New Britain first grade teacher surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

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NEW BRITAIN -- It was a special surprise for a teacher in New Britain Wednesday.

Manuel Zaldivar is a first grade teacher at Smalley Academy. He is Connecticut's only Milken Educator Award winner  this year. The Milken Foundation celebrates teachers across the nation and will be presented to up to 35 teachers and principals for the 2016-17 year.

Zaldivar received the $25,000 thank-you at a surprise all-school assembly before cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media.

"I want you to remember that we come to school everyday ready to teach and ready to learn, and it doesn't matter what happens out there or what's going on at home," he said when he accepted the award. "We always leave that back out there and give our best to our students and we know that our students do their best to achieve in our school."

This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching.”

“Manny Zaldivar is a respected leader with a can-do attitude,” said Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley. “These characteristics are reflected in Mr. Zaldivar’s first-grade classroom, where he instills high expectations and values that put his students on a path to excel in school and in life. His talents—from guiding English Language Learners to sharing instructional best practices schoolwide—make him worthy of the Milken Educator Award.”

In addition to teaching in the classroom and serving as the school’s first-grade team leader, Zaldivar heads the English Language Development (ELD) team at Smalley. It's a diverse school where 89% of students are on a free- or reduced-price lunch program. A native Spanish speaker, Zaldivar writes ELD curriculum, coaches colleagues, manages and interprets the school’s ELD data, and presents his findings to staff, administrators and the board of education. At the district level, he is recognized at as a leader of implementing the ELD model and is expected to take on coaching responsibilities to broaden its impact. His students are thriving: The first-graders showed a 21% increase in those reading at or above grade level in recent NWEA MAP (Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress) assessments. The ELLs in Zaldivar’s class often exit ELD classes entirely after just one year with him.