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ESE Teacher Nomination for Outstanding Performance – Joanne Wallace – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

I would like to nominate Joanne Wallace for the ESE Advisory Board Award because she is an outstanding human being who happens to be an outstanding educator, and her passion is her profession. I met her as a “band mom” when both of our children entered MSD as freshman and started with the marching band. As I’ve gotten to know her, I have constantly been impressed with her incredible approach to work, family, and friendship. She is the mom who shows up to volunteer, the teacher who makes a difference in her students’ lives, and the friend who sews 30 face masks in 48 hours for me to bring to my hospital to donate to anyone who might need one. That’s right, she was the one sitting outside of the fabric store 4 hours before they opened so she could craft masks for the parents of my Nicu babies. She’s that person, the one who makes us all better people.

Joanne has also been a capable, caring, and compassionate Special Education teacher for over 25 years. She says she knew from the very beginning that she wanted to help students with Special Needs, earning both her Bachelor of Science and her Masters Degree in Special Education. Always looking to expand her style and approach in the classroom, she has also earned certifications in Elementary Education and Science, trained to become a clinical educator and peer Mentor, and studied Sensory Perception Disorders, Applied Behavior Analysis, Adaptive Communication Devices, and completed both Teacher First Responder and Stop the Bleed training.

Joanne has taught in CA, SC, and here in south Florida, using her varied programming experience to bring her all to the classroom. When she worked at J.P. Taravella High school, she was awarded the Most Innovative Award for her creative ideas utilized during the 10 years of her teaching there.

Mrs. Wallace currently works at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as the P.A.S.S. teacher. She has worked diligently to improve the results and reputation of the SVE department since she arrived at MSD in 2016. Ask anyone who is lucky enough to see her in the classroom, and they will compliment her enthusiasm, her creativity, and her love for her students. Joanne prioritizes the lessons and opportunities that will motivate her students while ensuring they are learning in a way that meets their needs. She sets her own high standards to teach in a way that will best ensure that each one of her students will be well prepared for employment or ongoing attendance at adult day programming when they complete the PASS program. She also assists her students’ families to set and attain the goals of her students while connecting them with community and agency supports. In the 2018/19 school year, Joanne was recognized for her passion and dedication, receiving recognition as “Teacher of the Month” by her Principal.

Joanne is also very giving to the community and instills this important value in her students by demonstrating kindness, service, and empathy. Every school year, she supports her students to participate in events that contribute to the school, the campus, and the community. Many of her former students and their families keep in touch with Joanne long after they’ve graduated because she has been so special to them, creating a bond beyond the usual teacher/student dynamic. Joanne Wallace is the teacher her students will always remember for making a difference in their lives.

Like so many in the MSD community, Joanne was with her kids on 2/14/18, assisting them at their earlier dismissal time. She did not hesitate to guide and protect her students with Special Needs, some of whom are non-mobile and/or non-verbal. She carried (CARRIED) one student from the bus loop to a hiding spot inside a building when the first shots rang out while managing to keep her other students together to reach a safe place. She heroically kept her students calm and quiet, while keeping their parents informed as the events unfolded. Despite being worried about her own son next door at Westglades Middle School, Joanne remained with her ESE students for hours as they were transported, then waited for their families at the Marriott Hotel meeting place away from campus. When the students, staff, and faculty returned to school weeks later, Joanne pursued training in Mindfulness and Wellness so that she could better help herself, her colleagues and her classroom gently process the tragedy that took 17 members of the MSD community. She navigated being a teacher to a group of very special and amazing students while working through her own fear and anxiety and managing the intense spotlight on the survivors. She was a quiet force of calm in the classroom while sorting through the terrible aftermath of a mass shooting. She was determined to bring joy back to her kids and her team despite the constant reminder of that day, the whirlwind of media, and the overwhelming presence of increased security. In the months after the shooting, Joanne became a strong advocate in the community to promote the vital process of making schools safer while endorsing sensible gun safety and storage laws. She continues to volunteer to promote public safety measures that will protect people from gun violence, advocating for sensible gun laws, the kind that may have prevented the tragedy she survived.

During her “summer break” at the end of the 2018 school year, Joanne attended an advanced training through the center for Mind-Body Medicine because she wanted to be able to support staff and students in their ongoing stress, recovery, and resilience that fall. She found that when she applied these lessons in the classroom, she was able to provide feedback to the district to help inform new policies to improve the school climate. Her goal is to both organize and teach wellness classes to support her team and all of the MSD staff, and eventually, the entire district. She wants to turn tragedy into strength and power.

Since the shift to digital instruction during the Covid-19 pandemic, Joanne has made a seamless transition to online teaching and support. Her affinity for technology and modern teaching platforms has allowed her students to continue to stay connected and to make progress with their goals, despite the social distance. Without missing a beat, she even arranged a drive-by birthday party to celebrate one of her students, inviting teachers, friends, and neighbors to honor the day.

Joanne has a long track record of excellence in education and demonstrates this passion for her profession as a member of several professional organizations such as CEC, NEA, and FEA. She has also held many leadership roles with the Faculty Council, acted as a Lead BTU steward, is the Lead of her team’s Professional Learning Community, and attended a mentor teacher series specializing in understanding the Marzano system. She takes pride in mentoring Teacher Interns from local colleges and universities and enjoys helping new educators get started in their careers. In addition to all of her professional positions, organizational memberships, and academic development programs, she has also organized important student initiatives as well. She has been very successful in starting several Microenterprises, developed a Summit Ceremony for students who are aging out, and sponsors the Special Olympics and the Best Buddies clubs.

Clearly, Joanne Wallace is a very special person who loves her calling and her students. She is a teacher who will be “that teacher” who made a difference in the lives of everyone she works with, sends off into the world, and raises up to become their personal best. She is deserving of accolades and acknowledgment for her impressive and dedicated role. Joanne considers teaching a privilege, but it is really our privilege to revel in her work ethic, perseverance, joy, energy, and dedication to improve the lives of all of us who know her.

Best wishes and stay safe.

Amy Newbery
MSD Mom and Parkland Community Member

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