LOS LUNAS—Lacy Rivera, a professional learning coach at Los Lunas High School, was surprised she was honored with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award Tuesday morning during an all-school assembly.
She is the only educator in New Mexico to be recognized this year — one of the 40 awarded across the country.
Dr. Candice McQueen, CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, presented the award to Rivera along with New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education Ryan Stewart.
“When they said my name, I was just shocked, honored and a little overwhelmed,” Rivera said.
“I think it’s very exciting to know that there are people who can offer help and support. I can’t imagine how this changes how I go about my job day to day because I try to give my all everyday. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully that’s enough.”
Los Lunas High School Principal Darian Jaramillo said Rivera always goes above and beyond to ensure student success.
“I’m so proud of her and Los Lunas High School is so lucky to have her,” Jaramillo said. “Lacy is probably the most passionate, energetic, caring person you’ll ever meet. She’s not only like that with staff but with our students as well. There is no one more deserving than Lacy for this award.”
Rivera began working at the school in January 2011 as an English and language arts teacher. She is now in her second year of being the professional learning coach at Los Lunas High School.
Rivera’s new role is to improve levels of student learning by working with collaborative teacher teams, individual teachers and working with administration to address organizational change needs
“It’s a very multifaceted role, and the best part of my job is working with teacher teams, individual teachers and students to increase their learning,” Rivera said.
There are academic coaches in many districts, and in the Los Lunas Schools district there were roles for elementary schools but not secondary schools.
“Superintendent Dana Sanders realized our secondary schools needed additional support and this role was created for the secondary level,” Rivera said. “The principal at the time approached me and said, ‘Lacy, I think you’d be perfect for this job; would you consider applying?’ And I immediately said no.”
She explained to him that she felt like she had found her “sweet spot” in teaching English to sophomores and juniors.
“The curriculum is right up my alley; I’m able to engage in really critical ideas and get students to think about society and their roles within it, analyze critically and write powerfully. I loved my job,” Rivera said.
She thought that was the end of the conversation until Sanders approached her and asked her to consider the position, along with Dr. Luis Cruz, an associate with the Solution Tree, a corporation that provides professional development for educators.
“I really respect him,” Rivera said. “He told me, ‘One of the things you should know is, when you leave the classroom, you may have more opportunity to influence change. I know you have this love of teaching and learning but that doesn’t end when you are in a different position.’”
With that, she applied and was grateful for the people in her life who saw potential in her that she didn’t see in herself, and encouraged her to take the risk.
“What inspires me is how dedicated and committed we all are becoming in terms of making sure every single student is receiving the level of learning that they should,” Rivera said. “Change is slow and it’s painful, but I know that this school can become the school that’s good enough for my own kids.”
Described as “The Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken 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,” according to its website.
Educators are not nominated and cannot apply for the award; they are selected by a panel appointed by state departments of education, and The Milken Family Foundation makes the final selection. Meanwhile, the educators have no idea they are even under consideration.
“I think it’s important for educators to know that they’re making a difference and that we see them,” Rivera said. “I wish it wasn’t about me. I want to be here when Los Lunas High School gets the award. I want to see this school be the thing that is nationally recognized. I want it to be about the collective.”
Rivera is joins several other Los Lunas educators who received the award in the past, including Los Lunas Schools Assistant Superintendent Juliette Romero-Benavidez (1998), Danielle Calvillo (2000), Sarah Garde (1999), and Sharon Morgan (1992).