Author: Teacher Liaison

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Rena Stone

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Rena Stone

9th-12th grade

ELA, Journalism, and ELL

28 years in the classroom
“Teaching is a challenging career, and one in which I can make a significant difference in my community. The connections made with students, families, and community have long-lasting and far reaching effects. Teaching is a positive way to mold students by being a good example of a caring, conscientious community member.”

Rena Stone was born in Tucumcari, New Mexico and grew up in Portales, New Mexico. Being raised in a college town, the home of Eastern New Mexico University, encouraged her to see higher learning as an exciting and reachable goal. As a child, her parents worked hard to save the money to buy two sets of encyclopedias. Instead of playing outside, Rena researched, compared, and contrasted the information from both sets of books and wrote research papers for FUN! Learning was her first true love.
Rena earned her undergraduate degree from Eastern New Mexico University, after which she went on to teach in Tucumcari, Artesia, Las Cruces, and Hatch, New Mexico. She was also selected to represent New Mexico and became a teacher ambassador to the city of Monterrey, NL, Mexico. She taught first grade at Venustiano Carranza Elementary school. This gave her new insight and ability to relate to immigrants she later taught in southern New Mexico.
Rena later met and married Mark Stone and moved to the state of New York where she taught business plan and grant proposal writing to adults for a private business. After four years, she realized she was wilting so far away from her tierra natal and her beloved Rio Grande. Her mother had always admired Rena’s love for her state, saying that she was built from the land and the waters of the Rio Grande ran through her veins instead of sangre (blood).
After returning to New Mexico, she began teaching for the Mesa Vista Consolidated School District. She soon found the opportunity, thanks to Dr. Rudolfo Chavez, to earn her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Her emphasis was in TESOL, and she now holds a preK-12 license and teaches English Language Arts, Journalism, and ESL classes to 9th-12th grades at Mesa Vista High School.

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Kathy Zimmermann

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Kathy Zimmermann

Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades
15 years in the classroom.
“I feel my responsibility as a teacher is to instill confidence and curiosity and then show the students the possibilities that await them. Change in public education is upon us and we have a choice to either embrace it and champion our children or stay quiet and watch them suffer.”

I was born and raised in Deming, Luna County. I am part of the fifth generation to grow roots in the unforgiving southwestern desert. I was born to loving parents, and I was very lucky to have both of them growing up. My dad passed away in 2001, but my mom is still my best friend and one of my greatest supports. I graduated from Deming High School in 1988. I married my first husband in 1994. I celebrated the birth of my son, Challen in 1995 and my daughter, Kelsie in 1999. With the birth of my daughter, I decided it was time to follow my childhood dream of being Cinderella at Disneyland – OH NO, wait – not that dream. I was already entirely too old! So, instead, I followed my dream of becoming a teacher. My third grade teacher was a wonderful lady named Sallie Wilcox, and I always knew that I wanted to grow-up to smell as good as she did and be a great teacher, just like her! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think fondly of her and praise her for her patience.
In order to make this dream a reality, I began my first college class at the age of 30. I earned my BA in elementary education at Western New Mexico University, then went on to continue my education at Eastern New Mexico University, earning a certificate in Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). In May of 2017, I finished my course work and earned my Master of Arts in Education from New Mexico State University. I began my journey as a teacher in 2003 where I taught kindergarten until 2014. My husband, Robert, passed away that year, and I decided it was time for a change, so I moved to the elementary school that I attended as a child in order to teach third grade. I loved third grade, but at the end of my first year with the “big kids” I was offered a position teaching in the multi-age program. I loved the idea of combining what I had always done in kindergarten with all the new things I had learned in third grade, and, as they say, the rest is history! Except for the fact that I am now remarried to a wonderful man, Kirk, who also happens to be a teacher. He teaches P.E. here in Deming and is also an assistant football coach for the Deming Wildcats! Go CATS!
I have found that teaching is not really a career but rather a life choice. I absolutely love what I do. Our children are our most precious natural resource and through education we are able to secure our future. If we teach them compassion and respect for our past, our present, and our future, then they will have the tools to sustain and possibly even create a better world than the one we know today. What we do as teachers is so much more than imparting facts. In our tumultuous world, which is driven by technology, we don’t necessarily need to teach children information but rather how to gather and use information. Each morning I come to school eager to see what new discovery my students will make and hopeful that I will be able to strike a spark of curiosity in them that will sustain their desire to find out more.
Most recently in my career I have had the privilege to serve as a part of the Teacher Leader Network as a member of the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. I have made many new friends from all across the state and have gained a respect and understanding for our public education system. The most important thing that I have garnered from this experience is how important it is for teachers to network, find their voices, and advocate for our profession and, most importantly, for our children!

