A picture of Michael Wright smiling and talking to Jason E. Glass and Jacqueline Coleman while standing in a classroom.

Michael Wright, from left, an instructional assistant at the Calloway County Day Treatment Center, was honored with the 2022-2023 Kentucky Education Support Staff Professional Award on Dec. 12 in a surprise visit from Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman.
Photo by Toni Konz Tatman, Dec. 12, 2022

Michael Wright, an instructional assistant at the Calloway County Day Treatment Center (DTC), was honored with the 2022-2023 Kentucky Education Support Staff Professional (KESSP) Award on Dec. 12. He is the second honoree, joining Gallatin County’s Heather LeBlanc, who was recognized on Dec. 9.

The KESSP award was created in 2020 by Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman to recognize the state’s more than 46,000 classified school employees. Classified school employees serve in vital and often overlooked roles, from driving students to school, to preparing their meals, to working with partner agencies, all to ensure students’ vital needs are met.

“I certainly didn’t expect this today. I am humbled and to hear all of these nice things said about me is a little embarrassing too,” said Wright. “I’ve been successful in most things I’ve done and in order to make that happen, I’ve had to have a lot of help from coworkers and colleagues. I’m deeply grateful to colleagues for helping me.

“I’m not a teacher. I didn’t have that training. It’s really helpful for me to get that help from professionals in the school system. Thank you all, thank you for thinking of me. There are many other people who deserve as much as this, so thank you.

Acknowledging his wife and son, he added, “Jude and Taylor, they’ve helped me a lot.” 

Wright received the award in a surprise visit by Coleman, a former educator, and Kentucky Commissioner of Education and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass. Calloway County Superintendent Tres Settle, Calloway County DTC Principal and Director Travis Anderson, and Calloway County Board Member Mitch Ryan also attended.

“The work of the classified school employees often goes unnoticed, but they do invaluable work every day to ensure that our students have a safe and healthy environment to learn in,” said Coleman. “I am grateful we have the RISE Award, which honors the considerable contributions our classified employees make to every school district in the Commonwealth.”

Glass thanked Gov. Beshear and Lt. Gov. Coleman for the opportunity to honor the vital contributions classified employees make to every school district in this state.

“Michael Wright has directly contributed to the success of our students. He offers support not just through his hard work and dedication at the day treatment center, but through his volunteer efforts with scouting, Special Olympics, golf, basketball, track and field, and bowling. We deeply appreciate all that he does for our students,” he said.

Settles said Wright is a daily inspiration to all who know and work with him.

“He is not here because he has to be, he is here because he has a servant’s heart and chooses to give of himself to students who may be struggling academically, socially or emotionally,” Settles said.

As winners of the award, Wright and LeBlanc’s names have been forwarded to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) for consideration for the 2022 national Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award. The RISE award, which recognizes classified school employees who have displayed excellence in serving students, was passed by Congress in 2019 and is overseen by USED.

A 70-year-old retired chemist, Wright previously worked as a bench chemist at a distillery in Louisville. After 20 years in the alcohol beverage industry, he moved to the Chicago area and eventually to Florida, where he worked in the food and beverage industry. In 2013, he returned to Kentucky, relocating in Murray. After retiring, he became a substitute teacher in Calloway County and in 2017, he was hired as an instructional assistant for the DTC.

Through all these moves and still today, he is active in the Boy Scouts and currently serves as a local Boy Scout leader. He also is involved in other activities, including Special Olympics.

“Inspirational author Shannon Alder once opined that, ‘One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know that they are not alone,’ and Mr. Wright has a special gift for being able to do just that,” said Settles.

“It was no surprise to me to learn that Mr. Wright, along with his son, has devoted much of his life to the service of others through the Boy Scout organization, for he epitomizes the pledge in the Boy Scout oath that promises, ‘to help others at all times.’ We are indeed blessed by his presence each day in the Calloway County school district and I can think of no other more deserving of this prestigious recognition.” 

Wright’s dedication to the students at DTC and across the district is one of the characteristics that made an impression on his nominator, but it is not the only one.

“Mr. Wright has worked at the DTC for five years and always goes above and beyond in all that he does, from working with students one-on-one in math or science, bringing in his own microscopes for kids to use, making radios from scratch with students, transporting students to and from school, making meals of all varieties – homemade ice cream, stew in a Dutch oven, etc.– to fixing things that are broken and rearranging furniture,” said Anderson, who nominated Wright for the award. “His work performance is second to none in our building and district.”

Wright rarely misses school, and often is the last one to leave, he said. Wright exhibits strong attributes like dependability, commitment and the example he sets for students.

“He works at DTC because he enjoys it,” Anderson said “Mr. Wright especially enjoys helping our most challenging and at-risk youth overcome the barriers they face to success. He models a positive attitude, compassion, perseverance and hard work.

“Mr. Wright is a strong leader, example and exemplary citizen of our community. He has a great reputation within the district and community because of his serving attitude and willingness to give of his time, efforts and expertise to serve whoever is in need to the best of his ability. Mr. Wright is an exceptional employee and an even better man. I marvel at his energy level and attitude, especially given his age of 70 years old. Mr. Wright is deserving of recognition even though he doesn’t seek it or expect it.”

KESSP nominations were reviewed and scored by an award committee, composed of key education stakeholders assembled by Coleman and Beshear.