FORT LAUDERDALE – The photos of children – most of them working on computers – that are plastered around Christopher Gates’ office showcase the indelible impression he has left on the many lives he has touched.
Gates, 25, a community liaison and instructional technology coach at Arthur Ashe Middle School, was recently named the 2008 Florida Education Association (FEA) Educational Staff Professional of the Year.
The winners were judged based on their professionalism, interaction and involvement with the students and their community. With only six years in the field, Gates was chosen over four other finalists who had much more experience.
“I can’t say enough good things about Chris. He worked for me at another school and when I moved to Arthur Ashe Middle School, he was one of the first people I called and said, ‘I’d like for you to join me here,’ ” said Andrew Luciani, principal of Arthur Ashe.
According to Mark Pudlow, an FEA spokesman, Gates was selected because of his ability to motivate others and to encourage students to excel.
“I am honored to present this award to Chris Gates on behalf of the FEA and its members,’’ said FEA President Andy Ford, at a ceremony in February. “Chris’ professionalism and commitment is more evidence of the growing importance and value of school support staff to our system.”
The FEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has 139,000 members including teachers, faculty and educational support professionals such as bus drivers, custodians, teacher aides, food service workers and office staff.
The Educational Staff Professional of the Year Award is the organization’s highest honor for professionals in the field of educational staff. It carries a reward of $5,000 for the winner, plus an additional $5,000 for any charity of the winner’s choice.
For his dedicated service to the Broward County school system and the community, the city of Fort Lauderdale proclaimed April 1, 2008 as Christopher Gates Day.
During his two-year tenure at Arthur Ashe, Gates has continued working toward his personal goal of closing the achievement and skills gap between minority and white students through the use of technology.
“It is a daily battle that I take on with quietness and confidence knowing that the support of our public schools is the backbone of my tenacious fight,” Gates wrote on his website, www.christopher-gates.com.
Gates, a Miami native, said that when he first arrived at Arthur Ashe, it was a different experience for him. The students, at an all-black school in a low-income community, accused him of “acting white.”
“They said I act, dress and speak like I was white and I said, ‘What am I supposed to say? What’s up, dog?’ You see what’s happening in your neighborhood and you think there are no other black people in the world,” said Gates.
Gates said he took it upon himself to show them that there was a better way by teaching them the importance of business attire, speaking proper English and other life-altering concepts such as social boundaries when hanging out with peers, having faith in themselves and changing their world.
“I had heard all the negative comments about Arthur Ashe being a failing school, so when Mr. Luciani said, ‘Let’s see if we can do this all over again,’ I was ready to go,” said Gates.
With a tight budget, Gates said he started working with the lowest-ranked seventh-graders doing what was necessary to make sure they were successful. He combined activities and lessons with technology and transformed the curriculum into several projects, including lessons about key black historical figures, a program that allows students to design their own dream house, and activities that encourage young people to read.
At the end of the school year, Gates saw results: the students who were once failing now posted the highest gain on the FCAT. Gates’ class was transformed into an elective as a remedial for low-grade students.
“It didn’t matter the subject; we had the same results. Every year, those same students who were at a Level 1, which is elementary level, went to a Level 3, which is at level,” said Gates.
Gates has also received kudos for leading Arthur Ashe in the Dell TechKnow Program. The program gives students an opportunity to have their own computer. During the 40-hour, hands-on course, Gates teaches middle school students the ins and outs of a computer and how to build one.
“We get to do stuff that seventh-graders don’t normally get to do. My grades went off the roof—all A’s,” said Daesha Bradley, a seventh-grader.
Since coming to Arthur Ashe, Gates has been a trailblazer for change. In addition to his teaching prowess, as a community liaison, Gates has led grassroots efforts to get parents and the community involved. He has obtained about $10,000 in federal grants and other contributions to establish new business partnerships for the school.
Gates’ work led to a partnership with PBS&J, an engineering firm. Starting in April, Arthur Ashe students began taking part in a company program that encourages and mentors youth to seek out careers in engineering and the sciences. At the end of the six-week program, each student also gets a laptop.
Arthur Ashe recently received the NEA's 2008 Book Across America Library Award. Only 50 awards are presented to schools across the nation, and Arthur Ashe Middle is the only Broward County Public School and one of three schools in Florida to receive this award (Gates entered the school into the competition).
The $1,000 award will be used to purchase books for the school's library and "supports the commitment to the importance of reading as a part of high-quality public education," said Harriet Sanford, president & CEO of the NEA Foundation.
“We’re still dealing with being a failing school. The state says we’re an F, but that’s not the reality. We know for a fact that the F is for future because we are moving forward in methods that other schools aren’t,” Gates said.
In addition to the Professional of the Year award, Gates was also one of the six finalists for the Broward School District’s 2008 School-Related Employee of the Year. He was named Related Employee of the Year at Arthur Ashe in recognition of his achievement and contribution to excellence in education.
“He’s very deserving. I haven’t seen any other teacher like Mr. Gates go and win so many awards,” said Bradley, the seventh-grader.
“We must never underestimate any child,’’ Gates wrote on his website. “We must recognize and hone the abilities—tapped or untapped—that each student brings into the classroom.’’
Photo by Elgin Jones/ SFT Staff. Arthur Ashe Middle School teacher Christoper Gates holds up two awards he has won for innovative techniques with underprivileged students.