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RACINE — Racine Unified School District educator Nikki Radcliffe has been selected as a winner of the nationwide inaugural Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) Lighthouse Award.

The announcement was made during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8-13) to highlight the impact that educators such as Radcliffe have on their students.

This award is given on behalf of HMH, a learning technology company that is committed to delivering connected solutions that engage learners, empower educators and improve student outcomes. 

Additional supporters of the award include the acclaimed speaker and author of The Lighthouse Effect, Steve Pemberton, and Carmen Ortiz-McGhee, Chief Operating Officer at the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC) and a “human lighthouse” featured in Pemberton’s book.

Nikki Radcliffe
Book cover of The Lighthouse Effect by Steve Pemberton

“I was blessed to have caring, compassionate teachers who helped me navigate very challenging times in my youth,” said Carmen Ortiz-McGhee, COO at NAIC and a “human lighthouse” featured in The Lighthouse Effect. “I was deeply moved by each teacher’s story, knowing that, because of them, their students will be inspired and empowered to live into their full potential.”

Radcliffe’s experience

Nikki Radcliffe
Nikki Radcliffe – Credit: Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted

Radcliffe is the Gifted and Advanced Coordinator for students in kindergarten through 12th grade throughout RUSD. She has been with the district for over a year but has over a decade of experience as a teacher.

According to RUSD, gifted and advance students are defined as students enrolled in public schools who give evidence of high-performance capability in intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or specific academic areas. 

One of 10 selected

Radcliffe was one of 10 educators selected nationally for the award. According to the release, over 500 teachers from across the country were nominated.

“As I read through the nominations, I felt as if I was brought into the classrooms of each teacher, and was in awe of their daily commitments,” said Pemberton. “I am thrilled that Carmen and I were able to work with HMH to recognize the impact that these teachers are having on students, schools, and communities.”

Those selected embody the qualities of what Pemberton calls a human lighthouse. According to him, they are selfless, steadfast, resilient, noble, protective, and humble.

The nomination

Radcliffe was nominated by Mallory Umar, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction with RUSD.

“Students may be unaware of the extra effort and time that their teachers put towards providing them with the best opportunity to succeed. Nikki lets nothing hold her back from providing her students with opportunities to see themselves as leaders and innovators. Not only did she design a program for advanced third graders to attend a hands-on workshop series, but she even transports students to the events in the school van,” read the nomination form.

Radcliffe was notified by email that she was nominated for the award. That alone was a surprise and brought the teacher a smile.

The excitement didn’t stop there.

“When I got the email that I was one of the 10, I was just super excited and honored,” said Radcliffe.

Book club brings students together

Radcliffe created a program and book club geared towards the district’s third-grade gifted and advanced students.

The club met three times between the fall and winter semesters, in addition to using a Google Classroom to communicate weekly.

The district will continue its efforts to connect with advanced students by offering a fourth-grade book club next year. In addition, a new group of third grade students will be welcomed into the club.

“We wanted to take something that aligned to the curriculum,” explained Radcliffe.

This year, the group focused on kid innovators, inventors and trailblazers. It was an opportunity for these students to be challenged and to connect with other like-minded individuals.

Other educators awarded

In addition to Radcliffe, the following educators also won the HMH Lighthouse Award:

  • Eric Cavalli, Adapted Physical Education at Manor ISD, Manor, Texas 
  • Blanca Hernandez, Bilingual Kindergarten Teacher at Douglass Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas
  • Elaine Kotler, 7th and 8th Grade Science Teacher at Henry James Memorial School, Simsbury, Conn.
  • Dana Mason, 7th – 12th Grade Writing Teacher at Keough Memorial Academy, Bellingham, Mass.
  • Tammy Notehelfer, Middle School Teacher at Mountain View Middle School, Bonney Lake, Wash.
  • Traci Storti, 9th – 12th Grade Spanish Teacher at Houlton Middle High School, Houlton, Maine
  • Orlando Trevino, SPED Transition 18+ Program at Mercedes High School, Mercedes, Texas
  • Charles Wake, 6th Grade Science Teacher at Frazee Elementary School, Frazee, Minn.
  • Avery Wilmurth, 4th Grade ELA at Bristow Elementary, Bowling Green, Ky.

All winners will receive a visit from Steve Pemberton and Carmen Ortiz-McGhee at their school during the 2023-2024 school year.

Selected educators will also receive an all-expenses paid trip to the 2023 Model Schools Conference, June 25-28, in Orlando, Fla.

Teacher Appreciation Week

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