As her six-month ambassadorship with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) ends and she prepares to return to the classroom in the fall, 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Mandy Perez reflected on her experiences so far during a presentation to the Kentucky Board of Education on June 6.
“(University of California Davis) instructor Laurie Ellington’s research states that people often want to change by doing a 180 – a complete turnaround, when the truth is that change happens over time in one – or two-degree increments,” she said. “I have aimed to have one-degree more impact on shining a light on the good in this profession.”
During her ambassadorship, Perez met with members of each KDE office. She said Damien Sweeney, KDE’s director of inclusion and belonging, invited her to join his book club and handed her a copy of “Conscious Classrooms: Using Diverse Texts in the Classroom.”
“It was this book that introduced me to books being the mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors that students need in order to grow,” she said. “I became so passionate about what I had learned that I wrote a proposal, with author approval, to use the content as a presentation for a teaching summit this summer at Murray State University.”
Perez’s first audience during the ambassadorship was the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council. The council meets with the commissioner and KDE staff, both face-to-face and online, to analyze the impact of state-level choices on students and schools across Kentucky.
Based on her experience presenting to the council and sitting in on their meetings and presentations, Perez was able to share with the National Teachers of the Year cohort the value and importance of the council’s work. She collaborated with Zachary Beam, the 2023 Wyoming Teacher of the Year, on a proposal to his state superintendent asking for the first-ever student advisory council to be created.
“Zach has been in contact with me to say that the state superintendent seemed very receptive to the idea,” she said. “Zach has complimented the state of Kentucky in saying that we are the frontrunners in education … with student voice being represented and heard.”
In her role as Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year, Perez fulfills the additional responsibility of representing the Commonwealth at National Teacher of the Year events. In April 2023, she journeyed to Washington, D.C., to join her fellow representatives in professional development and a celebration. While there, Perez seized the chance to engage in discussions with First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Perez told Biden and Cardona: “As a rural Kentucky educator, I champion for teachers to include diverse texts in their curriculum because every child deserves to be seen, valued, heard and loved, even if they’re the only student in the class that may be different.”
Over the past six months, Perez has:
- Authored or co-authored four op-eds;
- Been interviewed by several local and state news outlets, including Google, WLEX-TV LEX 18, WPSD-TV Local 6, and the Partial Credit podcast;
- Served as keynote speaker or presenter at conferences, including the 2nd annual Female Leadership Forum in Marshall County and the Regional Partnership Excellence in Teaching Awards Program in Madisonville, Ky.; and
- Attended the 2023 National and State Teachers of the Year Event at the White House, where she met President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Closing her speech to the Kentucky Board of Education, Perez shared that while her ambassadorship ends this month, this will not be the last time the board hears about her.
“It’s reassuring to know that I have made an impact and, and some of things I want to accomplish do not have to happen right now. As a matter of fact, they may take years before they unfold,” she said. “This is perhaps the best reward the comes with this title. Being the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year has created opportunities for me in ways that make meeting goals much more possible in the future.”
Perez will continue to serve as the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year for the reminder of the year. The 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year will be announced at a ceremony in Frankfort in September.