SANTA FE – Second-grade teacher Melissa Kovac is known to sometimes come to work dressed up in costume as a mouse, a bumblebee or a superhero – even when it’s not Halloween season.
On Wednesday, she showed up at Santa Fe’s Amy Biehl Community School wearing more traditional teacher attire. Little did she know she dressed as one of the best teachers in the country.
In a surprise announcement at a morning assembly in the school gymnasium, Kovac learned that she was one of just 35 teachers in the country, and the only one in New Mexico, to receive a 2016-2017 Milken Educator Award in recognition of teaching excellence and her commitment to students, their families and the community.
Along with the honor, Kovac won $25,000 and an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans in March to meet the other 34 members of what the Milken Family Foundation’s senior vice president Jane Foley called an “elite all-star educator team.”
Kovac said she sometimes teaches in costume to show her students that “learning can be fun. It makes them want to learn more.”
She employs other unique and state-of-the-art teaching techniques to help her students, and with great success.
Her class’s proficiency rates improved by 45 percent in math and nearly 35 percent in reading last year.
On surely a memorable day for Kovac, she was asked what she hopes her students will most remember when they move on to third grade and beyond.
“Keep learning, be kind to each other, and always keep doing your best,” she said.
Among those on hand for the presentation before the school’s student body were Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia, several other school district officials, state Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, and four previous Milken Educator Award winners from New Mexico: Tom Ryan (1999), now chief information and strategy officer for the Santa Fe school district; Ryan’s daughter, Shannon Ryan (2014), a teacher at Lavaland Elementary School in Albuquerque; Tammy Dunham (2009), a librarian at the Duke City’s Zia Elementary; and Suzanne Harper (2002), now a retired teacher from Rio Rancho.
Kovac is the second Santa Fe teacher to earn high honors in the past three weeks. In another surprise announcement last month, Skandera awarded Capital High School’s Stephanie Gurule-Leyba with the New Mexico Teacher of the Year Award for 2017.