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Teachers awarded excellence checks


State Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and Gov. Susana Martinez surprised Mission Achievement and Success math teacher Emily van Dyck with a $10,000 check Thursday as part of the Excellence in Teaching Awards. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two teachers relatively new to the field were surprised on Thursday with big, ceremonious yellow checks for earning exemplary ratings, the highest on the state teacher evaluation system.

“Pay to the order of Emily van Dyck,” was written on a $10,000 check for the fourth-year math teacher at Mission Achievement and Success charter school.

“It was surprising in class but a good opportunity for my students to see the benefit of working hard,” van Dyck said.

The awards – $10,000 for exemplary math and science teachers and $5,000 for other exemplary teachers in the 2017-18 school year – were included in the budget Gov. Susana Martinez signed earlier this year.

Van Dyck, who has taught at MAS her whole professional career, said she doesn’t quite know what she will do with the money but said there are some charities she is considering.

Sonny Sapien, an English teacher at MAS, also isn’t sure what he will do with his check for $5,000, but he said the experience of being surprised by the governor and Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski was humbling.

Sapien has been teaching for six years – three in Carlsbad and three at the charter school – and this was his first year being exemplary, telling the Journal “exemplary” is just a title and what really counts is giving kids the best education.

He emphasized that while he and van Dyck don’t have years and years of experience, the school environment and support of principal JoAnn Mitchell were key to their growth.

Over 1,000 teachers in the state were rated exemplary and those teachers will receive awards if they are still teaching in New Mexico. The money will be given to teachers via their district payroll process.

In addition to the MAS visit, Martinez and PED also stopped by charter school Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science on Thursday to give kudos to the schools for earning a seventh A on the state school grading system.

“This is not just one of the best schools in the state of New Mexico; it’s one of the best schools in the country,” Ruszkowski said.

Martinez called AIMS the “cream of the crop” and supported its plans to expand, saying AIMS was one of the few schools in the state to get seven As in a row.

“It’s not just about the school but about where you are going to be when you leave school,” she told the crowd of AIMS students.