U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced today the selection of Melito Ramirez, an intervention specialist at Walla Walla High School in Washington state, as the nation’s first Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) awardee.
This new honor, established by Congress in 2019, spotlights classified school employees’ outstanding contributions to quality K-12 education in the United States.
Classified school employees include paraprofessionals, clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services, and skilled trades professionals. They offer essential services to the school community and play a vital role in providing for the welfare, safety, and success of students.
“I’m pleased to recognize Mr. Ramirez as a most deserving employee who has demonstrated courage and creativity every day over decades of service as he inspires students in Washington State,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said. “Education support professionals’ work too often goes unrecognized. However, especially in this pandemic year, they have made some of the most extraordinary contributions to keep our communities safe and support our students and schools. I’m honored to recognize them for the heroes that they are.”
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said, “I congratulate Mr. Ramirez for being the classified staff of the year. This honor recognizes his commitment to supporting students at Walla Walla High School. In his words, educators and school staff are tutors, enablers and caregivers combined into one, and Mr. Ramirez truly understands how building relationships with students can have positive impacts that last a generation and beyond.”
Chris Reykdal, Washington state superintendent, said, “For his entire career, Mr. Ramirez has gone above and beyond for his students, their families, and his community as a whole. Mr. Ramirez shows us that a high-quality K-12 education isn’t limited to the walls of a classroom or the daily bell schedule. He has dedicated his career to empowering his students to pursue their dreams, and I am very proud to honor him in this way.”
Over his 40-year career, Ramirez has worked for multiple school districts in more than a dozen different roles, such as migrant home visitor, summer school coordinator, special education secretary, and bus driver. Ramirez now conducts home visits, bridges the gap between home and school for Spanish speaking families, and works to secure the mental health and technological resources students need.
Ramirez helped to organize a night school in English and Spanish for adults in the Walla Walla community. He has supported students as they apply for and participate in youth leadership programs, as both a mentor and bus driver. And, he is credited with diminishing tensions among rival gang members in the 1990s when gang conflict was high in the Walla Walla area by coordinating supervised evening and weekend activities.
Events leading to Ramirez’ selection began in April 2019 when Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (Public Law 116-13), which states, “The Secretary shall select a classified school employee to receive the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award for the year.”
For this inaugural competition, the Education Department received 32 nominations from 20 states encompassing paraprofessional, clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services, and skilled trades professionals.
Governors’ offices determined their state-specific process for selecting up to two nominees, and they will again be asked to submit nominees by Nov. 1, documenting excellence in the following areas: (A) Work performance; (B) School and community involvement; (C) Leadership and commitment; (D) Local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work); and (E) Enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and schools.
More information can be found here, including how to submit nominations for the 2021-2022 cycle.