Category: Champion

Our goal is to champion New Mexico teachers’ success and an inspiring vision for the profession in the 21st century, so that they, in turn, can champion the success of their students.

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

The Release of School Grades

School Grades were recently released to the public.

Our school accountability system has earned a lot of praise for being clear and understandable for families—and this year our reports are even more family friendly following our yearlong ESSA tour. Check out the great coverage all over the state in the ABQ Journal, the Associated Press, KOAT, KOB, KRQE, the Deming Headlight, the Carlsbad Current Argus, the Farmington Daily News, and the Alamogordo Daily News.  The story on Gil Sanchez Elementary might be my favorite yet as we seek to identify and scale best practices across the state.

Background on School Grading

School Grading is part of state and federal statute that mandates accountability for all public schools.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally enacted in 1965, requires schools to show annual improvement in mathematics and reading. In 2011, New Mexico lawmakers enacted additional requirements that schools demonstrate progress through a grading system similar to that applied to students, A-B-C-D-F.

School Grades provide a consistent measure (now over six years) for all public schools across the state so that we can see which schools are doing well and which schools are struggling and need support.

Working for Success

Schools that embrace change, get results. School improvement is a CHOICE. Our districts and schools that continue to embrace change and new opportunities for kids are continuing to see success.

Our 15 largest districts are serving more than 60% of students in the state. The following large districts are examples of those that have embraced change over the years and are now showing strong improvements – not only increasing the number of “A” schools within their districts – but also by drastically reducing the amount of “F” schools within their districts:

  • Farmington has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 6% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   In 2012, Farmington had no “A” schools, today 37% of its schools are “A” schools

  • Gadsden has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 9% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 4%

  • Alamogordo has eliminated “F” schools.

o   In 2012, 13% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 14%

Our Students Deserve Better

Our most struggling students deserve better. Many of NM’s schools are not doing a good job serving their lowest performing students that are well below grade level in math and reading.

Here’s what we can do, together, about the growing divide of schools on the rise and those that are not making progress or are sliding backwards:

  1. When schools are struggling, they can choose to improve.  Over the past five years, New Mexico has invested significant resources and developed proven programs and that are getting results for kids.  Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE) and Teacher Pursuing Excellence (TPE) are two examples of those—school turnaround programs available for struggling schools that are ready to change and grow.
  2. Under NM’s top-rated State ESSA Plan, districts are required to take action when a school persistently earns “F’s” 4, 5 or 6 years in a row.  Several of New Mexico’s schools will be under the umbrella of the “More Rigorous Interventions” category—which requires district’s to choose a different path forward.
  3. When our kids are trapped in persistently failing schools, they have options under state law.  Students enrolled in schools that have earned two “F” grades in the last four years have the right to attend a different school.
  4. When charter schools are persistently “D” and “F”, the NM PED has a moral and educational responsibility to recommend to the Public Education Commission (PEC) that their charter be considered for revocation.

What You Can Do

The release of school grades can be an exciting time for some, but we also recognize it can be a sobering time for others.

If your school received a lower grade, put yourself in the shoes of a student who received a similar grade. What would you say to them? How would you encourage them? What immediate actions would you ask them to take? Give yourself (and any colleagues that need it) the same advice.

Once you’ve processed, here are easy and quick ways to start leaning in as a teacher, to lead toward improvement:

  1. Next time you see your principal, let them know you are ready and willing to help. Ask them what you can do to help improve!
  2. Dive into the full School Grade Report, not just the first page. Identify ONE thing to celebrate and ONE area for improvement.
  3. BE A GREAT TEACHER. Dive into your student level data, identify what your kiddos need and deliver. Your students can have a positive impact on the whole school’s grade.
  4. Last, but not least. Remember, we at the NM PED are here to help! We can provide a pick me up, encouragement or expert help! Just ask!

Hear It From Teachers

Check out what teachers around NM have to say about their school’s grade.

