Recognizing Inspiring School Employees for a Second Year

Even a pandemic cannot stop the arrival of year two of the newest recognition award at the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  Designed to shine a spotlight on good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders, the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award is kicking off its second award cycle, with nominations due to ED this fall. ED is also seeking peer reviewers to help select the single national honoree this winter. 

This award was inaugurated back in April 2019, when Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act, enabling ED to begin honoring one extraordinary education support professional annually.  The subsequent fall, ED officially launched the first award cycle.   

While we received many inspiring nominations during the 2020-21 contest, one individual stood out above all others. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona ultimately selected Mr. Melito Ramirez, an Intervention Specialist at Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, Washington, for this honor, announcing the award via a video message.   

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.  He is also 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.   

To notify him personally of his recognition, ED and the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction coordinated a surprise video conference, with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal and Secretary Cardona as special guests.  Since his award announcement, Ramirez has well represented the classified school employee community at multiple national events that draw on his expertise. 

This year, ED once again invites states to nominate up to two classified school employees by November 1, 2021. 

A federal review will take place during November and December.  For this reason, ED seeks individuals with expertise in the various education support professions to help rate submissions.   

One nominee is selected a national RISE Awardee, but all states are encouraged to honor and communicate their nominees.   

Individuals interested in nominating or applying should contact their governor’s office to inquire about their state-specific process.  Governors’ office and state education agency program administrators may contact with any questions and to indicate a state’s plans to participate for the coming cycle.  Interested reviewers may also contact, by October 1, to volunteer as a reviewer. 

We look forward to getting energized and inspired by the efforts of dedicated education support professionals across the country.  Their work is ever more critical and appreciated in these challenging times, so we are thrilled to offer a measure of federal accolades.   

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.