Gloria Pereyra-Robertson took a quick break from reporters, camera crews and state educators Wednesday to tell her husband the news.
She'd been named Teacher of the Year.
Pereyra-Robertson was one of 250 teachers statewide nominated to be the 2017 Teacher of the Year, one of the 60 who completed the lengthy application process and one of three interviewed in August by Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Salam Noor.
On Wednesday, Noor made a surprise appearance at Howard Elementary School’s first assembly of the year to announce that Robertson had been selected for the prestigious award and to present her with a $5,000 check and the school with a second $5,000 check courtesy of the Oregon Lottery.
“This teacher is someone who believes in each one of you,” Noor said, keeping the students and staff in suspense. “This is a teacher who always helps others and isn’t afraid to meet challenges head on and has made a deep commitment to improving the lives of others, and that includes you students at Howard Elementary and in the Medford community.”
After naming Pereyra-Robertson and welcoming her onto the school’s stage, Noor praised her for her passion for “teaching and serving students in Oregon.”
“I have the utmost confidence that you will represent Howard Elementary, the Medford School District and the state of Oregon with pride and professionalism as the 2017 Teacher of the Year,” he said.
“Mrs. Robertson, you are a star.”
Pereyra-Robertson is the first Jackson County teacher to receive the award since 1988, when it went to Vincent A. Wixon at Crater High School. Since 1955, when Oregon began naming a Teacher of the Year, there have been only four recipients from Southern Oregon.
At the end of the assembly, Howard Principal Javier del Rio invited all of Pereyra-Robertson’s former students — more than one-third of the school — onto the stage with their kindergarten teacher.
Pereyra-Robertson has been a teacher for about 21 years, first in a bilingual 90/10 classroom in San Diego, Calif., and for the last 14 years as a kindergarten teacher at Howard Elementary.
“And she’s really good at it,” del Rio said.
“When you walk in her classroom, there’s a high level of joy,” he said. “Even with all the high academic standards for kindergartners these days, she keeps it fun for the kids.”
Del Rio said that every holiday, Pereyra-Robertson’s class surprises the front office with a song, whether it’s an Elvis love song on Valentine’s Day or a carol at Christmas.
“She cares about every single kid no matter where they come from and what language they speak,” he said. “And she knows where they are at socially, emotionally and academically.”
Pereyra-Robertson, who also took time out Wednesday to leave a message for her mother, said her parents emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. in the 1950s.
“I’ve walked in their shoes, and I know what it takes to learn with a language barrier,” she said of her minority students. “And the things that my mother did to support us is now what I try to do to help parents.”
Pereyra-Robertson said she emphasizes equity and inclusion in her classroom and makes an effort to make all students feel welcome and to communicate and build trust with the parents.
Last June, she attended the high school graduations of some of the students from her first kindergarten class at Howard.
“It was so cool to look in the program and see how many of my students had received scholarships and were going to college,” she said.
Pereyra-Robertson’s current students were proud to see their teacher honored. Even if she is their first teacher ever, many said she was their “favorite.”
“She’s my favorite because she has a pretty shirt,” said Mckynzie Casilla.
“She teaches me stuff and always takes good care of me,” said another kindergartner, Aleighsia Brown, after the assembly.
As Oregon’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, Pereyra-Robertson will speak at teaching conferences and events around the state, as well as represent Oregon at the Washington Recognition Week for Teachers of the Year next April in Washington, D.C., where she will meet the president and U.S. secretary of education.
This year is the second year that Oregon Lottery has furnished a $5,000 prize for the teacher, a $5,000 prize for the school and a $12,500 travel stipend for the Teacher of the Year.
Tamara Anderson, an Ashland High School math teacher, was one of the three teachers interviewed by Noor for Teacher of the Year and, as a runner-up, was awarded a $2,000 check Wednesday.