Las Vegas educator named National Teacher of the Year

LAS VEGAS — A Nevada educator on Thursday was named National Teacher of the Year and received a surprise visit to her classroom by first lady Jill Biden.

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Juliana Urtubey, a special education teacher and learning strategist at Booker Elementary School in Las Vegas, became the first Nevada teacher to win the award, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The Council of Chief State School Officers recognized Urtubey, and the announcement was made on “CBS This Morning.”

“Juliana Urtubey exemplifies the dedication, creativity and heart teachers bring to their students and communities,” council CEO Carissa Moffat Miller said in a statement.

Urtubey is also known as “Ms. Earth” for her “efforts to beautify schools and unify the community through murals and gardens,” according to the announcement by the school officers council.

“I am so grateful,” Urtubey said at an event organized by the Clark County School District. “As a special education teacher, my job is to find strengths within students, and I fully believe all of our children have strengths.”

The other finalists were John Arthur from Utah, Maureen Stover from North Carolina, and Alejandro Diasgranados, from the District of Columbia.

Urtubey was named the 2021 Nevada Teacher of the Year in September, the Review-Journal reported. She was born in Bogota, Colombia, and raised in Phoenix, the newspaper reported. Urtubey earned a bachelor’s degree in bilingual general education and a master’s degree in bilingual special education from the University of Arizona, according to the Review-Journal.

She has taught in the Clark County School District since 2013, the newspaper reported.

The first lady dropped by Urtubey’s class Thursday with a bouquet and a letter from President Joe Biden to thank her for her contribution to the country’s education, CBS News reported.

“I’m so excited because, you know, Juliana is our National Teacher of the Year, and I’m so proud today to be an educator,” Jill Biden told “CBS This Morning.” “Look at Juliana -- I mean, she is just the epitome of a great teacher, a great educator.”

Urtubey, who has called the first lady her hero, was shocked when the first lady walked into her classroom.

“I was obviously elated. I mean, it’s so amazing,” Urtubey told “CBS This Morning.” “And I’m so grateful for a change of tone of positivity, of focusing on education to get our students what they need. It’s so beautiful.”

As the National Teacher of the Year, Urtubey will receive a paid year off from classroom duties, which will be covered by the state and district, the Review-Journal reported. The council will arrange travel and speaking tours, according to the organization’s website.

“Juliana is an exceptional teacher leader and we are so proud to have her represent educators from Nevada and across the nation,” Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert said in a statement. “It is fitting that Juliana is Nevada’s first-ever National Teacher of the Year, as she exemplifies the values of equity and inclusivity that drive our collective work to support students and families.”


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