NOW RECRUITING! NMTLN School Liaison Cohort 2018-2019

NOW RECRUITING! NMTLN School Liaison Cohort 2018-2019

What is the NMTLN?

The purpose of the NMTLN is to develop a set of teacher leaders who:

  • Gain knowledge about PED areas of focus to support student outcomes
  • Serve as their school’s liaison when other teachers have questions about PED areas of focus, such as NMTEACH
  • Provide feedback about PED areas of focus
  • Develop skills to support colleagues’ growth and development
  • Gain access to PED resources and tools

What is a School Liaison?

NMTLN School Liaisons hone their teacher leadership skills and gain knowledge about PED areas of focus and state policy. School Liaisons serve as the on-the-ground go-to person at their school site to help explain PED areas of focus and provide guidance to their colleagues. School Liaisons participate in virtual and regional in-person meetings. (See photos below!)

Who should apply?

Ideal candidates are solutions-oriented individuals who want to learn about state policy, want access to tools and resources to help them hone their craft even further, are continuous learners who seek out and apply feedback to improve, and who have taken or want to take on leadership roles at their school sites. NMTLN School Liaisons participate in the network for one full year, with the option to reapply for a second year.

What specifically do School Liaisons do?

NMTLN Teacher Liaisons is a regional model, where teacher leaders in the network come together with participants in their region two times a year for after-school convenings during the school year. The purpose of the in-person convenings is to collaborate with educators across the region, learn about PED areas of focus, build instructional content and leadership skills through meaningful professional learning opportunities, network with each other, and develop a community of support.

The regional convenings are designed so that participants will not miss class time with students nor need to spend the night. Districts will individually determine reimbursements such as mileage; these costs will not be covered by PED. The in-person convenings are designed to be highest-quality professional learning for teachers; districts will individually determine what type of professional leave teachers can take for participating in the NMTLN School Liaison program.

Additionally, NMTLN Teacher Liaisons participate in monthly webinars in conjunction with other teacher leaders in the state. Content for the in-person convenings and the monthly webinars focuses on PED areas of focus surrounding teaching quality.

***THE BOTTOM LINE: Every teacher should feel empowered to ask questions and share their experiences. You will serve as a point of contact, quite literally liaising between the PED and your fellow teachers. You will have access to resources and information you can share with them, and should they have questions, you will be connected directly to the PED to help them get the answers they need.***



Virtual Training Session: Topic

Information to register will be sent a few weeks prior to each virtual training session.

*** Dates and topics are subject to change. ***

August 30


4:30-5:30 pm

What Can I Expect from this Teacher Leadership Experience?
October 18


4:30-5:30 pm

What Does Cultural Competence and Responsiveness Look Like in My Classroom?


November 15


4:30-5:30 pm

How Does Education Policy Impact Me?
January 17


4:30-5:30 pm

What Am I Doing to Engage All Families Effectively?
March 14


4:30-5:30 pm

What Do I Need to Know About Supporting My Diverse Learners?
April 11


4:30-5:30 pm

How Do I Keep My Students Engaged All Year Long?
May 16


4:30-5:30 pm

How Do We Ensure that All Students Are Supported by Our Most Effective Teachers?


Regional Meeting: Location

Plan to attend one regional meeting per round. Choose the location nearest you. Plan to attend all of your required meetings.

Regional Meetings

September 12

September 13

September 19

September 20

September 26

September 27


Santa Fe

Las Vegas


Las Cruces



Regional Meetings

November 28

November 29

December 5

December 6

December 12

December 13


Santa Fe

Las Vegas


Las Cruces



Regional Meetings

February 12

February 13

February 19

February 20

February 26

February 27


Santa Fe

Las Vegas


Las Cruces



What are the benefits of becoming a School Liaison?

Participants gain a unique community of support through the NMTLN, opportunities to network with like-minded teaching professionals and PED staff, and share strategies, methods, and solutions to challenges. This is a voluntary opportunity to gain expertise and skills that will allow you to take on more formal teacher leadership roles. You can use your participation in the network as an artifact for your NMTEACH report.  Most importantly, you will participate in a movement – the first of its kind in New Mexico – to engage with PED and teachers across the state to raise the quality of instruction and outcomes for our students.

So, how do I join?

Follow the link to the form HERE.

Still have questions?

Contact Alicia and Kayli at

We can’t wait to hear from you!

-Kayli and Alicia

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Tennise Lucas

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Tennise Lucas

It is a big world out there, but I tell my students that they can do anything. In the words of Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” My job is not just to teach academics; but to help students navigate their lives while striving for their best.

