Elizabeth Royse of East Jessamine High cheerfully admits that education was far from her first career choice.
Instead, she grew up dreaming of veterinary school and working with animals. By the time she enrolled in college, that dream had faded, replaced by an interest in pharmacy. She loaded up her schedule with science classes, but pharmacy failed to ignite her imagination. So she reconsidered again. “I had all these science classes, so I thought maybe I’ll try teaching,” she said. Not because she loved the idea of education but because she loved biology. “Biology is life,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s everything, from tiny cells to the whole earth. It can never be boring.” So she stepped into a high school biology class 10 years ago, knowing much about the subject but little about her students. “Like many new teachers, I struggled with classroom management at first,” she said. But not for long. Her students now “brighten my day.” “I love teaching because it’s about getting to know my students,” she said. “They crack me up, and we enjoy each other’s company. Plus, it’s rewarding when one of them says to me, ‘You made me love science for the first time.’” Royse has an easy, comfortable manner and uses humor to connect with students. She also dresses in blue jeans and athletic T-shirts that add to her accessibility. Not that she takes education lightly. “She is nothing short of amazing,” said Principal Aaron Etherington. “Elizabeth has the talent and confidence to teach the highest performing students and can reach reluctant learners, as well.” Royse also spearheaded the school’s switch to standards-based grading, which relies on the refreshingly simple idea that students should be graded on what they know. Students must demonstrate mastery of the material through projects, performance and testing, allowing students to retake tests until they understand the lesson. Royse adopted standards-based testing seven years ago, and five years ago the whole school switched, making East Jessamine one of the first secondary schools in the state to do so. That method ideally complements science, which is based on evidence, Royse said. “Students learn to draw conclusions based on reason and facts, which is so important,” she said. “That is a lifelong skill for all of them.”