In a district with close to 1,000 teachers, it is a daunting task to pick just one as the Teacher of the Year.
But, on Monday, at a special back-to-school breakfast at Cranston High School East, it was announced that librarian/media specialist Heidi Blais had received the honor.
She was nominated by no less than six of her fellow educators – including Barrows librarian Sue Rose, Eden Park librarian Ellen Basso, East English language arts teachers Diana Petrosinelli and Lauren Maker, Bain Middle School science teacher Steve Scappaticci and Cranston High School West Principal Tom Barbieri.
According to the application form, there are certain criteria each nominee must meet. The Teacher of the Year must be exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skillful; inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities; demonstrate the belief that all students can learn; have the respect and admiration of students, parents, administrators and colleagues; play an active and useful role in the community as well as in the school; and be poised and articulate.
Blais attended the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, for her undergraduate degree in elementary education. She received her master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Rhode Island.
Before her time at East, Blais also worked at Bain and Barrows, as well as Edgewood Highland, Garden City and Stadium elementary schools.
“Heidi has been such an intricate part of the fabric of the East community,” Cranston East Principal Sean Kelly said. “She is one of the very few teachers in the building that sees all students, no matter their grade or GPA. A library is a great equalizer, and Heidi treats all students equal – as the learners they are and can be. We are so lucky to have her at our school.”
Blais has been at Cranston East for the past three years, and in that time she has established a culture of reading, collaborated on community outreach projects, created computer labs and library websites, organized and supervised student library volunteers, coordinated an annual library holiday open house and promoted, facilitated and managed an interlibrary loan program.
“Heidi created a website that is the top accessed library web page in RILINK schools, which is statewide. I am so proud of her and all her hard work. She is simply amazing,” Rose said.
Blais presented her “Blog the Book” at a national conference in 2013.
She participates in several professional associations, including the School Librarians of Rhode Island, for which she is an executive board member.
At the breakfast, Cranston Schools Superintendent Dr. Judith Lundsten introduced Blais as a true professional. She thanked her for all she does not just in the library, but in the classrooms where her lessons carry over. Lundsten, herself, is a former Cranston Teacher of the Year.
“Heidi exemplifies everything a teacher should be,” Lundsten said. “She supports students in a variety of ways by building a culture of reading, as can be seen in her blog and book swaps. She supports teachers by providing resources and presenting professional development on using appropriate software, and collaborates with other professionals to support community outreach projects. We’re excited and honored to have Mrs. Blais as our Teacher of the Year.”
Blais was humbled by the award and spoke briefly to her colleagues.
“I believe education is all about community. Every school in Cranston has outstanding teachers, pupils and people. All of you here at East have been so welcoming and have all worked with me to get great things done,” she said.
Blais now goes into the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Teacher of the Year competition. If she wins, she will take part in the national competition.