Thursday, April 2, 2015

VEA Honors Chesterfield Teacher with the 2015 Award for Teaching Excellence

Renee Serrao, a veteran teacher with over 22 years of experience, has been selected to receive the prestigious VEA Award for Teaching Excellence. This annual Award goes to an individual who recognizes, rewards, and promotes excellence in teaching.  Nominees for this award must not only demonstrate instructional expertise and creativity in their schools, but must also exhibit strong evidence of leadership within the Association and the greater community. The motto in Renee Serrao’s Chesterfield County government classroom has become, “Let’s invite everyone—some of them will surely say yes!” And some of them surely have: During the 2008 Presidential campaign, her students held candidate forums, with current Governor Terry McAuliffe speaking as a surrogate for candidate Barack Obama and former Senator George Allen for John McCain.
                A county supervisor who advocated tax cuts came to school to share his thoughts and projections and, according to Serrao, “was a bit taken aback at students’ insistence that he find a better way to balance the budget than by cutting their coaches’ stipends by 15 percent.”
                Instead of writing traditional research papers, Serrao’s Cosby High School students pen persuasive letters to the editor, track bills in the General Assembly, email legislators, create campaign ads, and attend political debates.
 In 2012 she was named the Richmond Times-Dispatch Correspondent of the Year for a letter to the editor she wrote challenging an editorial criticizing local teachers who organized to protest budget cuts.
Her students also research and choose a nonprofit organization each year, and then make a contribution to it based on AP exam scores.
As Christopher Averill, the social studies department chair at James River High School, puts it, “To walk into her government class is to step into an alternate universe where time stops and the Constitution reigns. She is a deeply civic-minded person who inspires students to cherish and participate in their own governance.”

That kind of innovation and hands-on teaching is why Serrao, a member of the Chesterfield Education Association, is the winner of the Virginia Education Association’s 2015 Award for Teaching Excellence. She received the award during a dinner held at the Association’s annual convention as part of VEA’s recognition of individuals and organizations that have done great work in and for public schools. VEA recognizes the recipient of the VEA Award for Teaching Excellence with a plaque and a cash award of $500. Mrs. Serrao will be the VEA nominee for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence. Five semi-finalists selected from across the country win $10,000 each, and the finalist receives another $25,000.