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November 13, 2002
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Las Cruces Teacher, James Smith, Named 2003 New Mexico 'Teacher of the Year'

(Santa Fe, NM)-James L. Smith (click to see James Smith Bio) a teacher with the Las Cruces Public Schools, was named the 2003 New Mexico "Teacher of the Year" today by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael J. Davis. Smith will be among those considered as the 53rd national "Teacher of the Year," to be announced in April 2003, the nation's top teaching honor.

First runner up for "Teacher of the Year" was Maria de Armas Ladd of La Cueva High in Albuquerque and second runner up was Joe Strickland of Lincoln Jackson Arts Academy in Clovis.

"We are delighted to recognize James Smith as the New Mexico 'Teacher of the Year.' Through the 'Teacher of the Year' program we celebrate and honor the highest caliber of teaching in the state. All the finalists are role models for teachers in New Mexico and across the nation," said State Superintendent Davis.

Smith, an educator at Mayfield High in Las Cruces since 1979, and the 2003 Las Cruces "Teacher of the Year," believes that "good teaching springs from a philosophy that all students can learn."

"Teaching is a noble profession that allows people to make a difference. In this time of renewed patriotism, I would remind people that individuals can serve their nation in many ways, including teaching. Teaching is an act of patriotism," Smith said. "Good teachers who work hard and seize the opportunity to make a difference in a student's life play an indispensable role in creating a 'more perfect union,'" he said.

Smith was nominated as "Teacher of the Year" by the Las Cruces Public Schools. A six-member panel of educators, superintendents, local school board members and other community leaders selected him as the New Mexico "Teacher of the Year."

If selected as the national "Teacher of the Year," "I would like to let people know that what gives me the most pride is not being thought of as 'Teacher of the Year' but simply being thought of as a teacher, and more important, a public school teacher," he said.

Sixteen teachers applied for the honor of New Mexico "Teacher of the Year." All were statewide district finalists.

Las Cruces Teacher, James Smith, Named 2003 New Mexico "Teacher of the Year"

In addition to Smith, Ladd and Strickland, the district finalists were:

Fred Baca with G.W. Stout Elementary in Silver City;
Rick Cole with Los Lunas High in Los Lunas;
Janice H. Culp with Central Primary in Bloomfield;
Lino M. Espinoza with Shiprock High in Shiprock;
Anna K. Gahl with Jemez Valley High in Jemez Pueblo;
Richard Dale Jones with Portales High in Portales;
Edward S. Pena with Cobre High in Bayard;
Jose R. Reyes with Desert View Elementary in Sunland Park;
Ada P. Rippberger with Van Buren Middle in Albuquerque;
Janet Tabet with Rio Grande Elementary in Belen;
Marilyn Taylor with Esperanza Elementary in Farmington;
Patricia Veltri with Columbian Elementary in Raton; and
Connie Witt with Chamisa Elementary in White Rock.

In her application, Ladd said, "Part of what hooked me to high school teaching was the notes and thanks I received from my students at the end of the year. But mostly what hooked me was the opportunity to make a positive contribution not only to my students' education but to their lives. Over and over again I have observed that students will learn and be successful when they find the content material meaningful and relevant."

Strickland said, "A teacher is actually a facilitator of learning. Learning is a personal, internal process that can be guided and influenced, but originates inside the individual. An effective teacher is really the coach that helps direct, encourage and inspire the learner to take responsibility for his own education."

The New Mexico "Teacher of the Year" recognition is part of the National Teacher of the Year Program, co-sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic, Inc. Smith will travel to Dallas, Texas, in January to meet with teachers of the year from across the country and to Washington, D.C., in April for a ceremony at the White House. He will visit Washington, D.C., next fall for more work with state teachers of the year.