Category: Growth and Recognition Opportunities

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Arcelia Guillermo-Rios

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Arcelia Guillermo-Rios

The most meaningful part of teaching is having my students become self advocates; measuring success in my classroom is more than numbers.  Success needs to be seen, heard, and felt.  Seeing my students taking initiatives in their learning represents them taking ownership, responsibility, and the drive to aim high!

My name is Arcelia Elizabeth Guillermo-Rios, born in El Paso, Texas, from a hard working single-mother family. Due to several life difficulties, our family encountered many struggles.  School and innovative teachers became beacons of stability, encouragement, and reassurance.  These experiences developed into a persistent and positive impact in my life and generated my interest in becoming a teacher.

I graduated from New Mexico State University with Bachelors in Education and Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with endorsements in Bilingual Education. For twenty years I have taught a variety of grade levels, currently I teach 5th grade Self Contained Dual Language at Desert Trail Elementary.  As a bilingual teacher I strive to promote high academic standards integrating bilingualism, bi-literacy, multicultural development, and create opportunities of student/parent contribution, discovery, and empowerment.

In 2016, I was selected the National Association for Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year. The following year I became a New Mexico Teacher Leader State Ambassador where I continue to gain knowledge, resources, and support to enhance my profession.  Currently, I am also part of the Educators for High Standards and The Collaborative for Student Success: Aim High Fellowship. Through the Aim High Fellowship, my students and I have been developing skills in self reflection to promote listen and practice, learning the value of academic challenge, and measure growth as learners. To keep that optimistic spirit, we have been partnered with a professional athlete to encourage and inspire the students. The athlete is former NFL Dallas Cowboy Raghib Ismail better known as “Rocket”. It is a privilege to receive the support of so many caring people; this enhances my commitment and love for my profession.

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

The most valuable part of the Social Studies Dream Team “TeachFest” experience is the opportunity to step out of one’s own bubble and to interact with colleagues from around the state. The sheer breadth and depth of experience, both personal and professional, was both humbling and inspiring.  There were people from all over the country, whose experience ranged from business owner to Peace Corps volunteer, from law enforcement officer to U.S. AID worker—all of whom have chosen to work as teachers in New Mexico.  The ice breakers and conversation starters at the beginning helped foster a sense of community and shared purpose, which laid the foundation for productive collaborations.

I did my teaching certificate work at the University of Houston and have been teaching for 21 years—first in southwest Houston for three years, and now in Albuquerque since 2000. I teach all areas of social studies, but primarily government and AP Government.  I was the AP Lead teacher at Cibola High for the past 3-4 years.  My teaching partner and I were the first in the state to pilot the AP Capstone program.  I also teach a little beginning French when needed, and I currently co-author or co-edit 2 AP review books for McGraw Hill Publishing, Co. (5 Steps to a 5…AP World and AP European History).  As such, I set the bar high for all my students.

I think it is important for us as teachers to step outside our comfort zones, and to recognize that our profession extends beyond our classroom walls, our department and our school. At the Dream Team TeachFest, teachers from the largest high schools in Albuquerque swapped stories with teachers from tiny rural K-8 schools.  It was quite the exchange of ideas!  To gain a broader perspective regarding the challenges facing teachers across the state is to become more understanding and tolerant, much like the character education we do as social studies teachers.  And we had guest speakers with a range of perspectives as well: the Teacher Liaisons from the PED and remarks from Debra Marquez and Anthony Burns from the PED’s Instructional Materials Bureau served to reinforce the idea that we are part of education policy in a larger context, and that our influence can extend beyond our classroom.

Teaching can be a solitary profession, and for years the only way to extend our influence beyond the classroom was to leave the classroom. It is gratifying to see that there are now ways for teachers to expand their impact while still remaining teachers.  The fact that the PED Secretary-Designate Ruszkowski took the time to come to the event and listen to teachers’ concerns underscores the idea that we can and should look beyond our classrooms.  Though we may not always agree with his answers in-full, that he would take the time to have the discussion as a fellow social studies teacher is, in itself, a step in the right direction.  We need more dialogue, not less.

