Nomination Letter for Jean Schwendau

Nomination Letter for Jean Schwendau – AP Teacher of the Year

The state of Iowa is in the bottom third in terms offering Advanced Placement course work to students. In 2011, the Des Moines Public Schools created a vision statement aligned to the College Board Equity Policy Statement. As the largest, urban district in the state, DMPS serves over 33,000 students, but for years, access to rigorous coursework was hard to find. A lottery based on a child’s address and zip code.

We started sharing the vision with teachers. AP for all. AP for any student interested in taking the course. Instead of sink or swim, you coach them to success. Teachers support every student that walks through the classroom door and instills a sense of hope and career-ready skills. In each high school, we asked, “Will you do it?”

Jean Schwendau is an exceptional AP Biology teacher.

Jean agreed to take on the challenge of teaching AP. Many teachers had little, if no, experience with AP so there was a knowledge and experience gap. Others believed AP to be unreachable for our students, especially the poverty-impacted students who filled the halls of our schools.

Jean, a veteran science teacher at North High School, agreed to attend an AP Summer Institute and launch AP Biology in the 2012-2013 school year. North High School – a school with a 90%+ free or reduced-priced lunch rate. North High School – a school which offered just 1 AP course prior to district expansion efforts.

The College Board consultant who trained Jean taught in a prep school on the East coast. He didn’t have much to offer Jean with how to reach students who might not be AP ready. Nor did he have solutions for how to help poverty-impacted students access AP curriculum when they struggle to complete assignments, college-level reading, and projects outside of class because they work to help contribute to their family or watch younger siblings because mom or dad work nights.

Nevertheless, Jean believed in our goals. Our motto, stolen from the iconic movie, Field of Dreams, filmed in Iowa – “If you build it, they will come.” In the Des Moines Public Schools we build a program, encourage students to take the AP exam, and analyze our results to make changes instructionally. Our goals are equity of access and equity of outcomes.

She doesn’t artificially decide who can take her class. Jean teaches every student who walks in her classroom door to take AP Biology.

She doesn’t tell only some students to take the AP exam or quietly discourage some from the challenge. She motivates and supports all students and has 100% AP exam participation. Her students’ AP exam scores improve every year.

Her colleagues at North High School will tell you she’s one of the first people to school each morning. Her work ethic and commitment to student success in AP Biology are why she should be considered for this award.

You see, Jean’s story isn’t one of the highest AP exam average or the largest AP program. Jean’s story is one of resilience. Jean’s story is one of hope. All students deserve an opportunity to rigorous coursework, and all students deserve a teacher like Jean.

Amber M. Graeber
K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator
Advanced Placement Coordinator
Des Moines Public Schools