I am a native Roswellite via Canada. I grew up between living in town and on my grandparents ranch in Lincoln County. This was my first classroom of sorts as I learned how to ride horses, brand cattle, and fix fences. Most of my education was in Roswell. After graduating from high school, several career changes, a bachelor’s degree, and the birth of my world; Echo, I decided to finally commit to teaching. This was not a decision I took lightly. I believe that the cornerstone of our country is our children, and the education they receive is vital.

My intentions were never to become a principal. One of my former superintendents once told me that if I didn’t like how things were going, I needed to be a principal. So, I was given an opportunity and received my leadership training through the National Institute for Student Leadership in conjunction with ENMU. This training was invaluable as it opened my eyes to the necessity for change in our educational system. I received a Master of Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. and my New Mexico Teacher’s Certificate from Eastern New Mexico University. Currently, I am a state representative for my district on the Secretary Teacher Advisory Council and one of the ambassadors for my school. My leadership roles include Superintendent Advisory Council, PD training, a mentor for other teachers, and school based leadership team. I am a fierce advocate for my students and passionate about their learning.

When not in the classroom, I am in a dance room. In 2003, I was an originating instructor of The Studio+. In 2005, I was certified in the discipline of Tap under board certification with the Texas Association Teachers of Dancing, Inc. I continue to work with children through tap and Irish dancing at the studio.

After fifteen years of teaching in both private and public school settings, I am not ready to leave the classroom. I will continue to work for teachers and my students in an attempt to help develop innovative, safe, and effective 21st century learning environments that will foster both academic and emotional well-being.

The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The 2017-18 school year was one of many milestones, celebrations, and achievements for public education in New Mexico.  It has been a year of unprecedented progress—from the Schoolhouse to the Roundhouse and everywhere in between.  Just last month, the largest Teacher Summit in our state’s history occurred with hundreds of educators coming together to equip, empower, and champion our profession and the new era of teacher leader voice in the Land of Enchantment.  That event featured the culmination of three years of work leading to the unveiling of the state’s first ever Teacher Preparation Scorecards and a giant push to ensure that more of our aspiring teachers are day one ready.  In May, we saw a first-of-its-kind $1 million grant to all of our districts and charters for teacher recruitment, record amounts of funding and students served in both Pre-K and K-3+, and final school turnaround plans established for some of the state’s most struggling schools backed by $2 million in additional support for each individual school.

This spring, the NM-True Straight-A Express Tour, an idea that came from a regional school board meeting in Tucumcari about a year earlier, made its final stop in Des Moines.  As that statewide tour of 60 districts and 122 schools came to a close, the launch of the first ever NM-True Excellence in Teaching Tour kicked off with early stops in Farmington and Bloomfield, where I witnessed high craft in Mr. Starr’s AP Physics class fueling the feeling of urgency that more and more students need to have access to that level of high quality, rigorous course content, and instruction.

Turns out we are on that path already.  In January, Governor Martinez announced record high numbers of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses and exams.  And more ground was broken in April when five New Mexico teacher-leaders from Las Cruces, Shiprock, Reserve, Albuquerque, and Texico delivered the keynote address at the annual Spring Budget Conference.  At that conference, there was even more good news to report as just one month earlier the Governor had signed HB-2 (“The Budget Bill”) which contained $115 million more for public education, bringing the total to $450 million more state dollars for public education during this administration.  That amount included funding for compensation increases across-the-board, and to support the bipartisan Senate Bill 119, increasing minimum teacher salaries at every licensure level.

There were other major milestones in 2017-18: Federal approval of New Mexico’s top-rated plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the adoption of best-in-class national standards (now effective as of July 1!) in both the arts and in science, less time on testing, and ten more instructional days added to the academic calendar, the expansion of the nation’s largest and highest-performing school turnaround networks (Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence), the trailblazing work being done by the Social Studies Dream Team, and the state’s inaugural Family Cabinet.  The ‘year that was’ saw more students taking the free PSAT exam and setting up their free individualized Khan Academy accounts and the Public Education Commission continuing to strengthen the state’s charter sector through difficult decisions around school closures, school openings, and the first-ever charter school replication.  None of this progress has been easy—it’s all hard-fought.

And high honors were bestowed upon some of our state’s best teachers: The Milken Award to Melanie Alfaro of Deming in December and – in one of my proudest moments on the job- the selection of Ivonne Orozco of Public Academy for the Performing Arts (PAPA) as the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year in October.  Without their leadership, and your leadership, we would not be where we are today.

Even with all of those highlights, perhaps nothing is more important than our recent announcement about our students’ academic progress over the past four years.  All credit goes to New Mexico’s teachers and support staff, parents and families, Superintendents and Charter Leaders, and many, many more for ushering in an era of exciting progress for kids in New Mexico.