As new members of the Dream Team, the scope of the required lessons seemed overwhelming at first, but as the presenters and facilitators walked us through the process our ideas began to take shape. Our project facilitator was an effective sounding board for ideas and concerns, but also kept the conversations fun at the same time.  Though it took some time for us to develop a project appropriate in scope, we left with a clear picture of what tasks remained.  Despite our differences and our diversity of interests, the fact that everyone there had given up his or her time for the common purpose of creating something beneficial for New Mexican students is reassuring.

We will create materials that every social studies teacher around the state can use, but the idea of teacher-leadership in social studies and beyond, fostered by Cohort 2 of the New Mexico Dream Team, has possibilities far beyond that.

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: John Turrietta

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: John Turrietta

It all comes down to the teacher’s relationship with the students, the knowledge and presentation of the material and keeping them engaged.  Along my evolution as a teacher, I have tried departmentalization, ability grouping, gender grouping, Whole Brain Teaching, and now a flipped classroom.  Yet it still concludes with me and my students.

From the time that I was in the 3rd grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher.  Standing in front of a classroom, presenting and interacting with my students is the fruition of that dream.  I entered first grade not knowing English, and exited 3rd grade with the goal of being a teacher.  My grandfather made it clear from the time that I was a young boy, that education would always be the right road to travel.  He added to my determination that I would, one day, be an educator.

As that 3rd grade student that stayed after class to help with bulletin boards, pound dust out of chalk, sort dittos, and just generally help around the classroom, I always knew it was about the learning.  In playing school with my cousin and brother, I gave tests and handed out report cards.  Who knew testing would be such an issue in years to come?  While testing is not everything it is a gauge of financial success in later life.  Its about the teaching for me.  The learning.  As a product of APS and UNM, I want to make a difference for the children of New Mexico.

As a teacher, I have never wanted to be out of the classroom.  That’s where the action is….where the magic happens.  That’s where I need to be; on the frontlines of education.  Every year is a fresh start to try new things with an entirely new group of students.  What other career gives you a fresh start each year?  There are so many ways to teach.  No one has a monopoly!

Next year, Rio Rancho will assign each 5th grade class a Chrome Book Cart.  An entirely new delivery of teaching! It is never boring and always rewarding and exciting.  Kids will never remember the workbook page, but they will always remember your classroom environment and how you delivered material.

Teacher Spotlight: Stephanie Gurule-Leyba

Teacher Spotlight: Stephanie Gurule-Leyba

Every one of my students has a story.  I believe that by inspiring and elevating my students, their stories will be heard.  My motto: Listen, Learn, and Lead!

Stephanie Gurule-Leyba was raised in Las Vegas, New Mexico and is in her 22nd year at Capital High School in the Santa Fe Public Schools. She is a Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences certified teacher and teaches in the Medical Science Academy, a five-course STEAM-H pathway and is also the founder of Scrub Club, a three-summer STEAM-H enrichment program for 4th through 8th grade students. Stephanie is licensed in K-12 Science, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Learning, Instruction, and Innovation.  Stephanie is a graduate of Robertson High School in Las Vegas and has always admired her teachers, including her father, for really instilling in her life lessons that she shares with her students. She discovered that she enjoyed working with students and had exciting ideas that she wanted to share. Stephanie is very passionate about STEAM-H and career readiness and as a teacher she has the opportunity to share that passion with her students.

Stephanie believes that the job of a teacher does not end when the bell rings for the day. Everyday we teach, encourage, instruct, mentor, praise, influence, guide and inspire. Those who say, “Teaching is easy,” have never been a teacher. Those who say, “Teaching is not rewarding,” have never been a teacher. But, if these same people were to see and experience students’ intellectual growth, maturity, and an ownership of their learning, many would agree that teaching is the most fulfilling job because you have molded the mind and touched the heart of a student forever. Our students need to understand that they will never finish what they started. They will always be learning. It is important that we instill a culture of learning with our students and with their families and community. We are all teachers and our students are our future.