My school went from a D to a C….. we know we are moving up to a B next year!  We are positive! We are working harder than ever….. although our amazing principal did say in today’s meeting…. “It’s not about our grade, it’s about making sure we are preparing these students!”  So, in reality, our prayer and hope to move to a B, is just our journey and knowing we are doing everything we can to get these kiddos moving in the right direction!  Work hard…. 3 year old program- to our 6th grade programs. Just work hard!  Hurley Elementary School, Cobre Consolidated Schools

Deming Intermediate went from an F to being less than 2 points away from a C.  So proud of my school!!! Deming Intermediate School, Deming Public Schools

We went up, in both our elementary and middle school, from a D to a B!!!!!  Pretty dang proud of our students and staff! Eagle Nest Elementary and Middle School, Cimarron Public Schools

My school went from a D to a C. We as a school are prepared to work even harder to move up to a B or even an A. Colinas del Norte Elementary School, Rio Rancho Public Schools

Our little school went back up to an A as well. The staff is excited and so are the kids! Reserve High School, Reserve Public Schools

Our school moved up from a D to a C, missing a B by 5 points. We are determined to get that B or A next year. We are the largest school in SFPS with the highest ELL and Special Learning population in the district! We are so proud of our students and teachers! Capital High School, Santa Fe Public Schools

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

New Mexico MESA students from Deming High School are celebrating another huge accomplishment. At the 2017 MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition in Philadelphia, the Deming High School team again won first place honors.

The team captain, David Velez, Junior, Deming High, said “We entered the competition with one goal in mind, to defend our National Championship, and we did just that! Back to Back National Champions – it’s a dream come true.” His teammate, Adrian Luna had a sense of relief after the competition. He said “I didn’t realize the level of skill and talent we were going to compete against. I was totally nervous but we did it. Repeat national champions!” The other two teammates, Adriana Darrow and Antoni Varela and advisor, David Jaramillo could hardly contain their excitement.

The New Mexico middle school team was successful also. They came in 2nd place after California. It was so close in the scoring (8 point difference) between the 1st place and 2nd place. But these young men of Chaparral Middle School from Chaparral, NM took the whole experience in with wide lenses. The team of Kevin Ramos, Alfredo Sepulveda, and Luis Jimenez shared they will be back to take the 1st place trophy back to Chaparral. Their advisor, Rina Viramontes said “The competition gave my students the opportunity to work on a real world problem and accomplish something that they felt good about.  They worked with tools and computer applications that college students are working with. The students worked hard and I am extremely proud of them.”

The engineering challenge is to build a prosthetic arm within a certain budget and under a certain weight. The arm has to perform tasks such as relocating objects, throwing objects at a target, and screwing a nut onto a bolt through a wood board, totally under the command of a microprocessor using computer programming. The competition does not stop there. Each team is required to write a 5 – 15 page technical paper, create a poster display, and develop a 10 minute oral presentation.

The New Mexico teams competed against other MESA teams from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois.

NM MESA’s mission is to “Empower and motivate New Mexico’s culturally diverse students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enrichment.”

NM MESA is a year-round, multi-year, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiative that works with school districts and higher education institutions to improve NM student STEM performance; increase NM college STEM enrollment; and provide hands-on STEM competitions.

For more on NM MESA, click HERE.

For more on what NM PED offers regarding STEM, click HERE.

Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

In case you missed it, June 26th and 27th marked our Second Annual NM Teacher Summit. The event was huge success with 1,000 teachers from all over the state coming together to celebrate one another and continue to grow in their craft and career.

Check out the 10 Ten things about the 2nd Annual Teacher Summit:

  1. 1,000 attendees

    This year, the summit grew to 3x the size of last year. It was a true joy to see 1,000 teachers gathered full of positivity and excitement! Two years ago, the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory said they wanted a summer conference, we would never have dreamed that just two years later we’d be standing on stage looking at a crowd of 1,000 teachers!

  2. Improved Communication

    In my role, I often hear from teachers that they feel “out of the loop”. I had many conversations over two days in which teachers said they finally feel like they know what is going on and feel included in the path ahead!

  3. Acting Secretary Ruszkowski’s first keynote address

    It was great to see Acting Secretary Ruszkowski deliver his first ever keynote address as Acting Secretary during the Summit’s opening session and to learn more about his personal story and passion for education. Later, he spent time in small group sessions with teachers answering tough questions with finesse and commitment. Teachers really enjoyed meeting one on one.

