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Snohomish High School teacher honored with national excellence in teaching award

Teacher helps a student at a computer

Being named one of only five Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence recipients in the nation this year was a shock for teaching veteran Kathy Purviance-Snow.

“It is beyond anything I could imagine,” said Purviance-Snow, who teaches several business education and social studies classes at Snohomish High School. Her colleagues were not surprised she was honored for her work in the classroom.

“She has a passion for her profession,” said Deb Koenig, the district’s director of Career and Technical Education (CTE). Koenig cited Purviance-Snow’s zeal for connecting with her students by providing real world experiences such as inviting a local court judge to oversee a mock trial in her classroom. When COVID-19 stymied students’ ability to operate the Panther Café Espresso Cart, she worked with students to develop a web-based ordering system and a limited product menu. This allowed students to continue learning their entrepreneurial and employability skills in a safe manner.

Purviance-Snow’s business courses are part of the district’s CTE programs. These courses are what many community members would remember as vocational classes. Snohomish School District offers a variety of career pathways including agriculture science, business and marketing, family and consumer science hospitality, health sciences and pre-engineering design, production and manufacturing. The pathways provide students with a suggested sequence of courses that can lead to college credit and/or industry certification.

Participation in career focused classes gives students a taste of different careers and training programs that might be pursued after high school graduation. Students’ college studies and advanced training programs often follow their high school vocational experiences.

For more than 20 years, the NEA Foundation and Horace Mann have celebrated outstanding educators from around the country. Purviance-Snow will be celebrated at a gala in February. Her award also comes with a $10,000 cash prize.

Teaching is a second career for Purviance-Snow. She spent many years working long hours in the marketing and sales field. When she found herself a single parent of three young children, she needed to make a change. “The hours and travel were not conducive to raising small children,” she explained.

Also, during the recession of the early 2000s, Purviance-Snow was seeing the sales field becoming more about transactions and less about building relationships. She was disillusioned by this shift as she enjoyed collaborating with people to find what was best for her customers.

“I wanted something with meaning and value,“ she explained. Purviance-Snow did not need to look far to find that career. Both her mother and her aunt are teachers. In addition, she was already volunteering in her children’s school so was experiencing the immense value of a Snohomish School District education.

“We can all take the knowledge of history and utilize it to give power to our voice.”
– Kathy Purviance-Snow
Horace Mann Award winner & Snohomish High teacher

“Kathy believes in the capacity of her students to learn,” said Snohomish High School teaching colleague Kaci Cowan. Cowan nominated Purviance-Snow for the Horace Mann award. “Kathy is an unwaveringly compassionate person. She never gives up on her students even when it seems like the student is throwing in the towel. Kathy gives of her time and support to achieve her students’ vision.”

Teacher Purviance-Snow  looks at a student's assignment on the computerAfter listening to research professor Brené Brown, Purviance-Snow embraces the power of vulnerability and courage in her teaching. Brown described students as being like turtles. “She said they won’t risk sticking their necks out of their shells until they see that courage in you. Wow!” Purviance-Snow remembers.

She regularly steps out of her comfort zone in her lessons striving to show her students both. Mock trials in her business law class, “Shark-Tank”-style presentations in her business management class and organizing committees for a simulated senate in civics class are hallmarks of the creativity of her teaching.

It is the stories and history of humanity’s adversity and triumphs that draws Purviance-Snow to civics. “We can all take the knowledge of history and utilize it to give power to our voice,” she stressed. Her students have regularly organized a forum to hear candidates for office and speakers for both sides of issues on the ballot. During COVID 19, that in person event was not possible. Never deterred, Purviance-Snow helped her students develop a website to provide a similar opportunity. Students interviewed candidates with questions they developed based on the interests of their age group.

Hired in the same year, Cowan has seen Purviance-Snow grow in her leadership in school and in the community. Purviance-Snow has served as an instructional leader at school. She led professional development to help her peers work through the challenges of the abrupt jump to online learning during the COVID 19 shutdown.

She is also a National Board Certified Teacher. Board certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching consists of four components: assessment of content knowledge; reflection on student work samples; video and analysis of teaching practice; and documentation of the impact of assessment and collaboration on student learning. The components are assessed by a national panel of peers.

Embracing her courage and vulnerability, Purviance-Snow has emerged as a leader in her school and her community. Not shocking at all to her students, colleagues and community members that know her.