The relationships we build with our students is the key to their success; but student success is also reliant on the relationships that are built with our families and communities. Many look to teachers as those who are supposed to educate our children, but it is important that we work together in educating and raising our children to prepare them for their future. One person cannot do it alone; it takes a community to raise a child.



Being a teacher and musician gives me the platforms necessary to invoke change in the most positive manner possible. We develop life-long learners who are inspired to continue to learn with the mind-set to invoke newly acquired knowledge into positive change. As educators, we are agents of change who transform our students into the next generation of agents of change, and so the cycle continues. We are public servants who are given the task of creating intelligent thinkers who become positive contributors to society. This is the legacy that we as educators will leave behind for others to foster and build upon.”

Joe Dan M. Lovato is a full-time science educator and musician originally from Roy, New Mexico. He earned a BA in Education from ENMU in 2007, a MA in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) from ENMU in 2014, and he is currently finishing his Educational Administration Licensure requirements from ENMU as well. He possesses a Level III-A license in both K-8 Elementary and Pre K-12 Special Education along with endorsements in Science and Health. Joe Dan is in his 10th
year of teaching at La Resolana Leadership Academy. LRLA is a charter middle school located in the heart of Albuquerque. Along with teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science at the school; he also teaches the 8th
grade Next-Step class, the STEAM-H elective with a focus on agriculture and climate change, and incentive electives in cryptozoology, extraterrestrial/paranormal investigations, and a guitar workshop. The New Mexico Public Education Department recognized Joe Dan as a finalist for the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year. He was also nominated for the 2017 New Mexico Academy of Science Outstanding Science Teacher.
Joe Dan is also a singer, song writer, and guitarist who has played with a variety of musicians and he’s shared the stage with many different bands and artists throughout the years. He was a member of the local progressive rock band Blackwater Draw (2006-2015) and he has since embarked on a solo career under the moniker “Joe Dan The Man”. He released his debut, self-titled EP in 2015 with positive reviews and is currently working on a full-length album.

Joe Dan is getting used to his new job and title, “dad”, as he and his wife Brandi brought their first child, Joe Danna Lee Lovato, into this world. Much of what Joe Dan does at his small school revolves around the concept of family. Community, in essence, is family. He presents experiential learning opportunities to his students through the field trips and projects that he celebrates at his school. He has experienced many personal accomplishments throughout his teaching career; each with different magnitudes of gratification for knowing that the world is a better place because of the individuals that he came into contact with. His passion for knowledge and sharing that knowledge is contagious to others.

2017 Milken Educator of the Year

2017 Milken Educator of the Year


Contact: Lynne Russo, (818) 903-6079,

Hometown hero Melanie Alfaro merits $25,000 as the

2017-18 Milken Educator Award winner for New Mexico

 BIO for NM Melanie Alfaro

Deming Intermediate math teacher sets high standards leading all her students to excel

SANTA MONICA, Calif., (November 30, 2017)—Being a New Mexico State University Hall of Fame basketball player, Melanie Alfaro knows the sweet taste of success. It’s a quality she tries to instill in her math students, equating the similarities between athletics and academics as examples: set a goal and work hard to reach it. Using student assessments, video instruction and collaborative projects as part of her teaching strategy, Alfaro engages all levels of learners and gives them every opportunity to understand and grasp sixth grade math; her students lead the grade level in math proficiency.

Joined by New Mexico Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley bestowed Alfaro with the $25,000 Milken Educator Award before an exuberant all-school assembly, causing the Wildcats to roar with cheers after the announcement.

Alfaro is the only recipient for the state of New Mexico, and is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition and unrestricted cash prize.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching” has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, “The future belongs to the educated.”

