National Teacher of the Year

2005 National Teacher of the Year

NameJason Kamras
StateDistrict of Columbia

School Information

School Address
John Philip Sosua Middle SchoolWashington, DC
Teaching AreaMathematics
Teaching Level7-8

District of Columbia Mathematics Educator named 2005 National Teacher of the Year at a White House Ceremony

Washington, DC, April 19, 2005 -- Having a bachelor's degree from Princeton and a master's from Harvard meant Jason Kamras had many career options. His decision to choose teaching was influenced by a college experience as a Volunteer in Service to America teacher in a Sacramento (California) Unified School District community learning center. Through this work, Kamras became convinced of one thing: limited access to well-funded, high quality schools for economically disadvantaged students is the greatest social injustice facing America today. And every day for eight years he has helped chip away at that inequity in his work as a teacher at John Philip Sousa Middle School in Washington, DC.

For this devotion and helping his students feel constantly engaged in learning, Kamras was named 2005 National Teacher of the Year by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on April 20, 2005. Also recognized at this event were the 2005 State Teachers of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year Program, presented by ING FN-NAIC, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and is sponsored by Scholastic Inc. The program focuses public attention on teaching excellence and is the oldest and most prestigious awards program for teachers. Kamras, the fifty-fifth National Teacher of the Year and the first to represent the District of Columbia, begins a year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for education on June 1, 2005.

"My intense desire to see my school excel comes not only from an unwavering belief that all students deserve an excellent education, but also the unique role Sousa played in the civil rights movement," he says. Bolling v. Sharpe, the 1954 Supreme Court case that paved the way for the desegregation of all District of Columbia public schools, arose from a challenge to segregation at Sousa.

"To honor the school's unique role in the movement, I feel compelled to guarantee that it serves as an agent of social change, advancing those who have been ignored or constrained," Kamras says.

To this end, he has worked diligently to raise math achievement at Sousa. He successfully lobbied his principal to double the instructional time allotted for the subject and redesigned the math curriculum to emphasize the increasing use of technology, meeting all learning styles and putting instruction into a real-world context.

The curricular changes, piloted with his own students in 2002, helped the percentage of students scoring "below basic" on the Stanford 9 test to fall from approximately 80 percent to just 40 percent in one year. Additionally, his students have met the school district's math adequate yearly progress target every year since the No Child Left Behind legislation was implemented. He is now working to expand the program to the entire school. Kamras also taught "early bird" (before school) advanced math classes to prepare students for the Stanford 9. This spring he is focusing on Algebra preparation with a group of eighth-grade students.

In an effort to share his love of photography and expand his students' knowledge of the broader DC region, Kamras co-founded in 1999 and has since directed the EXPOSE Program. Through this program, Sousa students learn to use digital cameras as well as image-editing and DVD-creation software to create autobiographical photo-essays about their lives and their communities. The students share these photo-essays with the larger Washington community through public exhibits. An integral part of their training is a series of photo field trips that take the students to a diverse array of neighborhoods, historical sites, and outdoor treasures throughout the Washington area.

Over the past four years, Kamras has received about $65,000 in grants for this program from the DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Apple Computer, and local foundations and businesses.

In recognition of his work with the EXPOSE program, he was awarded the 2001 Mayor's Art Award for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, the highest arts honor bestowed by the District of Columbia.

A former teaching colleague, Saba Bireda, calls Kamras an "extraordinarily devoted advocate" of public, and especially urban, education.

"There is no lack of opportunity for Jason, but he stays at Sousa year after year because he believes in his ability and the ability of his students to succeed despite the challenges presented to himself, his students and the school," she says, adding, "I can honestly say Sousa would not run effectively without Jason. Through the years he has become a de facto assistant principal, extracurricular coordinator, testing specialist, dean and new teacher mentor. He exudes all of the qualities an excellent teacher should possess: student-specific instruction, classroom management, leadership, and above all else a devotion to see every student, regardless of school or status, reach the fullest possible potential."

Kamras, 31, was born in New York and moved to California with his family when he was three years old. He was graduated in 1991 from Rio Americano High School in the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento. During the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Princeton, he joined the university's Student Volunteers Council, serving as a tutor for elementary school students in Trenton, New Jersey, and as a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED) counselor for inmates at the Mercer County (New Jersey) Correctional Facility.

After graduating in the spring of 1995 with a degree in public policy, Kamras spent some time traveling before returning to Sacramento that fall. Then he decided to apply to Teach for America, a program that places recent college graduates in under-resourced urban and rural public schools. Before his acceptance into that program and his placement at Sousa in the fall of 1996, Kamras worked in Jerusalem for the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-profit, research-based organization that aids Israel as a democracy.

After three years at Sousa, in which he taught sixth-grade mathematics, Kamras briefly left the school in 1999 to earn his Master's in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He returned to Sousa in 2000, where he filled a need for two years to teach social studies. As a social studies teacher, he had seventh and eighth grade students in a "looped" class in which he taught the same students for both years. Then in 2002-2003 he returned to teaching mathematics exclusively, at both the seventh and eighth-grade levels.

View the complete candidate application for Mr. Kamras.