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MLMC Family Specialist RISE Award Finalist

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MLMC Family Specialist RISE Award Finalist
Posted on 01/18/2022
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The Portland Public Schools is proud to announce that Betsy Paz-Gyimesi, a Spanish-speaking family and community engagement specialist for the district, is among 11 Maine finalists for the national Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award.

Paz-Gyimesi also won an additional honor: She is one of just two of those state finalists chosen to be state-level honorees representing Maine for consideration for a national RISE Award. The U.S. Department of Education will select one national honoree from among all the honorees representing each state and present that individual with an award in the spring.

The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) announced the 11 state finalists and the two state honorees on Jan. 18. At noon that day, at a special ceremony at East End Community School, Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin informed Paz-Gyimesi she was one of the two state-level honorees and presented her with a certificate and flowers and thanked her for her service. Members of the PPS school community also were present to show their gratitude and share inspirational messages about how Paz-Gyimesi has impacted the community.

“We’re thrilled that Betsy has been chosen for this well-deserved honor,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “Betsy truly is inspirational. She’s an incredible force for good in our school district. She works unceasingly to assist our Spanish-speaking students and their families, some of whom are among the most vulnerable members of the Portland Public Schools community. Her work goes far beyond language access – she supports our families in all aspects of their lives because she knows that’s key to student success. We’re also very excited that she will go on to represent Maine as a potential winner of the national RISE Award.”

The RISE Award was passed by Congress in 2019 and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. It honors classified employees in the education workforce who provide exemplary service. MDOE, in coordination with the Office of Governor Janet T. Mills, selected 11 finalists from a pool of more than 80 exceptional nominees submitted from across Maine by local educational agencies, school administrators, professional associations, nonprofits, parents/caregivers, students, and community members. 

Maureen Clancy, language access coordinator for the district’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center, nominated Paz-Gyimesi. “Betsy bridges the home/school divide for our families, and is a fierce advocate in ensuring that students access programs and services that would nurture and advance their academic performance and social/emotional well-being,” Clancy said.

Paz-Gyimesi originates from Cuba and was herself an English language learner (ELL) in elementary school. She began her professional career as a registered nurse specializing in pediatric emergency medicine. Betsy also served as a school nurse and case manager in New York City at a school serving children with special needs. She joined the Portland Public Schools in 2016. As a bilingual person, Betsy understands the need for language access for students and families – and more.

“When I started my job, I thought it would be helping families by using my Spanish language skills to support the school-family relationship and communication. My job is so much more than that,” Paz-Gyimesi said. “What I actually do much of the time is support families in all aspects of their lives. Helping them navigate new systems and access community services, and providing language access are a few of the things that I assist families with. Another important aspect of my work involves aiding families to develop a sense of belonging in their new communities by becoming involved in school activities. This work is also personal to me as I can relate to both student and parent having been an ELL student myself. I love my job, as it empowers me to build meaningful relationships with families that will address their cultural needs, understanding that for children to be successful in school their family's basic needs have to be met so that the student and family, together, are able to focus on the bigger picture and the future.”

At the ceremony, Paz-Gyimesi said she was honored to receive the recognition and added, “I feel so blessed to be able to do something I love.”

RISE nominees demonstrate excellence in: work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work), and enhancement of classified school employees' image in the community and schools. 

Commissioner Makin praised Paz-Gyimesi and the other state level honoree, Deb Bodge, an administrative assistant/secretary for RSU 2, and other hardworking educational support staff.

“Today I have been privileged to honor and recognize two of the thousands of heroes who are ensuring that Maine children have access to safe and successful schools,” Makin said. “These dedicated staff members support teachers and families, and ensure that the health, safety, nutritional and academic needs of students are met day after day. Without their dedication and hard work, our schools, our communities, would falter. I urge all Maine people to join me in recognizing these two individuals, and in thanking our entire education workforce, which continues to rise above and deliver on behalf of their students.”

The governor also issued a statement about the awardees. “On behalf of all Maine people, I sincerely congratulate our RISE award winners on this well-deserved honor, and I thank them for all they do for our state,” Mills said.

To learn more about the other Maine finalists for the RISE Award, click HERE. Each of Maine’s finalists will be honored with a letter from the Maine Commissioner of Education and be featured on the MDOE website.  

Superintendent Xavier Botana honored Paz-Gyimesi at the Jan. 18 Portland Board of Public Education meeting. Watch on YouTube.
Betsy Paz-Gyimesi receiving RISE Award recognition
Xavier Botana Betsy Paz-Gyimesi Pender Makin

PHOTOS: Betsy Paz-Gyimesi, PPS family and community engagement specialist. is pictured above and also below at the Jan. 18, 2022 ceremony honoring her being named a Maine finalist for the RISE Award. Standing alongside her are Superintendent Xavier Botana and Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.