Alfaro immerses her students in data, setting individual and whole-class goals, charging students with monitoring their own progress, and holding family classes to ensure parents are fully equipped to support their children’s efforts in math. Deming has jumped two letter grades and 16 percentage points in end-of-year math assessments in the past few years.

“Melanie Alfaro gives every student her time, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group, it’s her keen sense of a child’s understanding level that determines her teaching methods and that directly leads to proficiency,” said Foley. “Melanie has outstanding strategies and outcomes in the classroom and we recognize her determination to influence mathematics instruction throughout the district as well. From elementary to the high school level, she is working to make sure every math student succeeds. We’re proud to welcome her to the Milken Educator family.”

“Our state’s best teachers should be championed, celebrated and rewarded—they’re having an outsized impact on their students’ academic outcomes and life prospects. Over the last 100 days, I’ve had the privilege of traveling the entire state to celebrate our districts and educators to highlight their work, and today’s recognition is one of the highest honors a teacher can earn in the country,” said Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski. “Melanie is changing our students’ lives by assuming full responsibility for her academic outcomes and constantly refining her craft—her teaching is poetry in motion and finds the right balance of the both the art and science of teaching.  She is a wonderful ambassador for our profession.  Her students are on the rise—and this honor and award is well-deserved.”

About Milken Educator Melanie Alfaro

Melanie Alfaro, a sixth-grade math teacher at Deming Intermediate School in New Mexico, holds all her students to high standards. She employs a multitude of instructional strategies in her classroom, including active engagement and collaborative grouping, and is trained on AIMS3, a state dual-language program that supports English learners. The school doesn’t have a gifted program, but Alfaro makes sure advanced learners stay challenged with appropriate course work and encourages higher-achieving students to mentor those who need more help.

As head of the math department, Alfaro sits on Deming’s school leadership team and was deeply involved in the formulation and monitoring of its 90-day improvement plan. She mentors teachers throughout the district, leads professional development, sits on the math pacing guides and superintendent’s advisory committees, and was instrumental in bringing former New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera to Deming to talk about the status of education in the state. Alfaro has advocated strongly in favor of the district’s sometimes-controversial policy of busing U.S. citizen children living across the nearby Mexican border into Deming schools. In 2016, she was selected to join the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

A Deming native and product of Deming Public Schools, Alfaro is an accomplished athlete who played Division I basketball at New Mexico State University and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2014. She has worked hard to build up Deming’s Little League baseball program, serving on the board and as president. Alfaro started a summer basketball camp and coaches basketball, t-ball and Little League baseball; the district offered her the opportunity to coach varsity basketball, but Alfaro opted to work with younger students to teach them the fundamentals and prepare them for higher-level athletics. In the classroom, Alfaro stresses the importance of both academics and athletics, reminding students that working hard at one supports success in the other. Students often come back to share their good news and accomplishments with Alfaro, telling her that they are top of their class, entering honors courses, and even graduating as valedictorian.

Alfaro earned a bachelor’s in business administration in 2002 from New Mexico State University and a master’s in education in 2013 from Western New Mexico University.

More information about Alfaro, plus links to photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Alfaro’s honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children’s education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

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” I love creating a classroom environment where students feel safe and loved. Watching a child have that “aha” moment when they make a discovery or connect ideas still fills me with excitement and reminds me why I am in this great profession. I know that I make a difference every day in large and small ways.”


Leslie Baker was raised in Connecticut outside of New York City and has lived in nine states. She has been a New Mexico resident since 2002 when she moved to Taos to raise her three daughters. Leslie began her teaching career in 1989 in Chesterfield County, VA where she taught fifth grade; she later taught computer applications to kindergarten through sixth graders at a Montessori school in Ohio and home-schooled in North Carolina. Her earliest memories in education are teaching her younger sisters to read and helping her mother welcome 24 preschoolers to their home every weekday morning!