Last week we announced that New Mexico’s students are demonstrating unprecedented academic progress in reading and math.  We have focused on improving our instructional practices and measuring progress, and more kids are truly on path to college and career.

Nearly a decade ago, the previous administration adopted higher college and career ready standards. Our districts, schools, educators, families, and students have risen to the challenge.  New Mexico now owns the unique distinction of having stayed the course, being independently-minded, and building upon our strong foundation and conviction about what every student can achieve.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • New Mexico’s student achievement gains over the past several years are substantial—since 2015, the entire state is up 4.7 percentage points in reading and 4.2 percentage points in math.  Every grade level is up in reading, and almost every grade level is up in math.
  • This means something real for students and families.  Since 2015, 24,000 more students, 11,000 more in math and 13,000 more in reading, are at grade level or above. 9,000 of those students grew to that level just in the last academic year, which was New Mexico’s fourth year of administration of the PARCC assessment.
  • We are proving that our students from all backgrounds can grow and achieve at higher levels.  Native American students are showing the most academic progress statewide—up 8.2% in reading—with Hispanic students, students from low income backgrounds, and English Learners all showing major gains.  Overall, the achievement gap is narrowing, a testament to our collective commitment to equity and access for all students.
  • Many districts that have embraced change and seized new opportunities are showing the most dramatic student achievement gains. It’s no coincidence that districts such as Farmington, Gallup, Hobbs, and Gadsden are leading the way. They have embraced a data-driven culture, talent recruitment and development, and meaningful accountability and support.  Farmington, Gallup, and Hobbs were also early adopters of Principals Pursuing Excellence—one of the largest and most successful school turnaround networks in the country.  These are districts that put more money directly into the classroom and do not shy away from innovation or difficult conversations that need to be had.
  • Farmington is now the top-performing school district in reading amongst the state’s ten largest districts—up nearly 15 percentage points in reading since 2015.  Gadsden has shown the most growth in mathematics, up nearly nine percentage points since 2015.
  • Eighteen of the state’s 20 largest districts are up in reading. Over the last eight years, New Mexico made heavy investments and put a major focus on early literacy as the foundation for all student success.  Many students started their academic careers under more rigorous standards, participated in early literacy programs, and have grown over time.  There is promise for the future if New Mexico remains on this trajectory—if so there will continue to be new generations of rising readers.
  • Districts like Los Lunas, Central Consolidated, Lovington, Artesia, Texico, Clovis, and Roswell represent a second wave of districts following this same trend. They have embraced higher standards, individualized instruction through PSAT/Khan Academy, are investing more money directly into the classroom, and understand the power of regular formative and interim assessments at the local level.
  • And there is so much to learn from high-performing and fast-growing schools like Gil Sanchez Elementary in Belen, like Union Elementary in West Las Vegas, like Explore Academy and North Valley Academy in Albuquerque, like Mesquite Elementary in Gadsden. These are schools that have demonstrated double-digit gains through innovation and excellence in instruction.  There are dozens of other examples of schools that are “beating the odds”, myth-busting around what is possible for every child, and creating beacons of excellence from which we can draw inspiration and best practices.  Our student achievement results are on the rise because of schools like these…

It is clear; the student achievement data shows that New Mexico’s students are on the rise.  These examples across the state serve as a reminder of that.  We should be proud of the progress districts and charters across the state have shown—and celebrate them.

It’s also becoming more and more evident to all that we, as a community of educators, must keep momentum and a laser-focus on improving instructional practice:

It is an honor to work alongside all of you each day on behalf of our kids and an exciting moment to be working in public education in New Mexico.  Please stay tuned for more information on how we will continue to celebrate success and champion progress, while we also constantly look for ways in which we can better serve our students.  It’s BOTH/AND, almost never EITHER/OR if we want to ensure that New Mexico is the fastest growing state in the country by 2020 and beyond.

Meanwhile, we prepare for our students to arrive in just a few short weeks for 2018-19.

Congratulations.  Onward.

Secretary Ruszkowski

Highlights from the Third Annual NM Teacher Summit

Highlights from the Third Annual NM Teacher Summit

In case you missed it, June 18th and 19th marked our Third Annual NM Teacher Summit. The event was a huge success with over 1000 teachers from all over the state coming together to celebrate one another and continue to grow in their craft and career.

Check out our highlights from the Third Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit:

  1. Summit Stats

Here are some exciting data points from the Summit.