  4. New Teacher Leader Opportunities

    We shared so many opportunities for teachers to be change agents for education in New Mexico at the Summit. Teach Plus shared their application for the 2nd cohort of the New Mexico Teach Plus Fellowship. The New Mexico Literacy Dream Team shared the 36 close reading lesson plans and announced the launch of the 2nd New Mexico Dream Team which will focus on Social Studies. Stay tuned for the application. We also announced the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network and the 2nd Cohort of the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. The 2nd Cohort of the STA will be selected by the end of the month and the application with for the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network will be out this Fall.

  5. Empowered Teachers 

    Through the course of the conference we were able to see teachers realize that they have so much power to impact change for their students and schools. I really enjoyed watching teachers lean into their power as teachers and begin to empower others.

  6. Secretary Skandera’s Final Interview with Romy Drucker from The 74 Million

    Although her last day on the job was June 20th, Secretary Skandera was present at the New Mexico Teacher Summit and did a final interview with the CEO of the online education site, The 74 Million, Romy Drucker. Secretary Skandera reflected on her time in New Mexico, shared her lessons learned, and thanked the teachers for attending and creating so many opportunities for teachers to be equipped, empowered and championed.

  7. National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee 

    It was such an honor to have the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, join us for the Summit. Sydney delivered the keynote address at our celebration dinner on night 1 of the summit. During her keynote, Sydney talked about the power of teacher voice and encouraged all teachers to get involved.

  8. More than 36 awesome break out sessions

    PED Staff and external partners came together to host more than 36 breakout sessions on everything form iStation and PARCC, to Teacher Evaluation and School Grades, small group sessions with Acting Secretary Ruszkowski and focus groups on new literacy programs. We also had sessions on Teacher Leader opportunities, Curriculum and Lesson Planning and so much more. All sessions were kicked off by a teacher leader, which was a great way to highlight their effort and commitment.

  9. #NMTeacherSummit

    We had a blast following teacher’s favorite moments and take-aways on Twitter. Participants were encouraged to interact using #NMTeacherSummit allowing others to follow along.

  10. Teachers Leading

    Our teacher leaders were in force at the Summit. They introduced every break out session, introduced every keynote speakers, led teacher shout outs from the stage and assisted their colleagues. Some of our teacher leaders even led break out sessions. This was truly our vision come to life. Teachers equipping, empowering and championing their peers. It was the highlight of my career to watch it unfold.

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

Santa Fe Teacher

I had an amazing time these past two days! I truly believe that we are on a positive path in New Mexico! 

Las Cruces Teacher

The Summit made me realize I need to get out of my comfort zone after 28 years of teaching. I can’t wait to get the STA application in my hand, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll apply for the School Liaison. There is so much work to be done, and I want to be part of it!!! 

Albuquerque Teacher

This girl is on FIRE! Based on two of the breakout sessions, I have revamped my first two weeks of lessons. Inquiry based life science with argumentation discussions based on Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning. I am so excited! Also, I’m hoping to take these ideas back to my site and share with my colleagues. Between the STEM Symposium and The Summit, I am fired up! Thank you NMPED and our teacher leaders! 

Artesia Teacher

It was so enjoyable to spend two days in such a positive atmosphere. 

Texico Teacher

I have of being a part of something so incredibly dynamic and motivating! From the beginning to the end, I felt that I was involved in something transformative and inspired. The general sessions were all inclusive and uniting, and the break outs supported so many varied personal interests. The two days were uplifting and affirming as an educator. I feel valued and respected, heard and recognized, and most of all, championed. 

We hope to see you at next year’s Teacher Summit! Date to come soon!

To find resources and presentations from the teacher summit click here.

ICYMI: Ruszkowski Is A Game-Changer

ICYMI: Ruszkowski Is A Game-Changer

Mr. R was my seventh-grade civics teacher, and then my eighth-grade U.S. history teacher.

We called (New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski) Mr. R because, you know, Ruszkowski was too difficult for most of us to pronounce. Most of us were first-generation kids born in north Miami to Caribbean immigrants, so needless to say his last name wasn’t too common. Neither was his teaching style: He was a well-versed, well-prepared teacher who taught us to think critically by both embracing and challenging the traditional middle-school social studies curriculum. Sure, he made sure that we mastered the basics – but he also introduced us to Bruce Springsteen, Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and the Roots television mini-series of 1977, which was quite the revelation for many of us. He delivered his lesson plans for his seventh- and eighth-graders using literature, music, art, culture and media.

