Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Omar Duron (AZ '19)

February 21, 2020

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No one understands Southwest Junior High School students better than Principal Omar Duron (AZ ’19), who arrived in San Luis in third grade as an English language learner. “I use my life stories as examples,” he says. “I truly hope to make a difference in their lives.” Omar won Arizona’s 2019-20 Milken Educator Award on January 17, 2020.

Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about middle school students?

Omar Duron (AZ ’19): Middle school students are resilient. We have our students for two years. These students are coming from elementary schools where they have been contained within one classroom, with one teacher, for every year they’ve been in school. When they come to us it’s a new environment with higher expectations.

Additionally, these students are on their way to high school. Our job is to ensure that we provide them the best education and tools to get them ready to tackle the next stage in life. All of us know that we need to connect with all students to ensure that trust is built and their educational and emotional needs are met.

MFF: You grew up in the community where you now work, and you graduated from Gadsden schools. How does that shape your relationship with the students you serve?

Omar: I tell my students I lived their lives when I was their age. I understand our students’ struggles because I was raised in this community and shared the same struggles they have. I am an English language learner, and I understand how students feel when they have a hard time understanding the content or are frustrated with their language development. I form part of this community’s culture and I am able to quickly relate to them and use my life’s stories as examples. I truly hope to make a difference in their lives.

MFF: How did you end up in education?

Omar: After receiving a degree in Business Administration in 2001, I applied to work as a special education instructional aide at Cibola High School in Yuma. This was my first experience in a school setting, and it was instantly rewarding working with students with varying physical and educational needs. I was able to make an impact on the students I assisted on a daily basis. Students were accomplishing their goals, and I was gratified to be able to serve them.

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MFF: How was your first year of teaching?

Omar: My first year as a teacher was filled with rewarding moments, and challenging ones as well. What stood out as I worked with my fourth graders was the urgency to ensure we taught all the standards and grade-level expectations within the allotted school year.

I learned quickly that teachers wore many hats throughout the day: head of the classroom, disciplinarian, researcher, mentor, counselor, and even nurse. Also, within the span of a day, a teacher has many tasks to accomplish: lesson planning, meeting with parents, meeting with grade-level team, professional development, getting materials ready for class, and organizing the classroom to receive 30 eager and energetic learners.

The first year was overwhelming. But educators have to depend on each other for support. I had an amazing grade-level team that took me under their wing and guided me through the first year. We also had an instructional coach who provided constant support in the classroom and through professional development.

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MFF: How has the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement influenced your practices and outlook as an educator?

Omar: The TAP System truly shaped me as an educator in all phases of my career. It provided a clear vision of what quality education looked like in the classroom and how it strongly correlated to student achievement. On the other hand, as a master teacher and a TAP principal, I believe and see the benefits of the TAP System through the support structures and processes for our teachers. The 19 indicators are not only a guide for effective classroom practices, but they are a great guide for professional development for teachers.

MFF: Who are your role models?

Omar: My third grade teacher, Ms. McEntire, shaped my idea of schooling, because that was my first year in a U.S. school. She created interactive lessons with strategies that allowed newcomers like me to have fun, learn the content, and most importantly practice our new language. Ms. McEntire dedicated every moment to planning lessons that targeted the needs of English language learners.

Later, as I started my bachelor’s in education, Dr. Hess taught her future educators how to take into account all the differences among our students in each classroom. She was an ELL specialist and modeled strategies that connected the learner with content and language.

MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?

Omar: It was one of the most exciting days of my life! I was beyond surprised, even though I helped organize and prepare for the event. Our district’s superintendent, Dr. Aguilera, contacted me a few weeks earlier to let me know that our school campus was going to host a special event about the census. We went through the logistics of the gym set up and all details to ensure the event occurred without a hitch.

It wasn’t until that morning that I learned about a very special guest, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. I just wanted the event to go well and our students to be attentive. Our school campus is constantly used for events, so I never thought it was strange hosting an event that had no obvious ties to us.

Once I started the assembly and introduced Superintendent Hoffman, I took my seat. I was so happy that all was going well and was starting to enjoy the flow of the event. As Superintendent Hoffman introduced Mr. [Lowell] Milken, I was in awe of the caliber of special guests who were present to hear her speak. When I heard that Mr. Milken was there to present the Milken Educator Award, I was excited for whoever was about to receive it. When my name was called, I was in shock and couldn’t get out of my seat. This was the best surprise ever!

MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?

Omar: All I can recall is seeing their faces bright and happy for me, for our school, and for being part of this great event. It is an honor to serve them as their principal, and I hope also as a role model. To receive the Award in the presence of my students and staff was doubly rewarding because they are an integral part of my development as an educator. It seems right that they were there to celebrate with me. I hope to inspire some of those students to become educators in the future.

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MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?

Omar: I am planning to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime occasion with all my staff and students. However, I have been planning to go back to school and pursue a doctorate in either educational leadership or curriculum. I am beyond grateful for the $25,000 because it will get me closer to one of my long-term goals.

MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?

Omar: Success is not giving up. It is working really, really hard and doing the work with dignity and high morals. Success is keeping an eye on the target while assessing and celebrating every “pit stop” along the way. Success is knowing you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone and trust that that’s where you learn and grow. We are easily swayed by our insecurities, but in order to be successful you have to promise yourself that you will do what’s expected of you regardless of your fears. Once you accomplish that, you will be close to your goals.

For our students, being successful is fighting against the daily distractors and keeping their focus on the content before them. For that to happen, our teachers must connect with students and entice them by planning interactive and relatable lessons. Success for our students is showing them their progress and setting attainable goals that make students feel successful when they are met. Success for our students also includes being open to feedback from teachers and quickly applying new learning.

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Omar: I hope all students remember that we always had their best interests in mind. I want all students to know that we cared deeply for each and every one of them. Not only did we care for their grades and learning, but we cared for them as individuals. I hope students remember that our goal as a school was to prepare them to be their best and ensure they continue their educational journey beyond the two years with us. I hope all students know that I was extremely proud of all of them and that I will continue to feel proud of them as they grow and become great role models to future generations.

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