  • Total number of teachers: over 1000
  • Total number of sessions offered: 244
  • Total number of presenters: 154
  • Total number of learning lounge tables: 49

  1. Teacher-Led and-Supported Sessions

This year’s summit provided teachers with 100% teacher-led or teacher-supported sessions. Each session was presented by a teacher or by a content-area expert supported by one or more teachers. This commitment to teacher-led content inspired the theme of the Summit: Teaching with Purpose. This theme conveys the New Mexico Public Education Department’s (NMPED) theory of action for teacher leadership: if the NMPED equips, empowers, and champions teachers; the teachers will in turn equip, empower, and champion students.

  1. Twice as Many Unique Session Topics as Last Year’s Summit

In addition to meeting the goal of increasing attendance at this year’s Summit, the NMPED is also committed to increasing the amount of unique content offered. This year’s Summit doubled the number of unique sessions offered to teachers, thus creating a very rich and diverse learning experience.

  1. General Sessions Focused on Classroom Practice

This year, each general session was anchored in the theme “Teaching with Purpose”. Within that theme, there were four sub-themes: MY PURPOSE, MY STORY, MY GIFTS, and MY MISSION. Teachers sat with the same table group for each of the four general sessions, fostering relationships and creating networking opportunities. Within this relationship and network building model, each table group used a Bloom’s Taxonomy foldable to process, explore, and create through what they learned in the break-out sessions.

  1. New Way to Connect with the Secretary of Education

This year’s summit included a “coffee clutch” with Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski. When teachers registered for the Summit, they were asked: “What is one thing you would like to say to Secretary Ruszkowski?”. Those questions were then picked at random and answered by the Secretary in a townhall setting. This event was attended by about a third of Summit attendees.

  1. New Pre-Summit Event: The Learning Lounge

This year, the NMPED provided a pre-Summit event called the Learning Lounge. The Learning Lounge took place on the first day in the Summit, before the opening session and was comprised of informal teaching and sharing by community partners, district and school leaders, or teachers at tables in the lower-level area of the convention center.

  1. Teacher Leaders Leading the Charge

Our NM Teacher Leaders were in force at the Summit. They supported the NMPED in planning and organization of and assisted their colleagues at the big event. Some of our teacher leaders even led breakout sessions. This was truly our vision come to life. Teachers equipping, empowering and championing their peers.

The NM Teacher Summit equipped, empowered, and championed our teachers, but don’t take our word for it. Check out what teachers had to say about the event:

“Absolutely fantastic! Relative to what I want to do in my classroom.”
-Texico Teacher

“Very informative, innovative, and helps me to improve my teaching. Perfect! Excellent!”
-Gadsden Teacher

“I learned a lot and was thrilled with the information that I received that I can take back with me.”
-Albuquerque Teacher

“I enjoyed collaborating with other teachers and gained some really great ideas that I can use in my classroom.”
-Farmington Teacher

“Exactly the type of professional development I needed with practical ideas that also stimulated my creativity. ”
-Cimmaron Teacher

“I felt appreciated and motivated!!!”
-Roswell Teacher

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Alysha Wagley

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Alysha Wagley

I love watching students’ belief in themselves and their own strengths and talents grow as they improve and find their own paths in life. Teaching to me, goes far beyond the imparting of knowledge; it is helping each student reach their potential. The students of today are our future, so it is important that we lead them to be the most prepared and well-rounded citizens we can.

I am blessed to teach high school Language Arts and history in the tiny community of Animas, NM. Animas is a rural, agriculture community in the “Bootheel” of NM. We are the farthest school south and west in NM serving approximately 180 students PK-12 with under 80 in our 7-12 high school. It is the same school where my Dad, brother, and I all attended. I grew up on my family farm driving tractors, chopping cotton, and raising show pigs. My husband Sam now works on the farm, and my three boys are now learning the same valuable skills and life lessons I learned growing up here. My boys are the fifth generation to work this land and hopefully won’t be the last. I am as proud to be a farm girl as I am a teacher.

A small school allows me to be lucky enough to have many of my students multiple times throughout the day and then after school for Drama or Mock Trial Practice. These hours together give me a greater opportunity to truly get to know my students. I am very invested in my students and enjoy helping them hone their natural talents and improve their skills in and out of the classroom.

As a young girl, my mother instilled in me the importance of living a life of service. I grew up learning the value of giving back and serving my community through 4-H, FFA and Epsilon Sigma Alpha ( As a teacher, it is that love of service that continues to drive me as I strive to instill the appreciation and reward of giving in my students. Two years ago, I chartered a youth chapter for Epsilon Sigma Alpha International (ESA). This is an organization where I continue to facilitate opportunities for teenagers to perform service in our community, raise money for charities and learn the importance of being a humanitarian. These mirror the lessons I try to teach in my student-led classroom and whole-child approach to teaching. I love seeing my students take ownership of their learning while helping them to value not only the content but its application to their future. There is no greater pleasure or pride than watching my students shine, whether that is in the classroom, on the stage or in a mock courtroom. Those are the moments I treasure most and the moments I encourage the teachers I mentor to hold on to when they hit a brick wall or feel overwhelmed with frustrations. As teachers, we must remember we are shaping the future of all professions. I can only hope that one day my students love their own professions as much as I love mine!

