Burbank's national Teacher of the Year: 'It is electrifying'

Glendale can now call itself home to the top educator in the country.

Long-time Glendale resident and Burbank Unified teacher Rebecca Mieliwocki was named Monday as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, capping an extraordinary seven months during which she advanced to the county and state levels of the competition before being named one of four finalists for the top prize.

Mieliwocki, accompanied by family members and several top Burbank Unified officials, will join educators from across the country Tuesday in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden where President Obama will formally confer the award.

It will be followed by a black-tie gala Wednesday night.

“Many of the great heroes of my life were teachers, and I work with some amazing educators,” Mieliwocki said by phone from Washington D.C. on Monday. “I carry with me all of their talent, all of their ability, all of their experience; it has made me who I am.”

Raised in Napa by two educators, Mieliwocki has spent nine of her 13-year career with Burbank Unified, where she currently teaches English at Luther Middle School.

In October, she was recognized as a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. One month later, she garnered the statewide honor, and was selected by California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson as one of five California teachers to advance to the national competition.

She and her fellow finalists were required to submit a written application to the Council of Chief State School Officers that included eight essays on topics such as personal teaching philosophy and issues facing education, as well as endorsement letters. The candidates were judged on numerous factors, including their ability to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities.

Mieliwocki was informed that she had received the top honor following a trip to Washington D.C. several weeks ago, but had to keep the news a secret. She returned to the capital on Friday, joining the recipients of the state-level recognition in anticipation for the big announcement.

“It is electrifying to be in a room with these 53 people who have done remarkable things, transforming schools, changing children’s lives, starting programs, providing the highest quality instruction for children across the country,” Mieliwocki said, referring to her fellow honorees.

Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa, school board Vice President Debbie Kutka and former Luther Middle School Principal Anita Schackmann were making their way through Los Angeles International Airport on Monday to catch a flight to Washington D.C. for the White House ceremony when they received the news.

He and his colleagues are ecstatic, said Carrizosa, adding that Mieliwocki exemplifies everything that is right about public education.

“We are so excited that she is going to be a national spokesperson because she will carry with her the core values of our school district, Carrizosa said. “We believe in our school district and our system, and we are happy she is going to be the ambassador for that.”

Next week, Mieliwocki will return to Luther Middle School, where district officials have scheduled a homecoming celebration. After finishing out the current year in the classroom, she will spend 2012-13 on sabbatical, working for the Council of Chief State School Officers as an advocate for public education and teachers.

“We are some of the hardest working people in American,” Mieliwocki said. “We do a very difficult job and we love that job. We are so passionate about that. We are intelligent, reasonable people. We welcome thoughtful discourse about education and how to change it.”

She is still getting a feel for her new role, but among her priorities will be to ensure that teachers feel appreciated and supported, Mieliwocki said.

“It is very important to me that educators feel empowered, that they feel comfortable in their role as educators, that they fee validated,” she said.

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