Caitlin Garvey gets some help with her oversized $25,000 Milken Educator Award check. From left, Alex Trikalinos, assistant commissioner for New York State Education Department’s Office of Teacher and Leader Development; Rachel Tonkovich (NJ ‘10); recipient Caitlin Garvey (NY ‘22); Andrew Franz (NY ‘17); and Stephanie Bishop (VA ‘01), vice president of the Milken Educator Awards. Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation.

One upstate New York elementary teacher received the surprise of a lifetime last fall during a schoolwide assembly of cheering students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries and media. Caitlin Garvey, a special education teacher for first, second and third grades at Clyde-Savannah Elementary School and a native of Honeoye Falls, received the Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. Garvey is the first recipient to receive the Award in the Clyde-Savannah Central School District.

Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced.

The Award was presented by Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and New York State Department of Education Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Teacher and Leader Development Alex Trikalinos.

“I am proud to welcome Caitlin Garvey to the Milken Educator Network and congratulate her on this well-deserved honor,” said Bishop, who is also a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator. “Caitlin engages students through innovative methods to reach their highest potential, adapts instruction to the needs of every child, and displays exceptional leadership in the classroom, school and district.”

The Awards will honor up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

“Caitlin Garvey’s career in education from beginning as a teaching assistant to her work today as a classroom teacher exemplifies her hard work and dedication to the students of New York State,” said Assistant Commissioner Trikalinos.”Ms. Garvey’s leadership inside and beyond the classroom serves as a model of excellence for the profession, and she is a notably positive and impactful influence on her students, colleagues and the school community at Clyde Savannah CSD.”

Leading a class of 12 special needs students with five paraprofessionals at Clyde-Savannah Elementary, Garvey emphasizes communication and language development while de-emphasizing barriers to learning. She works with a wide range of needs and unique abilities in the self-contained class, for which she designed the curriculum with the help of specialists in speech pathology, assistive technology, autism and more. Garvey finds creative ways to engage each child while holding them to their highest academic potential, closing educational gaps and building skills that will impact the students for life. Students use crayons to highlight words they know and are still working to master, and manipulatives to form compound sentences. Through the use of small-group experiential activities, Garvey’s students show consistent growth in sight-word fluency, reading levels and increased time spent in integrated classroom settings.

Before moving to special education, Garvey taught many grade levels and served as a grade-level leader, as well as a member of the school’s leadership team. A school leader and mentor in data-based decision-making, including creating assessments, Garvey excels at gathering and analyzing data and using it to adapt instruction for improved student performance. She also mentors other teachers and has led professional development on differentiation and student engagement strategies. On the district’s instructional leadership team, Garvey contributes to curriculum mapping, development and material selection.

Through a “whole-child” approach, Garvey forms a genuine bond with families while ensuring parents feel valued, respected, heard and informed. She understands and appreciates students’ and families’ diverse needs and serves as a knowledgeable resource for peers on trauma, poverty and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). When the pandemic closed school buildings, she reached out to families to ensure children had the technology they needed to engage in remote learning: ”a unique and extremely necessary challenge for her students” and coached parents on how best to support their children’s education.

Garvey earned a bachelor’s in English literature and inclusive childhood and middle childhood education from Nazareth College in 2011 and a master’s in literacy education from SUNY Oneonta in 2021.

©2023 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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