- Oakland Unified School District
- Employee Profiles
2017-18 Teacher of the Year: Stephanie Taymuree
Redwood Heights Elementary
It would be easy to believe that Ms. Stephanie Taymuree, lead teacher in Redwood Heights Elementary’s Technology and Augmentative Communication for Learning Enhancement (T.A.C.L.E.) program, was born to be an educator.
A 2017-18 Teacher of the Year, Stephanie was recently selected as a 2017-18 OUSD Teacher of the Year. As a 28-year veteran teacher, the majority with OUSD, Stephanie is passionate about unlocking the communication skills of students with severe and moderate disabilities.
“It’s that joy of seeing a child who comes into the program unable to communicate and yet so much inside of their little hearts and souls and brains” she said. “Often times parents have never even had their child say ‘I love you’ - can you imagine that? Being able to give them the tools they need to come and tell me something that would’ve all been locked inside otherwise, that’s what has kept me in the field for so long. But I fell into it all quite by accident!”
Her kindness and patience while interacting with students exudes both love and an ability to assess needs and apply the technology and linguistic strategies Stephanie has painstakingly honed over the years.
“Our goal is to develop multi-modal communication systems for students,” she said. “That may mean learning software on an ipad or sign language that drives speech articulators and supports putting words in the proper order. They’re learning to express their desires, feelings, thoughts and needs through pictures and words.”
In fact, Stephanie started her career dreaming of becoming an opera singer, being raised in a “family of music” that helped her earn a college scholarship in vocal performance. She got an illness that required surgery and “destroyed my singing voice; it never came back.”
“You know the best laid plans often don’t work out the way you want them to but life actually works out much better than you ever imagined,” Stephanie said. “So I really thank God that I didn’t go in the direction I thought I was going to go in, but ended up here instead.”
When friends told Stephanie about the innovation happening in the speech pathology department, she changed majors and realized she was interested in many aspects of the field besides voice disorders. Stephanie began her teaching career in Los Angeles, and then to Oakland. She has watched the field evolve and become instrumental in creating the systems and teacher training needed for Oakland schools to serve students with complex communications needs.
Stephanie was first placed at Ralph Bunche as the school’s Speech Pathologist.
“Back in the late 70’s, kids with special needs were in essence segregated into special school sites. The Individualized Education Program [(IEP)] was just being developed and teachers were learning about how assessment can inform instruction,” she said. “I knew assessment tools were the first thing we had to tackle so along with a very innovative psychologist and school nurse I developed a process for assessment, interpreting results, determining the student needs and then determining goals and objectives that would later become part of the IEP process along with activities that directly meet the needs of students.”
When Assembly Bill 2666 was passed in 1987, educational agencies were required to provide special education to all children with exceptional needs between the ages of three and five. Up until then, OUSD placed special needs students at the private Bridge School in Hillsborough, founded by singer Neil Young, which was leading the field of augmentative communication.
“Since the Bridge School had Oakland students, they decided to develop a satellite program so that Oakland would be able to educate the students with those needs,” Stephanie said. “They chose Redwood Heights as the site, they chose me to be the teacher and they chose a consultant from the Bridge School with me that first year, teaching me all the tools. This was a long time ago so the technology was entirely different.”
Looking toward the future, Stephanie will continue to be an advocate and leader for children.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything different - Oakland is my home,” she exclaimed.