Teacher of the Year Recognition Sets New Course for Highlands Alumna

LAS VEGAS – NM, Receiving a New Mexico Teacher of the Year award was much more than an honor for a Highlands University alumna; it was an opportunity to be a voice for the state’s teachers and students.

New Mexico’s Public Education Department selected Stephanie Gurulé-Leyba, a medical science teacher at Santa Fe’s Capital High School, as its 2017 Teacher of the Year, the first time in 16 years a Santa Fe teacher has received the award.

“A lot of people think it’s just an award,” said Gurulé-Leyba, who has taught at Capital High for 22 yeas. “But it’s really a job. We are considered to be ambassadors for teachers and students across our state, and once our year is over, it doesn’t end. We continue to serve at a greater capacity whether it be as a guest speaker, visitor in classrooms or discussion panels.”

Gurulé-Leyba’s past year has included speaking to New Mexico’s senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., participating in and Education Commission of the States conference in San Diego, a space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, working with student teachers at New Mexico Highlands, New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico and with teachers in school districts across the state. She has also started pursuing a doctorate at Walden University.

“I’m doing everything I can to share with my colleagues,” said Gurulé-Leyba, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Highlands in 1994 and her master’s at Highlands in 1999. “I’m working with teachers who are starting their journey on things from formative assessments to keeping students excited about being in school. I want to reach out to as many teachers as I can. If we can support each other, we can make a difference.”

Gurulé-Leyba said she received the award at a pivotal time in her career.

“I was hitting that rut that happens with teachers, when you say, ‘can I keep doing this?’” Gurulé-Leyba. “Being a Teacher of the Year elevated me and helped reintroduce me as to why I became a teacher to begin with. There were a lot of things I was doing from year to year because I was comfortable. I learned it’s OK to step out of your comfort zone; if it fails it fails. But you can’t be afraid to try new things.”

Gurulé-Leyba said networking with other teachers and elected officials showed her how to be an advocate for students and teachers.

“There are so many people who have their hands in the cookie jar, and it was so exciting to sit down and talk about issues surrounding education,” Gurulé-Leyba said. “You have to learn the policy to be an advocate. You have to be involved if you want to be a good advocate for your students and fellow teachers.”

Capital High School Principal Mariah Runyan said Gurulé-Leyba’s experience brought a noticeable new level of spirit to Gurulé-Leyba’s work and to the school.

“Her passion for making learning relevant and rigorous has impacted our entire staff at Capital High School, as she pushes each of us – student and teacher alike – to be at our best every day,” Runyan said. “During her year of learning, travel, and mentoring other teachers, Stephanie has always brought back her new ideas to what will be best for Capital students, which shows her love for teaching and for all of our students. What I have observed over the past year is a new fire in Stephanie, an even more intense desire to be the strongest advocate possible for public education, teachers, and students across the entire state.”

Gurulé-Leyba said she is excited to work with 2018 Teacher of the Year Ivonne Orozco, a teacher at the Public Academy for Performing Arts High School in Albuquerque.

“The past teachers of the year are trying to start a cohort where we mentor each other,” Gurulé-Leyba said. “We’ve sat with Ivonne and shared a great deal of information on what to expect. She’s going to have an exciting time.”

Gurulé-Leyba said her experience at Highlands inspired to become a teacher.

“I grew up in a home where education was the theme,” Gurulé-Leyba said, noting her mother BonNet Gurulé retired from working as a program manager in Highlands’ School of Education. “When I was at Highlands, I was going the pre-med route. My adviser said, ‘I’m surprised you’re not going into education because you’re so good with kids.’ It was in my blood, and I think everyone knew it before I did.

“Becoming a Teacher of the Year really opened my eyes, and I realized through the whole thing I want to continue helping students and teachers; to be a voice for them,” Gurulé-Leyba said. “It was a fun adventure.”