First-Ever RISE Awardee Announced

Need a reason for celebration? In the Recognition Programs Unit of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach, we have several of them spread throughout the year.  The newest recognition award joining the family, structured to shine a spotlight good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders with their federal education agency, is the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees award.

In April
2019, Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School
Employees Act enabling the U.S. Department of Education to begin honoring one extraordinary
education support professional annually and that fall, ED launched the first
cycle of the award, with nominations from governors and state education
agencies, often working together, due by November 1, 2020. 

Even under
pandemic circumstances, ED received 32 nominations from 20 states for the RISE
award including nominations for paraprofessionals, nutrition workers,
custodians, security personnel, bus drivers, and other paraprofessionals. Their
contributions to schools and students – especially during this pandemic year –
were remarkable. The 18 internal and external reviewers remarked just how
deserving they ALL were! For this reason, ED has encouraged every participating
state to honor its finalists.

While we
received many inspiring stories, one individual stood out. U.S. Secretary of
Education Miguel Cardona selected Mr. Melito Ramirez, Intervention Specialist,
at Walla Walla High School, in Walla Walla, Washington for this honor,
announcing the award in this video. 

Secretary Miguel Cardona announces first-ever RISE award recipient

Over his distinguished 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 is known for his help in organizing a
multilingual adult night school. He supports students as they apply for and participate
in youth leadership programs — including rising well before dawn each weekend
to drive them five hours to programming across the state. Ramirez is also
credited with diminishing tensions among rival gang members in the 1990s when
gang conflict was high in the Walla Walla area by coordinating supervised out-of-school

Mr. Ramirez with his award

Today, we celebrate Mr. Ramirez for
demonstrating courage and resourcefulness over decades of service. We are
reminded of the critical work of all classified school employees in supporting
student success.  Individuals interested in
nominating or applying should contact their governor’s
to inquire about
state-specific process. Governors’ office and state education agency program
administrators may contact [email protected] with any questions and to indicate
a state’s plans to participate for the coming cycle.  We look forward to celebrating many education
support professionals in the years to come! 

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award, as well as Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

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