“My goal has always been [to] expand learning to happen not just in the classroom, but at home or wherever students are,” said Ted Kim, a science teacher at UC San Diego’s The Preuss School.
He has worked for the last few years to coordinate the technology program at Preuss, revving up his efforts at the onset of the pandemic when schools closed their doors in March 2020 and initiated distance learning via computers.
For this work, Kim won a 2021 Charter Star Award for “Outstanding Innovator,” one of seven local Charter Star Awards presented by the California Charter Schools Association and the North County Education Foundation on May 14.
The awards recognize local efforts to improve charter public education in San Diego. Winning for Kim was “flattering. It’s really encouraging for me,” he said.
Kim teaches 10th grade chemistry and advises the Associated Student Body at Preuss, a charter school in the San Diego Unified School District that serves low-income students in grades 6-12 who will be the first in their families to attend college. Kim has also taught middle school science and elective classes during his nearly six years teaching there and took over technology coordination for the school three years ago.
“My focus has always been around access,” he said. “As soon as I started taking over the technology side of things, we started making strides towards” ensuring all students had access to devices.
Kim said “the pandemic expedited things in that process,” noting the “biggest concern was we’re going to lose a lot of students” who don’t have access to technology at home and lack “an ideal learning space.”
He said his team “worked really hard” when school closed March 2020 to get devices into the hands of each student, coordinating funding from various sources not only for the devices, but also for internet access for those students without.
“It’s been really big for students to be able to say, ‘Even though it’s a challenging year … accessing school material is not one of those concerns I have to have,’” Kim said.
The process of coordinating technology and internet access for Preuss students at home reminded Kim “how much they prioritize their learning.”
He said often, Preuss students are caretakers for younger siblings and “to be able to live a home life where you’re so busy but find the time to still do your homework, still show up to class, all of those things have just been huge.”
The Preuss School Executive Director Helen V. Griffith said she nominated Kim for the Charter Star award because he’s “a forward thinker. … He’s always looking for the next best [thing], and not settling with current success or current practice,” and preparing for “a future that we really can’t accurately imagine.”
Griffith said Preuss’s 847 students have all benefitted from Kim’s endeavors “to move from in-seat instruction to our virtual world,” which she said was nothing “short of a miracle.”
“He’s just our shining star,” she said.
The experience has also taught Kim that “there’s always ways to do everything. … The amount of technology that’s out there and the amount of innovation out there is so massive,” he said, adding he loves to collaborate with teachers and help them adjust their teaching with new technology.
What drives Kim daily is “the students. … How could you not want to spend your time in the classroom with students who are constantly just reminding you that they’re the future?”
“The future is in good hands if we let our students just do their thing,” he said.
La Jolla-based organization Girard Foundation also won a CCSA Charter Star award for “Outstanding Philanthropist.”
The foundation’s mission, according to its website, is to “foster innovation and systemic change in K-12 education, with the goal of improving student outcomes in San Diego County.”
Representatives from Girard Foundation declined an interview, stating they preferred to keep attention on the individual educators who received awards. ◆