In an auditorium full of her peers, Linda Zarakas, the Executive Director of School Improvement, was recognized as the recipient of the Ed Rawlinson Innovator of the Year award for 2012.
"It is so humbling to be recognized for doing something that I just thought was the right thing to do," Zarakas said.
Zarakas began her teaching career at the State School for the Blind in Austin in 1975, After 11 years in the classroom, she became the vice principal of Shenandoah (now Howsman) Elementary School. As principal, she opened both McDermott and Beard elementary schools, before moving to Central Office in 2005. Her experience includes 26 years in administration.
It is that experience that she brought to her current position when she invited the principals of the Jay High School feeder schools to work together to find the best way to serve their Special Education students who seemed to be working well below grade level. Looking at individual campus data and the data for the feeder schools was indeed an eye opener for the principals who had never worked together as a cohesive team. The goal of these conversations was to align a system for continuous improvement by viewing the Jay feeder pattern as a system, rather than simply a set of individual and isolated campuses.
The initial work of the Jay Collaborative had such a profound impact on the 13 schools involved that the Holmes feeder schools were invited to begin a similar collaborative. Two years later, the Stevens Collaborative was established.
"These kinds of collaborations are key to helping the individual child be successful," says Dr. Brian Woods, superintendent. "Through Linda's guidance, each of these teams embarked on a journey of implementing collaborative teaching that had a profound effect on student achievement."
As part of the Innovator of the Year award, Zarakas received a $250 grant from the Northside Education Foundation (NEF), a special plaque with her name on it, and an Innovator-logo shirt, all presented by NEF Board President Merry Raba and NEF Board Vice President of Programs Dave Gannon.