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Monica Nunez

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Monica Nunez

I walk into my classroom everyday with the drive to inspire my students to set high expectations for themselves. With hard work and dedication, they can dream big and find their own success.

Being the first high school graduate in my family was a major accomplishment. Without the support of teachers and faculty at Santa Teresa High School, I would not have been able to graduate at the top 5% of my class, with a full academic scholarship.  This is my purpose for teaching at the same high school that I graduated from. I want to be that teacher that inspires students to find their own future success.

At New Mexico State University I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum & Instruction. One of my goals was always to return to my community to help students like myself.   I have been working as a teacher for 12 years now.  During my time at Gadsden Independent School District I have provided not just the teaching of subjects, but I have also guided my students towards setting and achieving their own future goals.

Teaching has always been a passion. I taught fourth grade for seven years at Santa Teresa Elementary.  During this time, I was able to be a part of a strong community that involved teachers, parents, and students.  By working hard we received a National Blue Ribbon Schools Award in 2010 by former President Barack Obama.  We were the first school from Gadsden Independent School District to receive this distinction.

As a science teacher at Santa Teresa High School, I continue to challenge my students and help them set goals to graduate. I am always looking for opportunities to broaden my students’ experiences.  I want them to see the world that exists outside of our community.

Some of my recognitions for teaching have been a TRIO New Mexico State Alumni Achiever Award and a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. As part of the fellowship, I worked with National Geographic by taking an expedition to Antarctica.  I was then able to share this experience with my students, school and local community.  This experience has broaden my own perspective of the world and how to teach my own students beyond our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert.

I always dreamed of going to the white continent. As a teacher, I was able to accomplish my dream.  My purpose as a teacher is to have students see me as a source of inspiration to accomplish their own dreams.  I always tell my students that if I can accomplish my dreams, they can, too.

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Silvia Miranda

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Silvia Miranda

A great teacher touches the life of a child forever.  Be that teacher. Every day.

This marks my 10th year teaching, and I have never been more invigorated and passionate about my career!  I pursued my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Bilingual Education in 2004, and I received my Masters in Education specializing in Literacy in 2013.  My first teaching job was as a kindergarten teacher in a rural Title I School in Clovis.  Being a military wife, I moved to a different school every year for the first five years of my career.   While not teaching consecutively in one district or grade level had its drawbacks, it provided me with the opportunity to teach diverse populations and learn from colleagues from around the country.  I taught grades K-3 in different schools in NM and OK, including bilingual programs at dual language schools. I finally settled back home (Clovis, NM), where I have taught 4th grade at Mesa Elementary School for the past five years.  I serve as a member of the NMDASH team at my school, and as the Literacy Leader for my building.  I am a mentor to first year/beginning teachers, and work as a Peer Coach to teachers around my district.  One of the highlights of my career has been traveling to Washington D.C. in representation of my school to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award.  I work hard to provide my students the best education possible.  This year I wrote and won a grant to provide STEM resources and experiences to my students, and I put together the Spanish Spelling Bee and a BananaGram Tournament to reach my out of the box thinkers.   

As an educator, I am committed to being a life-long learner.  Two years ago, I became an Ambassador of the NM Teacher Leader Network.  This coming year, I will participate as a Teacher Leader in my district’s own Teacher Leader Network!  

If you walk into my classroom, you will witness students actively engaged and leading their own learning.  I have implemented whole brain teaching mixed in with growth mindset strategies, resulting in a classroom full of productivity, positivity, and possibility! I love my job, and nothing makes me happier than a classroom full of eager minds! 

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Every morning my Chaparral, NM, students stand and wait for their school bus on unpaved dusty road sides that border the narrow fractured streets; careful to avoid street cars, getting pinched by looming cactus, or running into unleashed aggressive dogs. The earliest school bus arrives at Desert Trail Elementary by 7:30 am.  “Will we have schedule X?” students immediately ask as they step off the bus and see that the winds begin to pick up and a gray curtain of dust is seen on the horizon.  My 5th graders walk through the main building to the side doors, once again stepping outside to walk towards their classroom portable.

