‘Extraordinarily creative’ teacher calling it quits

Students in Kris Thompson's second-grade class, including Rachel

– When second-grade teacher Kris Thompson hops on her bicycle
this summer to trek across the state of Iowa, she’ll begin more
than just a 300-mile journey.
GILROY – When second-grade teacher Kris Thompson hops on her bicycle this summer to trek across the state of Iowa, she’ll begin more than just a 300-mile journey.

The one-week trip she’ll take with her husband Bob will kick off a whole new phase of her life – retirement. After 31 years in education and 27 years in Gilroy Unified School District, Thompson, 60, is calling it quits.

“There’s something to be said not just about her longevity, but about the high standard she’s kept over a long period of time,” Principal Sergio Montenegro said. “She’s been a leader since my first day at Luigi (Aprea Elementary School) and a strong instructional leader her whole career.”

Montenegro’s comments speak volumes about Thompson, especially upon the backdrop that is Luigi Aprea. The school, which emphasizes a “back to basics” approach to academics, is consistently Gilroy Unified’s top performer on standardized tests and the only GUSD school to garner scores above 800 on the state’s Academic Performance Index.

“I think ‘back to basics’ is a little misleading,” Thompson says in her easy-going, but unmistakably direct, tone. “I believe in structured learning, but every good teacher is fundamentals-based at heart.”

For Thompson, a Morgan Hill resident, success in the classroom comes down to how well the classroom is controlled.

“I don’t like mayhem, when we’re in class we talk one at a time,” Thompson says. “They’re good kids, but talking to each other is what they love to do. Very few children are real quiet.”

To keep the mayhem absent from her classroom, Thompson uses a discipline system reminiscent of a soccer referee’s. One colored card is a warning, the second card of another color delivers a punishment – detention or a trip to the principal’s office.

“I’m not a yeller,” Thompson says. “I prefer to pull a card instead.”

The card system is just one example of what co-teacher Stephanie Chisolm calls Thompson’s “extraordinarily creative” ability to reach children. Chisolm teaches Thompson’s second-grade class on Mondays, Tuesdays and every other Wednesday when Thompson is off.

“She’s such a creative resource. She always has great ideas and she’s open to new ideas, too,” Chisolm said. “It’s been a wonderful experience to be her partner and share a classroom with her. She will be so missed.”

The right hand side of Thompson and Chisolm’s plain green chalkboard may serve as the best example of Thompson’s creativity. A colorful quilt made of children’s art work that Thompson stitched together herself hangs there.

Each school year, Thompson, a longtime quilter, uses her students’ work to make a quilt. The quilt serves a very practical purpose – it is raffled and proceeds go toward the purchase of classroom supplies and a special presentation made by the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

But the quilt has direct educational impacts, too. Thompson uses the shapes in the quilt’s design to teach geometry concepts. She uses the quilt’s patches to teach fractions. And for her reading curriculum, she assigns books with a quilt theme.

“Reading about quilting is also a good way to learn things about American history and culture,” Thompson points out. “Quilts tell a story.”

Quilting serves as a fitting metaphor to the story of Thompson’s multi-faceted career in education.

Starting out as speech therapist for children of all ages, Thompson soon realized that elementary-aged students were the niche she preferred. Thompson went back to school to stitch on to her undergraduate degree a teaching credential and has never looked back.

For several years, Thompson was a second-grade teacher working for the late Luigi Aprea when he was principal at Las Animas Elementary School. Now she is ending her career – a career she said he was a “big influence” on – at his namesake school.

Like a quilt that is passed down from one generation to the next, so is Thompson’s teaching legacy. In addition to the hundreds of students she taught in her 31-year career, Thompson has a daughter who is working to earn her teaching credential in Vista, a small city north of San Diego.