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Phoenix Forward

Arizona’s Teacher of the Year hopes to improve the perception of public school teachers

Kristie Martorelli

Arizona’s new Teacher of the Year Kristie Martorelli wants teachers across the country to get more credit in the court of public opinion.

“I hope to inspire people to make education not just a political talking point, but an actual activating point for our legislature and community groups,” she says. “I’ll point out to them how hard teachers are working.”

No one can doubt Martorelli is up to the task, given her experience, ambitions and education. She is a kindergarten-to-third-grade reading interventionist at Thompson Ranch Elementary School in El Mirage, Ariz., in the Dysart Unified School District, where she has worked for 12 years. In this role, Martorelli meets in a small group setting with students who need extra help with their reading skills. She works hard to provide an environment that makes the children feel supported.

Martorelli received a Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision in 2010 from University of Phoenix, and currently is studying for a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction–Reading from the University.

I believe education is the greatest gift that anyone can ever be given, and I hope that by giving that gift to our students we are not just bettering their future but helping their families, the community, our state and the nation.

During her studies, she conducted an action research project focused on low parental involvement in schools — and the results of her research-facilitated improvements at Thompson Ranch.

“My school has gone from less than 5 percent involvement by parents and communities in our events to over 50 percent now consistently,” she says. “My work through University of Phoenix and my research has really had a strong impact there.”

Martorelli’s school principal nominated her for the Arizona Teacher of the Year award last summer, an honor granted by the Arizona Educational Foundation. What followed was an arduous application process, which culminated with a luncheon in November where the winner was announced.

Now her days are filled with speaking engagements, meetings with community groups and travels throughout the state, in addition to her teaching obligations. In February she will attend a state Senate hearing on education, and in April, she’ll travel to Washington, D.C., to meet President Obama.

Despite this fanfare, Martorelli’s life is still about the kids, more than 90 percent of whom, in her school, qualify for the free lunch program. The Teacher of the Year award, she says, will allow her to help improve public perception about teachers and schools — both of which are working hard to help students of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I believe education is the greatest gift that anyone can ever be given, and I hope that by giving that gift to our students we are not just bettering their future but helping their families, the community, our state and the nation,” she says.

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