As soon as students step into the portable, they drop off their backpacks on their desks. Each group of tables is aligned using the 2 inch wide worn out tears that run across the brown Berber carpet.  Students quickly set up the 3 classroom computers. Until recently, we had four before one of them became a permanent freeze frame.  “It’s too windy, we probably will not be able to use the internet today,” the students remind me as I keep clicking on the district website and receive the notice to check my network connection.

Another group of students take the plastic colored baskets to begin handing out their composition notebooks that are essential in our Balanced Literacy classroom. These notebooks help us with crucial organization because as a true, self contained Dual Language setting, students do all their work in both English and Spanish.  The mismatched donated metal shelves, refurbished wood stand, and black plastic containers hold our partial classroom materials.  We might not have new furniture or complete resources; however we have a positive learning environment and strong initiative to improve.

From day one, I inform my students that they will grow both academically and as individuals, despite the dismal setting. They’re smiles turned into squinting eyes of concern when I mentioned they would need to work to the best of their abilities and that they would be required to present in front of small and large crowds. “I have volunteered you to present at the first district board meeting taking place in a couple of weeks,” I enthusiastically mentioned to my students on the first day of their 5th grade school year. They immediately knew that I was going to set high-expectations for them, every day, all year long.

As soon as I receive students’ data, even before I meet them, I see the possibilities within. My students’ academic levels are diverse; on top of learning a second language they face many hurdles. For this reason, it is my goal to show my students that their education represents much more that just academics; it represents self worth and advocacy.  By being active participants in our education, collecting, documenting, and analyzing our own data we learn to self reflect and create goals that can support overall growth.

My students, colleagues, and I work hard to see positive outcomes, and we know that collaboration is an important part of success. As a partner teacher of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship Educators for High Standards, I received additional support to help my students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach them the value of testing themselves.

“You are not a number, but we need to use these numbers to monitor our growth. We need to use data to study what we are doing and what we can do to improve as learners,” I make sure to reinforce to my students.  During our first Student/Parent/Teacher Conference, as parents and students walked into our classroom to have a conversation about academic gains and needs, the importance to set educational goals and for students to know and reflect on their own learning is reinforced. Only a small percentage of students’ parents may be able to understand and analyze their child’s data. “Usted sabe maestra, yo nunca fui buena estudiante, así que yo quiero que ella sea mejor,” the majority of the parents comment on how they were never good students and want their child to be better. Parents place this desire of their children improving in the hands of the teachers. Parents need to be students’ best educational advocates, but with limited understanding this advocacy can be diminished. My plan as part of the Aim High Teacher Fellowship is to instill the importance of setting high standard goals and prepare ourselves to accomplish them.

Teaching students to be self advocates takes time and perseverance, to help your students reach their highest potential. For me, as well as for many teachers, time is an obstacle, for this reason I create a schedule that helps smooth transitions and allows for effective student learning, collaboration, and time for self reflection. When my students are given the initiative to provide feedback on classroom management and instruction, it promotes self awareness and ownership. “My behavior during class time is getting  better, because I don’t talk loud like if I have a microphone,” Leslie explains in her data folder after acknowledging that when she speaks loudly it can affect the learning of others.  Providing students with tools to be responsible for their own data and learn how analyze it, will create self advocates.

Watching my students explain their own learning process and goals to their parents, I could see how impressed and proud their parents felt knowing their children could read their own information.   My own mother only had a second grade education in Mexico.    I relate to how parents may not understand the data being presented to them concerning their child because this was my own experience.

“Mrs. Rios did you already check on my reading test. Did I complete the next level?” asked Keera during our conference. Mom quickly looked at her with a slight tilt of her head and low tone reprimanded, “Keera…”  “It’s okay. I teach my students to ask questions and check with me on grades, assignments, assessments…after all they are the ones who do the work,” I quickly replied.  I need for my students to know that I will do the best I can to support them, but they too need to apply themselves and work to make our efforts worthwhile.

To make sure my students’ academic efforts demonstrate results, I consider all aspects of their learning. I have to keep in mind their proficiency level as English Language Learners and consider that assessments are becoming more rigorous.  My students and I use data and relevant information to redirect instruction if needed, allowing for an opportunity to modify problem-solving strategies.  As teachers, the availability of data prompts us to reflect on our instruction and should do the same for our students.  Reflection can promote and help develop higher level thinking.

Throughout the school year, proficiency levels need to be reviewed, recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon. In order for students to properly reflect on their own data, I guide them through the process of purposeful reflection. It is crucial to promote a supportive, safe, and encouraging classroom environment.  “I went up another level on my Reading test.  This time I made sure to not get distracted,” Mari proudly commented as her classmates gave her a round of applause.   This year I intentionally provide time for students to reflect and form inquiries regarding their learning style, instruction and/or learning needs, instruction and/or learning strengths, and reasons or evidence of results.