Leslie has worked at Taos Charter School since 2003, teaching second and third grade and now working with students as a literacy teacher and coach. She serves as SAT and 504 Coordinator and Librarian, in addition to the many roles and hats required at a small school. She especially loves mentoring new teachers and helping them grow as teachers and learners, and thanks her own mentors for helping her gain confidence and skill in the classroom. Each year, she feels she might be learning a bit more about this process we call teaching, which is really an effort to support learning and thinking.

Ms. Baker holds a Masters in Elementary Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts where she majored in Politics. She recently obtained her NM administrative license and is currently working toward her National Board Certification.

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

The National Science Foundation is currently accepting nominations and applications for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program. PAEMST is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science (including computer science) teaching. Since 1983, more than 4,700 teachers have been recognized for their contributions to mathematics and science education. Awardees serve as models to their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education. Up to 108 awardees may be recognized each year.

The PAEMST program is open to outstanding mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers in the 50 states; Washington, D.C.; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Education Activity schools; and the U.S. territories as a group.

Anyone–principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public–may nominate a teacher by completing the nomination form available on the PAEMST website. To submit a nomination, you’ll need the teacher’s name, email address, and school contact information. If you know more than one teacher deserving of this award, you may submit more than one nomination. Teachers may also apply directly at

Presidential awardees receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States, a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on the behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Nomination Deadline is April 1, 2018 and the Application Deadline is May 1, 2018, for elementary school teachers (grades K-6). Secondary school teachers (grades 7-12) will be eligible to apply during a future cycle.

If you have any questions, please contact Shafiq Chaudhary, Math State Coordinator at or Marcia Barton, Science State Coordinator at Thank you.

505 SW NM-True $5,000 Scholarship Opportunity

505 SW NM-True $5,000 Scholarship Opportunity


505 Southwestern® New Mexico True Scholars is a new scholarship program designed to recognize passion and commitment to pursue higher education and make a positive impact on the agriculture industry in New Mexico.  One recipient for the $5,000 scholarship will be selected annually and will be awarded in equal payments over 4 years of undergraduate study.


  • Applicants must be graduating seniors of a New Mexico high school.
  • Applicants must plan to attend an accredited college or university in New Mexico beginning fall 2018 and be enrolled full time.
  • Applicants must have maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in their first six semesters of high school.
  • Applicants must have completed a FAFSA application for the upcoming college year
  •  Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to making an impact in the agricultural industry and/or overall economy of food and agriculture of New Mexico.  


  • September 29, 2017: Scholarship open for applications online at
  • March 19, 2018 11:59PM: Applications DUE
  • Late April 2018: Scholarship Recipient Announced


  • Complete online application at
  • Attach your high school transcript through your junior year
  • Attach a copy of your college acceptance letter
  • Attach a copy of the FAFSA page that indicates what your Estimated Family Contribution would be.

For more information, visit or email the New Mexico Community Foundation at

Teacher Spotlight of the Week

Teacher Spotlight of the Week

“It’s awesome to have an ex-student go out of his or her way to say hi to me and shake my hand where ever I am. Even students you thought you weren’t making a difference in their lives go out of their way to come say hi.”

Lupe Vasquez is in his eleventh year of teaching. He had been a Certified Master Automobile Technician for 25 years when he became a teacher.  Vasquez teaches at Carlsbad High School for Carlsbad Municipal Schools. He currently teaches ninth through twelfth grade Automotive Technology. He also teaches an Introduction to Skills and Technology Class. Additionally, Lupe teaches Automotive Technology in the evenings for the local community college New Mexico State University – Carlsbad.

Lupe relishes in the idea of encountering students with little to no experience in automotive technology. He provides them with the necessary training and hands-on experience to diagnose an automotive problem, and then repair the problem. Vasquez finds it incredibly rewarding to watch his students get a sense of accomplishment and joy when they are able to correctly identify and repair an automotive issue. This makes it all worth being a teacher for him.