Farmington Public Schools Principal Recognized as Outstanding Educator
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of the deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."
President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt’s message crediting the person who dares to enter the arena to achieve something important despite the hard work and the critics involved is as relevant today as it was in 1910. The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) FOCUS staff chose President Roosevelt’s speech as an inspiration for the type of educator they wanted to recognize with The NMPED PED FOCUS TQRIS Outstanding Educator Award. This year’s recipient is Mrs. Rhonda Attaway, Principal at the Career and Technology Education (CATE) Center. This award recognizes exemplary public school preschool programs in the state of New Mexico. The award plaque states: In Appreciation for Daring Greatly to Provide High Quality Early Childhood Education and Inclusive Practices for All Children.
Mrs. Attaway is a seasoned, special education teacher and elementary and preschool administrator. Her experiences have taught her the value of inclusion at all levels. When asked why she initially chose to develop inclusion programs at the CATE Center, she said, “I knew what was possible. I felt uniquely qualified to lead this initiative.” In speaking about children in her program with identified special education needs, she is passionate about her beliefs. “They are kids first, and you treat them like kids. You may make changes in instruction for their learning needs, but they are kids first.” Mrs. Attaway attended the NM PreK administrator training and was a participant in the NM PED FOCUS stakeholder meetings. She is always quick to credit the tremendous support from teachers, other administrators, PED NM PreK and PED FOCUS in this process. “When I went to the FOCUS stakeholder meetings, I realized that our district had already begun an inclusion program in a small way." Mrs. Attaway decided to build on this work.
She reached out to Farmington Special Preschool (FSP) principal, Mr. Bill Knight, to begin an inclusion program. Mrs. Attaway continues in this collaboration with Mrs. Andrea Garcia, the current principal of the FSP. The preschool now funds a special education resource teacher, Niklas Sheperd, at the CATE Center to provide support to the NM PreK teachers in meeting students’ special learning needs in the general education setting. Mr. Sheperd shared, “I can’t say enough how great the teachers and educational assistants are that I get to work with as the inclusion teacher. They all bring a variety of different skill sets to their classrooms and pour their hearts and souls into it. Last year the amount of change and growth I was privileged to see in the kids was remarkable. There were kids who were extremely nonverbal and, by the end of the year, they are providing us with five- to six-word sentences without prompting. Kids who had goals to initiate play with others were now playing with two to three other children consistently. They had opened up socially, and we could really see their personalities and interests.”
Mrs. Attaway began with just one pilot program in the 2014–2015 school year at the CATE Center. Teresa Jaquez was the teacher in the pilot program. Mrs. Jaquez said, “I would not trade one minute of the time I have had with these kids. They have added so much to my classroom and life! I will never forget any of them and am truly grateful for the experience of having these students in my class.” Parents appreciate having their children with special needs being included in the general education setting. Mrs. Jaquez shared, “Last year I had a boy in my class. He was a very sweet and affectionate child. His mom texted me the other night to say how much he missed me and wanted to come back to PreK. It made me cry! She thanked me for being such a positive influence in his life, and it meant so much to me. It made it all worth it!”
Mrs. Attaway continues to dare greatly! She has implemented inclusive programming at the CATE Center, Esperanza Elementary School and opened a new inclusive program this year at Animas Elementary School. Mrs. Attaway’s advice to others about inclusion is, “Do it! Even if you have to start out small—start!” “This has been successful because the staff has believed in the program and worked very hard.”
Mrs. Attaway, Dr. Gene Schmidt, Farmington Superintendent, and the CATE Center teaching staff were recognized at the Farmington Public School Board Meeting on August 11, 2016 by the NM PED FOCUS staff from the UNM Center for Development and Disability for their exemplary work and their leadership in providing high-quality, inclusive programs for preschool students. Mrs. Attaway is quick to shine the spotlight on her staff, acknowledging the dedicated work they do each day to ensure that all their charges have the opportunity to experience high-quality teaching.