Julie Ward, a Title I math paraeducator at Woodburn Elementary, was named the 2018 regional classified employee of the year in March.
Ward said it was an honor for her to just be nominated and was surprised when she received the call of congratulations.
“I wanted to thank Mr. (Brian) Graham, our principal, and the teachers that nominated me,” she said. “I feel like I am so blessed because I work with such an awesome group of educators who are my role models. They are my mentors, and I learn so much from them.”
In Graham’s nomination letter, he stated that Ward has been instrumental in helping to improve Woodburn’s fourth grade Student-Based Assessment scores from 67 percent to 75 percent and the fifth grade scores from 50 percent to 72 percent. Further, during the school’s first to second grade transition, the number of students needing Title I math intervention decreased from 20 to seven students.
“Through collaboration with teachers, targeted instruction and monitoring of assessment data, she has made a difference in student learning,” Graham said.
A former Post-Record employee, Ward, 50, has a background in television production, broadcast journalism and advertising.
She got her start as a paraeducator when she joined her mother’s side at Grass Valley Elementary as a playground supervisor about seven years ago.
Ward says it was a blessing in her life to be able to work with her mother before she retired and is also grateful for the experience at Grass Valley where she was able to also work inside the classrooms.
“At that job too, I learned so much,” she said. “Everywhere I go I try to learn as much as I can to be the best that I can be.”
The experience Ward gained inside the classroom helped her realize her love for working with students, so when the position at Woodburn opened, she took a shot at it.
She left her career in media about 14 years ago, when she and her husband, Jason Ward, had their son, Chase, who currently attends Liberty Middle School.
Ward says she’s found her calling at Woodburn.
“I’m just so blessed and I just love what I do,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of the school, the kids and the community, and to know that I’m helping to make a difference.”
Ward begins her day at 8:30 a.m. and “goes from classroom to classroom to classroom,” she said. She works with students to help them gain strategies with math and reading.
“I push into classrooms and I work with teachers, and then I also pull small groups of students out of the classroom and I work with students in that way also,” Ward said.
One of the interesting components of math is, no matter what type of problem it is, there are multiple ways to get the correct answer, she said.
“So, we teach all different strategies to get to that correct answer and it’s so important because a strategy that might work for one student may not necessarily be the strategy that works for another,” she said. “For my first year, (my goal) was to learn as many strategies as I possibly could so I could best serve the students that I work with.”
Graham said that Ward takes time outside of her work day to learn the standards, intervention lessons and best teaching practices to support students at multiple grade levels.
Ward said it brings her joy to see students reach their goals and overcome challenges when learning new things. She added that she loves helping students realize it’s OK to make mistakes, because that’s a way to learn — and very importantly, to always believe in themselves.
“Julie strives to know each student, their talents, challenges and motivation,” Graham said. “When teaching students, you will hear Julie recognizing students for their effort, encouraging them through challenging problems and using effective questioning to scaffold learning.”
In Graham’s recommendation letter, he said Ward brings a shining light to the school and quotes Seta Timbreza, intervention teacher: “From the first day students interact with Julie Ward, they know they are accepted and valued.”
Ward said the environment at Woodburn is wonderful.
“We’re there for each other and we’re a team,” she said. “We support each other and I have built some wonderful relationships with the teachers and communication is so open.”
Graham said Ward has the respect and admiration of her colleagues because of her disposition towards students and her ongoing communication with teachers, and commitment to professional learning.
“I’ve just found a place where I am just really happy,” Ward said.
Graham said it is rare for a school to have a paraeducator committed to learning content, instructional practice and how to meet the social emotional needs of students.
“Her learning spirit is infectious to both students and staff,” he said.
Ward said she is honored and looking forward to representing Woodburn, the Camas School District and the Educational Service District 112 at an event to honor the nine classified employees of the year from Washington State in Olympia on May 10.