Dawn Drake likes to make clear that she didn't leave public school teaching when she took a job at Aspire. She started at Aspire after 15 years in the Lodi Unified School District.
It was 2000, and the district was in the process of moving away from year-round school. She was a reading recovery teacher at Davis Elementary School, being forced to squeeze a year-round calendar of information into a very short school year.
She enrolled her son, Sam, in kindergarten at Aspire's Vincent Shalvey Academy.
"I was attracted to the small school community and small class sizes," Drake said, ticking off the reasons she favored the school. It had a longer school year and a longer day. Students also stayed with the same teacher for two years.
She volunteered as an art docent in his class and participated in the school community activities.
"Watching instruction and attending school functions got me excited about what Aspire was accomplishing. I was impressed by the collaboration I saw amongst the teachers," she said. "All teachers had high expectations and clear, individualized learning goals for each student. I saw that teachers worked hard, but enjoyed what they did — and I wanted to be a part of that."
Today, she is. Drake teaches second and third grade in a classroom named after her alma mater, Stanford University. She is a firm believer in the Aspire's "College for Certain" motto and embraces value-added teacher evaluations that not only grade her, but her students' performance as well.
Although they are not union members, Aspire teacher salaries and benefits are comparable to Lodi Unified's traditional schools, according to Principal Karla Fachner. Employees receive not only health benefits, but retirement as well through state agencies.
After having what she calls great role models which included her mother, Drake said she wanted to be an educator since she was young.
She grew up in Morada and attended Lodi Unified schools including Tokay High School, where she graduated as the valedictorian.
Drake went on to Stanford, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics, and earned her teaching credential from University of California, Los Angeles. She lived in San Francisco and taught in Hayward for three years.
She met her future husband, John, and they moved back to Stockton for his job. Today, they have three sons — Andrew, 25, Alex, 21, and Sam, 17 — and Drake is currently in her 30th year of teaching.
"I still love what I do," she said. "Each year I learn more and continually strive to improve."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.