Educator and Neag alumnus is Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year

"One teacher, one pen, one book can change the world," reads teacher Cara Quinn from the book "I Am Malala" to her sixth-grade class at Sunset Ridge School in East Hartford. Quinn has been named the 2015 Connecticut teacher of the year. (Patrick Raycraft -- Courant)
“One teacher, one pen, one book can change the world,” reads teacher Cara Quinn from the book “I Am Malala” to her sixth-grade class at Sunset Ridge School in East Hartford. Quinn has been named the 2015 Connecticut teacher of the year. (Patrick Raycraft — Courant)

Sometimes Cara Quinn’s sixth grade students at Sunset Ridge School like to call her “crazy.” But they mean it in a good way, that she stands out, said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to the sixth- and fifth-graders from Sunset Ridge who gathered in the gym Wednesday afternoon.

“That means she’s kind of neat, right?” She’s a special lady,” Wyman said.

Quinn is not only a standout for her students, but also for the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, which chose Quinn as the state’s teacher of the year for 2015.

Her selection was formally announced during the assembly Wednesday. The students, who were kept in the dark about the honor, burst into cheers and applause when State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor broke the news.

“I get the sense that you agree with our selection,” Pryor said.

Quinn was chosen from among four finalists, 15 semifinalists and more than 100 district-level teachers of year. The council is made up of educators who have won the honor in the past and representatives from educational organizations, businesses and the community.

“She makes an incredible difference in the classroom every single day,” Pryor said, “but Mrs. Quinn also goes above and beyond and helps young people learn about their place in the world and how they can contribute to the world.”

As the state’s teacher of the year, Quinn will be part of an advisory council that works with the state Department of Education on policies, he said.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to shine a positive light on the great work of our schools here in East Hartford,” Quinn said.

She told positive stories of students who she saw grow academically. She talked about one who had tested below grade

level in math but is currently taking honors-level algebra in 7th grade and another who advanced four levels in reading assessment.

“The heart of these positive stories are the extraordinary teachers that I’m so fortunate to surround myself with. I am so honored to work alongside people who are so invested here and are so committed to bring about positive change for our students and the community of East Hartford,” Quinn said.

Quinn received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in education from the University of Connecticut. She taught first grade at Silver Lane Elementary School for five years before transferring to Sunset Ridge in 2011.

Kim Knapp, a friend and colleague at Sunset Ridge, said she knew when they first met that Quinn cared deeply about children and the school.

“She cared about East Hartford. She was so sensitive about the issues affecting our world,” said Knapp. “Working alongside her has solidified my initial views about her.”

Quinn instills a passion for learning in her students and she makes and a challenging profession look easy, she said.

“Whenever you walk into Mrs. Quinn’s classroom you see actively engaged students who are constantly being encouraged to give more, to think deeply, to care about their learning and to challenge themselves daily to be their personal best,” Knapp said.

Several of speakers at the assembly noted that Quinn’s lessons go beyond the classroom and her dedication to developing her students’ character.

During a math lesson on ratios and proportions, she had her students start a business of selling lollipops. The money they raised paid the tuition for a student in Haiti.

She got students and staff to commit to doing 26 acts of kindness last year in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She started an annual trip for sixth-graders to the University of Connecticut.

Mya Mason, a former student of Quinn’s, said Quinn made learning fun with real-life situations and encourages students to set goals for their futures.

“She always tries to tell us that we should go to college, get better jobs,” Mason said. “She wants us to do what we want to do, she wants us to go to work for fun. Mrs. Quinn has helped me and other student a lot. She’s changed many lives for the better.”

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