It was a learning experience unlike anything before. I learned about American political campaigns by running in a mock class election and losing to this popular kid, Victor, who was weak on policy but got the “mock media” to smear me. I dissected songs on the radio for political meaning. I learned that there were two sides, at minimum, to every social and economic issue – and was always frustrated that Mr. R would never tell us his opinion on any political issue! Later, in eighth grade, I ushered my family down the Oregon Trail – and learned what it was like for those who ventured west for a better life, and empathized with them.

Mr. R imparted in us a special appreciation for different kinds of culture and perspectives on the country and the world – cultural lessons that were outside of my “traditional” Jamaican and Lebanese home-grown roots.

With his guidance and letter of recommendation, I was one of a few kids from north Miami accepted to MAST Academy. At the time, MAST Academy was one of the top 50 high schools in the United States and situated in one of the most expensive ZIP codes, Key Biscayne, Fla. Now I was surrounded by some of the sharpest kids in the district, and I raised my game – just like Mr. R said I would. And right after high school, I interned with him at Miami Teaching Fellows, where I saw what it looked like to be an entrepreneur who fights inside the system for better outcomes for kids like me. Later on, with his mentorship and yet another letter of recommendation, I went on to study Economics and Government at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I raised my game again – and graduated with honors in a little over three years.

Today, I’m a junior executive at a Fortune 200 company.

It is an honor and a blessing to have been one of Mr. R’s students. He is more than my former middle school teacher – he is now a lifelong mentor and someone I can call about big life decisions. And I now recognize more than ever that opportunities for upward mobility are not readily available to the students of minorities and low-income families without great teachers and access to great schools. He taught me to write persuasively, recommended great books to read by Caribbean authors, and gave me the confidence to go after something bigger than the standards society often imposed on me and other students like me.

These opportunities might not have existed without Mr. R. His expectations for me were higher than my expectations were for myself – I can’t wait to see what that means for the kids of New Mexico.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on Sunday, July 2nd. 

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Dear Teachers of New Mexico’s Kids,

It’s been nearly seven years since we first started this journey together in New Mexico. And it’s been a joy and the utmost privilege to serve under Governor Susana Martinez and serve our great state. During this time, we’ve accomplished and fundamentally changed public education in New Mexico.  Together, we now have systems for providing great information for families, communities and educators—and there are unprecedented supports for students and educators to close gaps and provide access and opportunity for all.  Most importantly, we’ve established a new trajectory for success for every child regardless of zip code or circumstance.

While there are always lessons learned looking back, and while recognizing the work for our kids is never done looking forward, I am truly grateful to each one of you who has championed your kids and communities, managed and embraced change for kids in a relatively short amount of time, and continue to fight for all that is possible for your students. Please know that I will continue to support this work and cheer you on and whole-heartedly wish the best for you and the students and families you serve.  Thank you for your commitment, your partnership, and your willingness to put our kids first.

As leaders you know that you are only as good as your team. I am humbled by the team at the PED. It has been a privilege to serve alongside them in doing this work. They have given their hearts and lives with passion and purpose. I am proud of them and proud of what they will continue to do. Specifically, I am excited about passing the baton to Christopher Ruszkowski, my successor. He is as committed to kids and their success as anyone I have ever known. He will not only keep fighting the good fight, he will build on the strong foundation New Mexico has and make it even stronger. If you do not already know CR and the amazing team here at the PED, please know just how deeply they are committed to serving our state and our kids.

It has been an honor. Thank you for the opportunity to serve alongside of you. I wish you the very best going forward and know without a shadow of a doubt that you will continue to do great things!

With gratitude,
Hanna

This letter was originally shared with New Mexico teachers via email from Secretary Skandera on June 20, 2017.

INCYMI: New Mexico’s Teacher Summit featured on Education Post

INCYMI: New Mexico’s Teacher Summit featured on Education Post

In case you miss it, today Education Post featured a guest post by our very own Teacher Liaison, Alicia Duran! The post discusses teacher leadership work in New Mexico and highlights the upcoming Teacher Summit.

