James DeVries, a 12th grade government, economics, and history teacher at San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Secondary School District, was named 2010-11 Santa Barbara County Distinguished Educator by County Superintendent of Schools William J. Cirone during the monthly meeting of the County Board of Education June 10.
Distinguished Educators comprise a category formed to acknowledge outstanding teachers in Santa Barbara County. The designation is only given when merited; it is not necessarily awarded annually.
“Jamie DeVries exemplifies what is very best in our profession,” said Superintendent Cirone. “We created the Distinguished Educators award as a means of paying tribute to the successes and the dedication that truly outstanding teachers display every day.”
The award was created as an outgrowth of the annual county Teacher of the Year award. This year, the selection committee, which included representatives of teachers, administrators, PTAs, and school boards, expressed strong feelings that the application and credentials of DeVries were clearly Teacher-of-the-Year caliber. The committee members could only select one teacher to represent the county for the State Teacher of the Year award; but members felt strongly they should similarly acknowledge the excellence of this outstanding educator.
“This is our way of publicly announcing how very grateful and proud we are of his efforts and successes,” said Mr. Cirone.
Marilyn Garza, a science teacher at Santa Barbara Junior High School, was named County Teacher of the Year in May.
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James DeVries has been teaching all levels of American government, economics, and U.S. history at San Marcos High School for 11 years. He has taught senior social studies courses including AP Microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, Introduction to Economics, Fundamentals of Economics, and College Prep American Government.
He earned his B.A. in economics and business from Westmont College and received his credential from Chapman University. When he started teaching at San Marcos, after a year at Santa Ynez High, there was only one section of AP Government and none of Economics. The first year that he was able to teach an AP Economics class, 33 of his 34 students passed the AP exams. There are now three sections of both AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomic, in addition to AP Government.
DeVries has led Advanced Placement workshops statewide and has presented at various social studies and history seminars, symposia, and workshops.
He is interested in questions of ethics and character, asking: “In a time of increased corruption facing our business and political leaders, how do schools across the nation develop academic achievers and persons of character?” As one answer, he has developed ethics forums with local business leaders, and also involves his students in service learning through his Kids Helping Kids program. The students design fundraisers, marketing plans, and all the economics-related concepts required to achieve the goal of supporting a local charity, the Unity Shoppe. In fact, his classes have now become the largest single donor to the Unity Shoppe, so far providing more than $300,000 in funds over several years. Each year his students work hard to top the previous year’s tally.
“To achieve maximum effectiveness as an educator, the experience I seek for my students is one that involves being challenged, inspired, motivated, and engaged on a daily basis … My students are challenged to work extremely hard, but they are also consistently welcomed and guided with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, they feel known and respected as independent thinkers, and ultimately empowered with knowledge that instills confidence through a better understanding of the world around them.”
He also leads students through Europe during summers to bring history alive as they walk through sites previously only read about in their textbooks. In terms of bringing outside resources into the classroom, he incorporates video clips of recent current events and hosts guest speakers, including Congressmember Lois Capps and a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.
“I want my students to walk away with a solid grasp of the material, but more importantly, I want them to be equipped with the necessary tools and have garnered inspiration to be difference-makers in this world,” he said.
In addition to being a member of the School Improvement, WASC, and Campus Beautification committees, he has also hosted more than 10 pre-professionals from UCSB and worked with four student teachers from the Graduate School of Education at UCSB. He has been honored with the San Marcos Royals Service Award, the California Parent Teacher Student Association Honorary Service Award, certificates of recognition from the Mayor of Santa Barbara, Congressmember Lois Capps, the Chamber of Commerce, State Senator Tony Strickland, and County Supervisor Janet Wolf for his community outreach. He was the San Marcos High School Teacher of the Year this year as well.