Student reflection can be challenging due to time, availability of data (limited or overload), different academic levels, different learning styles, and limited parent availability and/or understanding of educational standards. In order to accomplish the challenge of generating a reflective student environment I had to:

  • Identify data sets for students to analyze.
  • Become flexible with time or schedule time for student data self analysis. (Use district Scope and Sequence dates.)
  • Differentiate for students to understand how data can support their academic gains.
  • Promote an environment of inquiry and peer support.
  • Create reflective journal, data collection sheets, and provide guiding questions to ensure students’ self-reflections stay focused on achieving educational gains.
  • Students set goals that encourage high standards.
  • Provide opportunities and options for parents to participate in data analysis and learn how to support their child.


The Aim High Fellowship challenged me to use data intentionally and teach my students how to use it to set goals and also made it possible to partner with a professional athlete who knows how important it is to set and achieve goals. My students could not believe their mentor for their 5th grade school year would be former NFL record breaking wide receiver Rocket Ismail who played for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.  Being a part of the Aim High Fellowship helped me as I created a game plan for success that gave us that extra push that many of my students needed.

The partnership with an NFL player was a motivating factor for my students, but the personal connection I developed with my students through the goal setting and practice was even more of a catalyst for academic momentum. “I feel better knowing you are her teacher,” were the words Maria’s mother gave me on the first day of school.  Maria came into my 5th grade Dual Language classroom reading at a beginning 3rd grade level in English and beginning 4th grade level in Spanish.  Figuring out what was the piece missing in order to make academic gains was a challenging task. I quickly learned that Maria does best when working at her own pace and is open to new strategies, and resources. .  Her motivation and sense of responsibility helps her keep track of her work and pace how far she can go.  I also make sure I am ready to go to the next level when she feels she is ready. Being in a Dual Language classroom means that there is double assessments and this can be overwhelming for a child.  Knowing how to monitor this is essential to have the best outcomes.  Maria’s willingness to work has become her signature move.  I am proud to say Maria’s online assessment states she is “Performing as an average 6th grade student who took this test in July.”  She is also demonstrating 5th grade level competency in math.  In our classroom book, Maria included a dedication to our Aim High partner athlete Rocket Ismail: “I want to dedicate this story to Rocket Ismail who inspired me to not give up on the hardest moments or to not get nervous when something happens.”

Maria’s note to Mr. Ismail: “Mr. Rocket, remember the first time some of our classmates asked you questions? I was one of the students that asked you a question.  I asked how I could not be nervous and shy because I was shy.  Our class was planning to compete in a Literacy Festival and I was so shy that I said ‘NO’ on the permission paper, but Mrs. Rios told me to take the paper back home and think about it.  I thought about it and finally said ‘YES’.  The days passed, and finally it was time to compete.  Three of my classmates and I presented Spanish Choral Reading.  We all came out with first place medals.  I want to thank you Mrs. Rocket and Mrs. Rios for inspiring me and helping me.  I want to thank you both for that.”

“I am the light, I am the answer, I am the solution, and I am the remedy!” Students chanted in unison as Rocket Ismail delivered his motivational speech to a cafeteria full of wide-eyed elementary students during his visit to our school. This statement empowers students to reflect on their potential.  It embodies our classroom challenge to develop self reflection skills that enhance our listening, planning and implementation of strategies that can help us see that academic struggles can aid us in measuring and supporting our growth as learners. “I felt myself trembling and holding back tears. I wanted to cry because I felt so happy”, students nodded in agreement as Javier shared his experience from listening to the speech.

As I looked out during this assembly, I saw my future, past, and current students mesmerized by the strong reassuring voice that delivered a message of optimism and strength. My mind went back to my childhood years where just like many of my students I was an English Language Learner that came from a struggling, single-parent family and had overwhelming responsibilities for a child. I know firsthand that education is a way out of economic and/or home life insufficiencies. So, as we begin to experience accomplishments, we don’t remember the decrepit computers and the brown carpet, but we rejoice in the students’ success.

In a teacher’s life there are many stories of success as well as scenarios where weakness can become part of our thoughts. The feeling of weakness can come when the curriculum we need to follow is not well understood, or it does not provide the sufficient resources we need to search, create, and/or purchase. Weakness creeps in when our students’ home life is a struggle, and we feel we have not done enough when our students do not perform to the standards they are required. This feeling takes hold when students’ parents are not well-informed or involved in their child’s life. The feeling of weakness can come when our colleagues lose motivation in our profession, and we do not find the words and/or actions to improve these feelings.  Many things throughout our lives can be a challenge, but striving to improve is the driving force to create life-changing goals and outcomes.  We have to AIM HIGH!