In the 85 years since our founding, OnPoint has always appreciated how investing in education is one of the best ways to build thriving communities. That’s why we created the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education. Recently, we announced the details of the 2018 contest, which will celebrate outstanding public and private K-12 teachers and schools, including paying the mortgages of two winning teachers for one school year.
The OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education is one of the many ways we honor our history as a credit union founded by school teachers. Now in its 9th year, the annual campaign has awarded more than $240,000 in prizes to 60 educators and schools.
Last year, David Valenzuela, a biomedical sciences teacher at Madison High School in Portland, was named 9-12 Educator of the Year. David was nominated by his colleagues and school community for his aspirational and innovative teaching methods and for establishing public-private partnerships to afford life-changing opportunities to students. An M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Foundation Partner in Science Fellow, David brought grants and research facility partnerships to his school, offering students hands-on experience.
A year after winning the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education, we talked with David about what the experience meant to him, what advice he has for other educators interested in the OnPoint Prize, and what’s happening now at Madison High School.
What was it like to win the 2017 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year award?
Winning the 2017 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year award was a humbling experience. As teachers, we are used to being on the classroom stage in front of our students. Outside of the classroom, we’re not in the limelight. We may participate in honors and awards, but it’s always with other educators. So, to be honored with the OnPoint award which is such a big and public televised event with other professionals who support and advocate for great educators was incredible. I was blown away. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the OnPoint Prize experience. The person who nominated me is an amazing, award-winning biology teacher named Jill Semlick. She nominated me for the OnPoint Prize in her last year of teaching before retiring from Madison High School. To have been nominated and supported in that way by a fellow friend, colleague and teacher was inspiring and an incredible honor.
Winning this prize meant you had your mortgage covered for a school year – how has that impacted your life?
The OnPoint Prize came at exactly the right time. My wife Stacy and I had just purchased a home less than a year prior to the award. We also had a 12-week-old baby girl, Alice. Stacy was just in the middle of her post-residency fellowship at OHSU. The OnPoint Educator of the Year award meant we got to have a strong start as a family and new homeowners. We were able to put money away for college savings and have a solid financial plan in place. We were able to cover our daycare costs and be on solid financial footing. It was an incredible gift at exactly the right time in our life as a young family.
Do you have any advice for teachers who are interested in applying for the OnPoint Prize?
I would encourage any teacher interested in applying for the OnPoint Prize or nominating a fellow teacher to pursue it. Even just the process itself of submitting the application is rewarding. You are able to see your work and reflect on the impact of your work in the lives of students. If you are thinking of nominating yourself or others, you’re probably doing a pretty darn good job. It’s a special moment and time to reflect on all the positive things you are doing in the classroom.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about that you’re working on right now?
What is happening at Madison High School at Portland Public Schools regarding graduation rates is incredible. We serve many families and community members from lower-income backgrounds and many students are transferring in and out throughout the year. Despite this, we’ve seen a steady increase in our graduation rates to now 81 percent. Additionally, for students in our career and technical education program, graduation rates are above 90 percent. That’s unprecedented. It’s really gratifying to see that you can do a lot of good by having strong programs, as well as incredible administration and support staff. Of course, we still have work to do and we would like that percentage to be higher, but we are moving in the right direction.
Nominate your favorite teacher today!
Educator of the Year nomination forms are now available at www.onpointprize.com and will be accepted until 5:30 p.m. PDT on April 9, 2018. Anyone can nominate an educator, and educators may also nominate themselves. Applicants must be a full-time or job-share classroom teacher, counselor or librarian of grades K-12 in an accredited public, private or charter school located within the counties OnPoint serves (Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill counties in Oregon, and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington). Please see www.onpointprize.com for additional qualifications and contest rules.
Pictured above at the 2017 OnPoint Prize Award Ceremony (from L to R): Ines Kuna, David Valenzuela, Rob Stuart, Amy Pederson, James Nosen