If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here:
In Just 72 Hours This Summit Dedicated to Empowering Teachers Sold Out

Secretary Skandera Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week

Secretary Skandera Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week

This letter was written by Secretary Hanna Skandera to honor New Mexico’s teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week and was originally published by the Albuquerque Journal on Monday, May 8th, 2017 at 12:02am.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in New Mexico – a perfect opportunity to reflect on the tremendous impact our teachers have in helping every New Mexico child have a chance to succeed in life. Every child in New Mexico – no matter their background – can learn, and the more we stand behind our teachers and support them, the more they have that chance.

Isis Feraudy-Marsilli is a bilingual math teacher in Albuquerque; she sets an example of dedication and leadership that represents some of the best of what our teachers bring into our classrooms every day.No matter what level her students are at when they enter her classroom, she works with them to get them to grade level and reach their fullest potential. “I make my students answer a basic math flashcard before they can come into the classroom,” she says. “They get upset with me, (but, they’re) going to learn the basics AND they’re going to learn geometry. …” I am thankful for teachers like Isis for dedicating themselves to our students and making a difference in the lives of our kids.

Our teachers in New Mexico are making a difference outside the classroom as well. Across the state, teachers are coming together to share ideas and best practices that put our kids first and make our schools stronger. Groups like my Secretary’s Teacher Advisory – volunteer educators looking for opportunities to give feedback, share ideas, improve professional development and communicate with policy makers – are at the forefront of helping us improve education in New Mexico.Because of groups like this, we were able to bring 300 teachers together last year for our first teacher’s summit. A member of the advisory said, “I was super impressed that our vision of getting teachers to start the school year off on a positive, energizing way seemed to work!” After the summit another educator said, “I learned so much and I feel empowered to move forward this next year. Thank you so much for the N.M. Teachers Summit.” And good things are happening for our students because of this summit. Thanks to our continuing partnerships with educators, this year more than three times last year’s number will be able to participate — 1,000 educators registered in only 72 hours!

The Teacher Leader Network is another powerful resource for strengthening partnerships with our educators. Teachers in the network are making sure their colleagues know the latest news in education, and they’re empowered to seek answers. One member told us, “I am happy to be working on making N.M. a better place for kids to get an education.” These educators are making a difference, and I am so excited about what they are doing.We’re also facilitating more professional collaboration and development between our teachers themselves.

The New Mexico Dream Team is another group making great strides to help their colleagues and help students improve. The Dream Team is a group of teachers creating instructional reading supports for teachers across the state.

We’re also working to ensure that we’re listening to our teachers. We recently announced changes to the teacher evaluation system that were created with support and input from teachers across the state. The changes in teacher evaluations are a result of informed teachers bringing their voice and recommendations to the Public Education Department. Specific changes were proposed by members of TeachPlus, an organization of New Mexico educators.

New Mexico’s teachers are among our strongest assets in building a brighter future for our children in communities large and small across the state. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, join us in reflecting on how important our teachers are to us all – and to keep doing all we can to continue supporting our teachers as they give our kids the skills they need to reach for their dreams.

Hanna Skandera 
Secretary, New Mexico Department of Public Education

Guest Post: What You Can Expect From the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit

Guest Post: What You Can Expect From the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit

Looking back on the 1st Annual Teacher Summit and anticipating this second summit surfaces feelings of excitement and exhaustion.  I have taught in public education for twenty years, and this last year has shifted my perspective on education immensely, in large part due to last year’s teacher summit.  I really had no expectations last July, I did know I had a chance to spend some time at a nice hotel in ABQ during my summer break, and it was almost an accident that I applied to attend.  Typically, in the summer I do not check my school email regularly, so by chance I happened to see the invitation from Alicia Duran to this event and gave it a try.

I distinctly remember heading down to lunch the first morning and seeing a man at an information booth for a group called Teach Plus.  We exchanged eye contact and I continued to walk on by as it was time for lunch and the opening presentation.  During the opening session the conference layout and break-out sessions were introduced, and I learned that Teach Plus was a program for teachers who were interested in becoming involved in education policy decisions.  I then had to ask myself “Do teachers even do that kind of stuff?”  Yes, as a member of the first Teach Plus cohort in New Mexico, I now know teachers can and need to be involved in policy decisions that are made because they affect our classrooms. After the opening session, I returned to that booth and started asking more questions about Teach Plus.  I learned at that time that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was going to replace NCLB and teachers had the opportunity under this new federal law to participate in making decisions that would affect the future of New Mexico education policy.

