Burning Tree Elementary School Teacher Wins Shirley Lowrie Award

by MCS Staff

Marni Olesker, third grade teacher and team leader at Burning Tree Elementary School, has won this year’s Shirley J. Lowrie “Thank You for Teaching” Award. A 31-year veteran of MCPS, 21 of them at Burning Tree, Olesker is a game changer for students.

Per MCPS: Each year, she requests the students with the greatest needs and the most difficult IEPs or tough behavioral issues. And each year, she wins them over so skillfully that they make tremendous academic and emotional progress. She has a natural ability to connect with and push each student to reach excellence. She also gets results—during the pandemic, 100 percent of her students met proficiency on two or three Evidence of Learning goals in math, and 85 percent met all three Evidence of Learning goals in reading.

Olesker is beloved by colleagues, parents and students. Those who have worked with her call her a one-of-a-kind superstar teacher who changes lives. As students come into class every morning, Olesker greets each one with either a high five, tandem dance, other gestures or the Olesker Bear Hug. Every moment in her room is purposeful, engaging, student-focused and fun. She finds the joy in building relationships and connections with her students. She is high energy, flexible and can “read the room” to assess how students are doing.

Her nomination packet was full of parental praise:

  • She “has the right balance of kind and gentle mixed with a firm, no-nonsense demeanor that kids thrive on and respect!”
  • “I can vouch … for the unbelievably positive and fun classroom environment that she provides for each student, from the most gifted to the most disabled. She understands differentiation and more importantly, that each child is valued and learns to see the value inside himself.”
  • “She groups [students] for special projects where they will shine (pairing strong writers with better speakers; good planners with creative dreamers; quieter students together so boisterous students won’t talk over them). … [she adds] short recess breaks, lets students act out answers or creates kinetic projects.”
  • She is a “wonderful teacher who can handle kids with different personalities and needs … Any student who is lucky enough to have Mrs. Olesker will remember her for a lifetime!”

Olesker believes that all students can learn and thrive. She differentiates for access, content, process and production of materials in every lesson. But her influence goes beyond her own classroom. She understands that successful teaching involves changing up the intensity and pacing of a lesson.

The third grade team she leads is collaborative and caring. She creates opportunities for inclusion, co-teaching and rotating teachers to instruct specific lessons. She checks in with teachers to see how they’re doing. She has mentored many teachers, and organizes staff meals to build morale.

She has been honored by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) for her contributions to the acceptance and success of students with special needs; by MCPS for efforts to enhance the arts curriculum; and by Junior Achievement for teaching economics.

The annual “Thank You for Teaching” awards are made possible through the Shirley J. Lowrie Memorial Fund, established at the Community Foundation for Montgomery County. Lowrie taught for several years as a teacher and substitute teacher in California and Connecticut before relocating with her family to Potomac. Olesker received a $2,500 prize for being named the winner.

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