Kathy Hollowell-Makle, a kindergarten teacher in one of the District’s poorest neighborhoods, is slated to be among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden at the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“I am so grateful and thankful,” Hollowell-Makle said Monday, sitting on a pint-size chair in her classroom at Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington. “It’s an honor for me personally, and it’s an honor for my school and an honor for the D.C. public school system.”
Hollowell-Makle started her career in the District with Teach for America in 1998, and 15 years later she was named D.C. Public Schools teacher of the year. By the end of the school year, more than 90 percent of her students — most of whom come from low-income families — are proficient or advanced in early literacy.
Hollowell-Makle said she was humbled and overwhelmed to be chosen. “There’s a lot of great teachers out there,” she said.
Hollowell-Makle said she thought it was a prank when she received a call from the office of Vice President Biden’s wife on Friday. Hollowell-Makle said that when she told her students about the honor, they were less interested in the president’s speech than in whether their teacher was going to meet the president’s daughters.
The Obama administration has made a priority of early childhood education, pushing for universal preschool programs as a way to lift people out of poverty. The first lady has promoted her husband’s education agenda, using her personal story to advocate for policies meant to increase the number of low-
income students who go to college.
The first lady has made frequent appearances at the District’s public schools, most recently to talk with low-income high school students at the Columbia Heights Education Campus about their college plans.
The Obama administration has lauded the District’s public school system as an example of successful reform, pointing to test scores that have risen faster in the past two years than in any other state or large city.
In a Washington Post opinion piece last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised District education leaders for taking “common-sense, but politically hard, steps to help students,” including a teacher evaluation system that links job security and compensation to student achievement on standardized tests.
Adelaide Flamer, principal of Simon, said that Hollowell-Makle’s invitation to sit with Obama is an honor for all educators.
“The message is that teachers command a high position of value in our democracy," Flamer said.
Hollowell-Makle will join a group of guests sitting with Obama and Biden during the speech.
Among the guests are Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and Carlos Arredondo, whose efforts to help Bauman were captured in an iconic image from that day. Also invited is Gary Bird, the fire chief in Moore, Okla., who oversaw the emergency response to a tornado that ravaged the community last year.