at the same age, but with very different sets of challenges. For me, this is the ultimate inclusive classroom experience where I have the opportunity to reach such a diverse range of students,” Evans says in a statement.
“As part of the program, [Evans] ensures that middle school students that are, quote, ‘typically developing’ have opportunities to interact with her students,” Burke says.
Burke notes that this integrated approach is good for everyone, including the general student population.
“It can be great for the typical middle school student who has the opportunity to give back to others who might need more support to access their learning,” Burke says.
That compassion extends beyond the classroom, and San Jose Middle School is creating a culture of kindness and a community of compassion due in part to Evans’ integration program.
“My students with special needs and their general education peers learn so much from each other, in a natural way—on their own,” Evans says.
On Oct. 6, the Marin County Office of Education celebrated Evans’ many achievements when they named her the 2021 Marin County Teacher of the Year.
Evans’ recent accomplishments also include responding to the Covid-19 crisis. When Marin County schools were forced to implement mandated distance learning in March, Evans volunteered to be a part of a pilot program that allowed students to return to a re-imagined classroom environment so they could continue their much-needed integration.
“When Covid hit, all of our teachers across Marin County worked hard to try to ensure that all kids could access their academic learning through a virtual approach,” Burke says. “Cindy quickly realized that for her students, the ability to engage with just a virtual approach was not working.”
Beginning in May, Evans began seeing students in person, following all safety and health protocols pertaining to social distancing and protective gear.
“It went very well,” Burke says of that pilot program. “That led to operating all of our special education programs in person this summer, and now we’re up to 18 public schools and 29 private schools that are also in-person.”
Burke also recently nominated Evans for California Teacher of the Year. The Marin County Teacher of the Year formal recognition will take place at the annual Golden Bell Awards ceremony, scheduled for May 20, 2021.