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Rowan-Salisbury School System Announces 2023-2024 RSS Teacher of the Year

Marcela Puerta, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Hurley Elementary School, is the 2023-2024 Rowan-Salisbury (RSS) Teacher of the Year.

The formal announcement was made by RSS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Withers on Monday, May 22, during Hurley’s final House Event of the year. Puerta was surprised by RSS Teacher of the Year judges, Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education members, district administrators, her students, friends, colleagues, administrators, and the media. Family members in Columbia also joined via Zoom to watch the announcement.

“Ms. Puerta says she is a dreamer, and her dreams led her to become the first in her family to become a teacher. We know that Ms. Puerta’s work in Rowan-Salisbury Schools has empowered students to dream and begin working towards their goals,” Withers said. “We are so proud of the work Ms. Puerta has already accomplished, and we are excited to see the new experiences she will bring to the schools and students she serves in our community.”

Puerta was selected to represent RSS teachers for her incredible work building connections with

her students and their families. This year, Puerta worked with the faculty at Hurley and Knollwood elementary schools to host a Hispanic heritage celebration where students performed diverse songs, poems, dances and stories for a schoolwide assembly and ESL family night. She created take-home kits with games and activities to increase phonological awareness skills. These kits were intended to help her students, but she learned that families are using the kits together to improve the English skills of all family members.

She also created a Spanish Welcome Center in the front office of Hurley, which allows families to have access to resources without having to seek out someone to assist. It helps families be self-reliant when they enter the building.

"I encourage students to explore and maximize their unique abilities, in and out of the classroom, through academic, social-emotional, and extracurricular practices," Puerta said.

Puerta has worked in RSS for the last three years but taught internationally for three additional years.

"When you empower teachers, they can empower students, families, and the community. When teachers feel valued, they want to work hard. I feel that way," Puerta said about the importance of inclusion at all levels.

Puerta was one of 33 teachers representing each school in the district and was one of six finalists.

Along with the title of Teacher of the Year, Puerta received: RSS Teacher of the Year signs to announce her new title, a flower arrangement from Big Dog Flowers in China Grove, dinner for two at Texas Roadhouse, a $50 Amazon gift card, and a basket of her favorite things.

In addition to Puerta, finalists include:

● Leah Huggins, Salisbury High School

● Casey Ratledge, Rockwell Elementary School

● Deana Honeycutt, Knollwood Elementary School

● Felicia Young, Knox Middle School

● Tonya Kepley, Summit Virtual Academy

Puerta will move on to compete for the title of Regional Teacher of the Year. The 2024 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year will be announced in the Spring of 2024 and selected from regional winners across the state.

The selection committee included: Amanda Macon, Director of Recruitment and Induction; Stacey White, Executive Director of CTE; Rachel Moysen, 2022-2023 RSS Teacher of the Year; Alicia Byrd-Clark, Board of Education member, and Patricia Jones Ricks, community member and former educator.