Robert Baroz, a literacy coach at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain, sat in the school’s library yesterday afternoon under a peeling ceiling where water has dripped on a few outdated computers that serve 800 students at the K-8 school.
He wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the school’s logo, spoke excitedly about his passion for urban education, and seemed largely unaffected by President Obama’s mention of him just a little while earlier during a White House news conference to pitch a jobs bill.
Obama cited the 47-year-old Baroz as an example of more than 280,000 teachers who could be rehired or retained if Congress passes the president’s $447 billion jobs bill.
“In the last few years, he’s received three pink slips because of budget cuts,’’ Obama said of Baroz. “Why wouldn’t we want to pass a bill that puts somebody like Robert back in the classroom teaching our kids?’’
In his first three years in the Boston school system, Baroz was notified each year that he might not be rehired. Although this is standard practice for many new Boston teachers who go on to keep their jobs, Baroz said the uncertainty takes a stressful toll on a profession that needs more good educators.
“I’ve managed to land on my feet, but it’s sometimes at the last minute,’’ Baroz said. “It’s pretty precarious when you are repeatedly let go and hired back.’’
Baroz speculated that he came to the president’s attention because of a Teaching Ambassador fellowship he received in August from the US Department of Education to promote dialogue about education, take a leadership role, and help influence national policy. The part-time work he performs under the fellowship, one of 16 awarded nationwide, is in addition to Baroz’s responsibilities at the Curley School.
As a new fellow, Baroz was invited recently to the White House, where he sat in the front row as Obama unveiled his jobs proposal in the Rose Garden. Baroz said he did not talk directly to the president.
Still, Obama had heard Baroz’s story.
In promoting his jobs bill yesterday, the president said, “I had a chance to meet a young man named Robert Baroz. He’s an English teacher in Boston who came to the White House a few weeks ago. He’s got two decades of teaching experience, he’s got a master’s degree, he’s got an outstanding track record of helping his students make huge gains in reading and writing.’’
For Baroz, his moment in the national spotlight was slightly puzzling. “I don’t know how he chose me out of all the stories that have come forward,’’ he said. “I feel I’m not alone in that situation.’’
Baroz said his trip to the White House created a buzz among pupils at the Curley School, where the teacher lamented the lack of a librarian and drastic cuts citywide in literacy coaches, who help other teachers develop strategies to improve reading skills.
When he began in Boston in 2007, Baroz said, more than 100 such mentors were deployed in the Boston schools. That number has since dwindled to about a half-dozen, although some schools, such as Curley, have created the position in their budgets.
Baroz, who has two master’s degrees from Middlebury College and is pursuing a doctorate at Lesley University in Cambridge, said his commitment to teaching took root during a challenging upbringing on Staten Island, N.Y.
“To me, public education was the way out of my situation,’’ said Baroz, one of four children raised by a single mother.
Baroz, who lives in Wellesley, has two children in public middle school. His career has taken him from teaching positions on Staten Island to Vermont and to a charter school in Framingham before he took a job in Boston, where he also has been posted with at-risk pupils at Middle School Academy and Community Academy.
For Baroz, the mission is simple, although its execution seems increasingly complex. Teaching, he said, gives him “the opportunity to help kids understand the world and themselves better’’ - even on a day when the president of the United States mentioned his name.
The president’s mention, he said modestly, was “not really about me. It’s more about other teachers.’’
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.