• Franklin High teacher Mercedes Muñoz wins Oregon Teacher of the Year award

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     Mercedes Munoz collage

    Mercedes Muñoz was given the Oregon Teacher of the Year award at a surprise ceremony in the Franklin gym. (Photos by Beth Conyers)

    One testimonial called Mercedes Muñoz a “force of nurture.” Another said she is a “living embodiment of grace under pressure.” A third said her students are “immeasurably lucky to have her.”

    Now there is one more thing you can say about the Franklin High School special education teacher: She is the Oregon Teacher of the Year for 2020.

    In a surprise ceremony Friday in the Franklin gym, Portland Public School Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and Franklin Principal Chris Frazier joined Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, in presenting Muñoz with the award.

    “As a special education teacher, Mercedes delivers daily hope and encouragement to a wide range of students with varying academic, social and emotional needs,” Gill said. “I look forward to her impact as a model for all teachers across our state this coming year.”

    (See a full set of photos from the ceremony)

    The ODE presents the Teacher of the Year award in partnership with the Oregon Lottery. The honor includes a $5,000 cash prize, with Franklin receiving a matching $5,000.

    Muñoz has served as a learning specialist at Franklin since 2013, and she has been instrumental in developing and implementing the "push-in" model for special education. Push-in is a collaborative and inclusive approach that brings instruction and materials to special education students to ensure that they get full access to general education curriculum while limiting any disruption to their daily schedule.

    Elizabeth Kirsch collaborated with Muñoz, who served as the push-in teacher for her sophomore English class during the 2017-18 school year. She said Muñoz became a fixture in the class, helping not only the special education students, but all of the students.

    “I cannot emphasize enough Mercedes’ capacity for building strong relationships with students,” Kirsch wrote in a nominating letter. “It is one of the things that allows her to be as effective as she is as an educator.”

    Madison High School special education teacher Andy Clark, who worked with Muñoz at Franklin, said despite a large caseload, Muñoz finds time to impact many others.

    “She still finds time to assist newer SPED teachers with their students, collaborate with general education teachers and lead the charge for building a more equitable environment,” he wrote in a nominating letter.

    Muñoz became the fifth Portland Public Schools teacher to win the award, which was first presented in 1955. The previous PPS winners:

    • 1962: Lorraine Sabo, Lewis Elementary School
    • 1970: Carlton Bryson, Benson High School
    • 2012: Elena Garcia-Velasco, SEIS at Roosevelt High School
    • 2017: Matthew Bacon-Brenes, Mt. Tabor Middle School

    As part of receiving the award, Muñoz will serve as a spokesperson and representative for all Oregon teachers and will attend the Recognition Week for Teachers of the Year in Washington, D.C. this spring. She also will receive year-long professional development and networking with other state Teachers of the Year.

    Friday's ceremony drew the attention of Portland media, which filed these reports: