Manuel "Manny" Zaldivar holds his first-grade students at Smalley Academy to high standards—including the many English Language Learners (ELLs) in his class. Zaldivar, who was an English learner himself, uses his own experience to push his students to succeed: "This is hard, but you can do it!" he is known to tell them. He runs a peaceful, orderly classroom in which children are eager to learn, know exactly what is expected of them, and rise to meet his high expectations.
In addition to teaching in the classroom and serving as the school's first-grade team leader, Zaldivar heads the English Language Development (ELD) team at Smalley, a diverse K-5 school in New Britain where 89% of students are on a free- or reduced-price lunch program. A native Spanish speaker, Zaldivar writes ELD curriculum, coaches colleagues, manages and interprets the school's ELD data, and presents his findings to staff, administrators and the board of education. At the district level, he is recognized at as a leader of implementing the ELD model and is expected to take on coaching responsibilities to broaden its impact. His students are thriving: The first-graders showed a 21% increase in those reading at or above grade level in recent NWEA MAP (Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress) assessments. The ELLs in Zaldivar's class often exit ELD classes entirely after just one year with him.
Soft-spoken yet firm, Zaldivar does not shy away from hard conversations and is known to forge strong relationships with students, families and staff. He leads workshops to help parents support their children's learning, sits on the school's Positive Behavior Intervention and Support team, and is a mentor in Connecticut's Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) program. He has led professional development programs on effective classroom management, sharing strategies like the call-and-response auditory signals he uses to transition students between classroom activities. Zaldivar mentors early career teachers and is a role model for younger staff members, who, when facing a dilemma, often say, "What would Manny do?"
Zaldivar chairs Smalley's Multicultural Committee, planning and implementing activities that highlight cultures around the world. He created the school's first Museum Walk, in which each grade researched and presented projects related to different countries and their cultures. Zaldivar is on the school's "walk-through" team, on which teachers and administrators observe teachers in action in order to recognize strong practices and identify areas that need additional support. Before Smalley, Zaldivar taught at Family Life Academy Charter School in the Bronx (New York). He arrived at Family Life Academy during a challenging school-restructuring transition and quickly became a steady, valued team member, transforming his grade-level team into an effective unit.
Zaldivar earned a Bachelor of Science in computer system and management applications in 2004 from Fordham University and a Master of Science in childhood education in 2007 from Lehman College at the City University of New York. In 2016, he completed the administrator certification program at Sacred Heart University.
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