HARTFORD, CT (STL.News) Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona today announced that Rochelle Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Poquonock School in Windsor, has been selected as Connecticut’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, the state’s highest recognition honoring extraordinary teachers. In addition, Governor Lamont and Commissioner Cardona announced that Maria Sau, also of Poquonock School, has been named Connecticut’s 2021 Anne Marie Murphy Paraeducator of the Year. This year marks the first time in state history that both honorees have hailed from the same district and school.
The governor, commissioner, and other state and local officials delivered the news this morning during a surprise visit to Poquonock School, which was followed by a school-wide assembly, giving students and the honorees’ fellow educators an opportunity to celebrate the recognition.
“We owe so much of the success that happens in our communities to the generous and dedicated teachers who have spent years developing young minds into becoming accomplished adults,” Governor Lamont said. “Connecticut has the best public school teachers in the nation, and I am proud to celebrate their accomplishments and recognize the improvements they continue to make every day in our state. It is amazing that for the first time ever, Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year and Paraeducator of the Year both happen to come from the same school. Ms. Brown and Mrs. Sau have both dedicated themselves to their students, and I cannot applaud them enough for the services they provide. I thank both of them, as well as every teacher in Connecticut, for what they provide our schools and our children each and every day.”
“What a proud moment for Windsor Public Schools and Poquonock School,” Commissioner Cardona exclaimed. “Congratulations to Rochelle and Maria, the Poquonock community, their families, and their students, who are fortunate to have them as role models in their lives. The best educators ground their practice in relationships. Passionately committed to equity in education and forming connections with their students in a way that resonates beyond the walls of the schoolhouse, Rochelle and Maria exemplify what we aspire to as educators. Congratulations!”
An educator in Windsor Public Schools since 1999, Ms. Brown has always realized the importance and significance of representation. When a colleague decided to start an afterschool program for boys of color to address the achievement gap, Ms. Brown was ready to join, traveling to several states on the weekends to ensure that the boys would have cultural and educational experiences just like their peers. Currently, Ms. Brown serves as the co-chair of Poquonock School’s Equity Committee, as well as the district’s Equity Committee. With her co-chair, she has offered professional development opportunities for her colleagues and created an Instagram page, kidlitlove8, to bring awareness to multicultural children’s books and the importance of representation for all children. Ms. Brown is proud to say that after more than 20 years as an educator, she still has that passion for educating children that was sparked so many years ago, and she plans to continue this very important work for years to come.
A Windsor Public Schools paraeducator for more than 20 years, Mrs. Sau has spent many summers working with students at the Camp Treehouse program, and as the Head Camp Counselor with Tower Ridge Country Club. She was nominated by her colleagues citing her professionalism, care and dedication to supporting student achievement, and was selected from a pool of nominees from across Connecticut following an application process with a statewide selection committee, which is comprised of former state Paraeducators of the Year. Prior to coming to Windsor, Mrs. Sau worked as a nursing assistant and tutored not just her own children, but children of friends and family members. Mrs. Sau also volunteered her time and talents with the community of Windsor assisting with youth sports teams, religious instruction and Foodshare.
“Windsor is incredibly proud of this first ever accomplishment where one school has both the State Teacher of the Year and State Paraprofessional of the Year,” Windsor Superintendent Craig Cooke said. “Ms. Brown and Ms. Sau are two of the most talented, passionate, and committed educators I have ever worked with. Rochelle Brown is teacher of the year every year for the students and families that are lucky enough to have her as their teacher. Maria Sau is so caring and supportive to the students she works with. Both are very deserving of this high honor.”
“Ms. Rochelle Brown is in love with teaching,” Jay Mihalko, Principal of Poquonock School, said. “She is an inspiration to students, staff and families. Everyone that she encounters is better for the experience. We are so proud at Poquonock School to have such an incredible educator that teaches from the heart and loves every child for his or her own unique gifts. Mrs. Maria Sau respects, cares for, supports, and empowers every student that she works with as if they were her own child. She sees the best in every child and with encouragement and compassion she motivates her students to achieve. We are blessed at Poquonock school to have a Paraeducator that connects with students in the way that Mrs. Sau does with all her heart.”
The designation of Connecticut Teacher of the Year is decided each year by the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, a group comprised of former recipients of the honor as well as representatives from educational organizations, businesses, and the community. The council reviewed nearly 100 district-level Teachers of the Year through a rigorous selection process that included on-side visits, candidate applications, interviews, and observations of teaching.
Ms. Brown will now become Connecticut’s representative for 2021 National Teacher of the Year. She succeeds 2020 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Meghan Hatch-Geary, an English teacher from Regional School District 16’s Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. As Connecticut’s Paraeducator of the Year, Mrs. Sau will represents the profession in forums and advisory committees influencing education policy and public awareness of the successes that take place daily in schools, as well as the challenges they face.
“On behalf of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, I am thrilled and honored to congratulate and welcome Rochelle Brown as the 2021 Connecticut Teacher of the Year,” Dave Bosso, President of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, said. “Throughout her extraordinary teaching career, Rochelle has positively impacted her school community in countless ways, and her life-changing influence endures in the thousands of students, parents, colleagues, and community members who have had the privilege of knowing her, working with her, and learning from her. She is a resolute champion and advocate for her students. Like teachers everywhere, she continues to support, guide, and inspire our young learners, and we are grateful for the vital work that she, and thousands of exceptional teachers throughout our state, carry out each day.”
“Maria Sau is a model paraeducator in that she is passionate and committed to her students, collaborates with her colleagues to ensure interventions are data driven, and supports students both in school and throughout the Windsor community,” Sharon M. S. Fuller, Connecticut State Department of Education Talent Office and Member of the Paraeducator of the Year Selection Committee, said. “She sees the strengths and possibilities in students, and doesn’t give up when challenges arise. Maria teaches students to be compassionate with each other, and believes that ‘We need to model and teach equality throughout the year in school and at home so our children can develop positive attitudes of each and every student’s racial identity.’”
“Rochelle’s passion for her students and the teaching profession is evident in everything she does,” Connecticut Education Association (CEA) President Jeff Leake said. “Her commitment to equity and making sure all of her students feel welcome and recognized in her classroom are key to forming strong relationships with her students and their families. Connecticut teachers are working long hours, helping their students through an unprecedented time, and during the challenges of the pandemic we are pleased to be able to take a moment to celebrate and honor Rochelle as a representative of our state’s stellar teaching force. CEA is also grateful to Rochelle for her dedication to her colleagues and service to her local union.”
About the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year program began in 1952. It is intended to recognize teacher excellence and honors those who have inspired a love for learning in their students and who have distinguished themselves in the profession. The program is administered by the State Department of Education’s Talent Office along with a number of corporate, organizational, and individual sponsors. The selection process begins with the designation of a Teacher of the Year in each district and continues to the national level, where the Connecticut Teacher of the Year becomes eligible for national honors.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year and Teacher of the Year finalists serve as teacher-ambassadors for public education. They are appointed to various education advisory committees and become consultants to the education commissioner. They present workshops, speak at education conferences and meetings, address student, civic, college and university, and governmental groups and operate special programs in accordance with their interests and expertise. The Connecticut Teacher of the Year also represents the state at the national level by participating in national educational forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and U.S. Department of Education meetings.