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Mattituck teacher who learned to ‘lead from the classroom’ is one of two chosen for Department of Education fellowship

A teacher who learned to lead from Mattituck’s classrooms has taken a role on the national stage as a fellow in a program run by the United States Department of Education.

Amanda Barney was one of two teachers from around the nation chosen to be a year-round Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellow, spending 12 months in Washington DC working with other education professionals to improve education throughout the country.

Barney started teaching at Mattituck High School in 1999 as an English teacher, before taking on a “hybrid role” four years ago as department coordinator and staff developer at the school.

“The opportunities we had at Mattituck to lead from the classroom really inspired me and sparked my interest in teacher leadership,” Barney said. “The district has always been very supportive of its teachers — they want us to not only teach, but keep learning.”

She recalled one teacher who was given the opportunity at Mattituck to instruct her fellow teachers. “She would hold classes on curriculums, testing standards, how to understand assessments and data,” Barney said. “It opened my eyes to teacher leadership.”

Inspired to bring a better school experience to both students and teachers, Barney joined America Achieves, a fellowship that focuses on helping teachers “elevate their voices to the policy table.” It was at an America Achieves event that she first heard about the Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellowship, from an alumni who talked to the fellows about the experiences she had with policy-makers in the D.C.-based fellowship.

The fellowship is offered in two forms — the “classroom fellowship” and the “Washington fellowship.” The classroom fellowship accepts five teachers to work on a part-time basis from their home districts, providing insight from the classroom. The Washington fellowship is a full-time fellowship, where teachers remain in Washington D.C. year round. Only two teachers are chosen for the year-round post, with a third full-time fellowship given to a principal.

The fellows “contribute their classroom expertise to the national education dialogue and in turn facilitate discussions with educators across the country.” As teachers are major stakeholders when it comes to education, the Department of Education says the fellowship fulfills and important role to help them “understand the intent of policy and be engaged in the outcomes.”

Barney heard about the fellowship again at another teaching summit last summer, and knew it was time for her to get involved. “I thought ‘you know what, I can do that. Scratch that — I want to do that,’” Barney said. “It’s a great opportunity to get teachers to lead from the classroom, but on a much larger scale.”

She began the application process in November, which culminated in an in-person interview last April in Washington D.C. Barney began the fellowship at the end of July. It will last until August 2017.

“We’re very fortunate to have her voice at the table, representing Mattituck,” said superintendent Dr. Anne Smith at a board meeting last week. “We couldn’t be more proud.”

“She’ll be missed this year though,” said Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti.

Barney, who graduated from Mattituck in 1992, says she misses her home as well, but that she “brings it with her.”

“Another one of the fellows is always saying to me that he’s amazed how connected to my home town I am,” Barney said. “My son was visiting and he told me ‘everyone in town knows that you’re here, they’re all asking about you.’ It’s great coming from a community like that.”

Barney says her upbringing in a small-town provides her with a unique perspective that she brings to the fellowship.

“I’ve been thinking about, you know, what I can bring back with me when I come back home. I understand the federal policies better and can provide insight on those, but now I also have a deeper understanding of what schooling looks like around the rest of the country, and I hope to bring the best of it back to Mattituck.”

Courtney Blasl
Courtney is a freelance photographer, videographer, web designer and writer. She is a lifelong Riverhead resident.