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Hometown hero Melanie Alfaro merits $25,000 as the 2017-18 Milken Educator Award winner for New Mexico

Deming Intermediate math teacher sets high standards leading all her students to excel 

November 30, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Being a New Mexico State University Hall of Fame basketball player, Melanie Alfaro knows the sweet taste of success. It's a quality she tries to instill in her math students, equating the similarities between athletics and academics as examples: set a goal and work hard to reach it. Using student assessments, video instruction and collaborative projects as part of her teaching strategy, Alfaro engages all levels of learners and gives them every opportunity to understand and grasp sixth grade math; her students lead the grade level in math proficiency.

Joined by New Mexico Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley bestowed Alfaro with the $25,000 Milken Educator Award before an exuberant all-school assembly, causing the Wildcats to roar with cheers after the announcement.

Alfaro is the only recipient for the state of New Mexico, and is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition and unrestricted cash prize.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

Alfaro immerses her students in data, setting individual and whole-class goals, charging students with monitoring their own progress, and holding family classes to ensure parents are fully equipped to support their children's efforts in math. Deming has jumped two letter grades and 16 percentage points in end-of-year math assessments in the past few years.

"Melanie Alfaro gives every student her time, whether it's one-on-one or in a group, it's her keen sense of a child's understanding level that determines her teaching methods and that directly leads to proficiency," said Foley. "Melanie has outstanding strategies and outcomes in the classroom and we recognize her determination to influence mathematics instruction throughout the district as well. From elementary to the high school level, she is working to make sure every math student succeeds. We're proud to welcome her to the Milken Educator family."

"Our state's best teachers should be championed, celebrated and rewarded—they're having an outsized impact on their students' academic outcomes and life prospects. Over the last 100 days, I've had the privilege of traveling the entire state to celebrate our districts and educators to highlight their work, and today's recognition is one of the highest honors a teacher can earn in the country," said Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski. "Melanie is changing our students' lives by assuming full responsibility for her academic outcomes and constantly refining her craft—her teaching is poetry in motion and finds the right balance of both the art and science of teaching. She is a wonderful ambassador for our profession. Her students are on the rise—and this honor and award are well-deserved."

About Milken Educator Melanie Alfaro
Melanie Alfaro, a sixth-grade math teacher at Deming Intermediate School in New Mexico, holds all her students to high standards. She employs a multitude of instructional strategies in her classroom, including active engagement and collaborative grouping, and is trained on AIMS3, a state dual-language program that supports English learners. The school doesn't have a gifted program, but Alfaro makes sure advanced learners stay challenged with appropriate course work and encourages higher-achieving students to mentor those who need more help.

As head of the math department, Alfaro sits on Deming's school leadership team and was deeply involved in the formulation and monitoring of its 90-day improvement plan. She mentors teachers throughout the district, leads professional development, sits on the math pacing guides and superintendent's advisory committees, and was instrumental in bringing former New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera to Deming to talk about the status of education in the state. Alfaro has advocated strongly in favor of the district's sometimes-controversial policy of busing U.S. citizen children living across the nearby Mexican border into Deming schools. In 2016, she was selected to join the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

A Deming native and product of Deming Public Schools, Alfaro is an accomplished athlete who played Division I basketball at New Mexico State University and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2014. She has worked hard to build up Deming's Little League baseball program, serving on the board and as president. Alfaro started a summer basketball camp and coaches basketball, t-ball and Little League baseball; the district offered her the opportunity to coach varsity basketball, but Alfaro opted to work with younger students to teach them the fundamentals and prepare them for higher-level athletics. In the classroom, Alfaro stresses the importance of both academics and athletics, reminding students that working hard at one supports success in the other. Students often come back to share their good news and accomplishments with Alfaro, telling her that they are top of their class, entering honors courses, and even graduating as valedictorian.

Alfaro earned a bachelor's in business administration in 2002 from New Mexico State University and a master's in education in 2013 from Western New Mexico University.

More information about Alfaro, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Alfaro's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Jana Rausch
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