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.
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 activities.
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 office to inquire about state-specific process. Governors’ office and state education agency program administrators may contact RISE@ed.gov 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.