Learning about education policy has led to policy related conversations with staff from the Public Education Department, members of the New Mexico legislature and the teachers unions. There have been training sessions provided by experts on ESSA, and great opportunities to network and work with teachers that have similar interests in education policy.  It  has also allowed more contact with Alicia Duran who in December extended an invitation for me to meet the U. S. Secretary of Education, John King, for a round table discussion regarding education policy.

This Summit also led me to apply for the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network, which has 50 teachers from around the state that network and communicate directly with the PED. The vision for this network is to eventually have a teacher leader in every school in every district in the state of New Mexico.  This will provide a contact person to communicate information directly to teachers, which is always a struggle in this state.

What opportunities will be presented to teachers this year?

That is what you get to find out this summer at the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit. We hope to see you there!

This guest post was written by Joel Hutchinson, a teacher at Centennial High School in Las Cruces and member of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

This is a duplication of an interview from a Spotlight interview featuring NM’s own 2016 Milken Educator Award Winner, Melissa Kovac, from Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe:

Second-grade teacher Melissa Kovac knows she’s succeeding as an educator when students come back years later to thank her for helping them reach their goals: “Their second-grade teacher will always be there to cheer them on.” She received New Mexico’s Milken Educator Award at Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe on November 2, 2016.

Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?

Melissa Kovac: At a young age I thought about being a teacher. I’m not exactly sure when my “aha” moment was but being a teacher was something I knew I wanted to do since I can remember. I think in high school I realized that it was a definite possibility.

MEA: Why elementary school?

Melissa: The littles were my favorite age. Kindergarten students held my heart for a long time, but now that I’m in second grade…well, they are the best! I started in middle school, but after a year I knew that was not the age of kids I wanted to teach.

My favorite thing is that they still need lots of support but are ready for some real independence. They still like having fun and aren’t too embarrassed to do so. The most frustrating thing: tattle tales.

MEA: What was your first job?

Melissa: I was a poolside waitress for a country club. I think in any job the best thing we learn is to have patience. That’s something I definitely use daily in my classroom.

MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?

Melissa: My kindergarten teacher. Maybe it’s because of all the fun I had when I was there, but even more because when we became colleagues she helped me to be a better teacher. I got to learn from her twice!

MEA: What was your favorite subject?

Melissa: Math. I love knowing that I will need to find an exact answer. I love figuring it out and validating my solution. My least favorite subject would have to be….well, I used to say history, but as I get older I’m finding that I am interested in learning more about it. So I guess I am still working on tackling that one.

MEA: Tell us about your first class.

Melissa: I consider myself pretty lucky—I never had the “nightmare” first year of teaching. I was an educational assistant for a few years prior to getting my degree so I was confident in what I was about to take on. I was extremely excited to finally have my own class where I could use my creativity. The parents I worked with were awesome and the kids were so much fun. One of the hardest things, even today, is knowing that some kids just don’t learn or grow as much as I want them to. No matter how I try to reach them, sometimes they leave my class less prepared than I wish they were.

MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Melissa: I think they are extremely proud to know that they got to have me as a teacher and that a teacher at their school got this prestigious award. My students cried with me because they were so happy for me, for us, and for our school.

MEA: What do you hope your students remember about your class?

Melissa: I hope they remember that their second-grade teacher will always be there for them and cheer them on in all their successes.

MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?

Melissa: I try to bring parents in the classroom in all ways possible. I send weekly newsletters sharing what’s happening in the class and asking for volunteers to come in and help with daily tasks. My homework logs encourage parent involvement. I use a communication app that allows me to post daily activities with pictures and writing.  I feel that I have a great relationship with my students’ parents.

MEA: What’s your favorite time of the school day?

Melissa: First thing in the morning when the students enter class with big smiles and hugs. Any mishaps from the day before have vanished and it’s a time for us to start new. Greeting each of them by name and with a good-morning hug allows them to know they’re safe and that I am here for them.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.