Jahana Hayes, the history teacher at Waterbury's John F. Kennedy High School who was named the Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, is now a finalist for the 2016 National Teacher of the Year Award.
Dr. Kathleen Ouellette, Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools, was informed Jan. 12 by the Council of Chief State School Officers that Mrs. Hayes is one of four finalists for the coveted title of National Teacher of the Year.
"This is great news for Mrs. Hayes, the Waterbury Public School System and the entire City of Waterbury," Dr. Ouellette said. "Jahana Hayes, like all of the candidates, has made untold contributions to her school, her students and her community."
The National Teacher of the Year Award, run by the Council of Chief State School Officers, identifies exceptional teachers in the country, recognizes their effective work in the classroom, amplifies their voices and empowers them to participate in policy discussions at the state and national levels.
"These professionals are educators, engaged citizens and role models," said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "They work to ensure every child receives a quality education that will set them on a course for success after graduation."
Dr. Ouellette said "the life and body work of Jahana Hayes is the American Dream."
Mrs. Hayes grew up in an economically challenged neighborhood in Waterbury and saw drugs and violence as a child. But she learned that education was the means to expand her world and credits her teachers for recognizing her talents and encouraging her. She now does that for her students.
Mrs. Hayes goes into the community to meet and interact with parents, and can often be found at extracurricular events, supporting her students. She is also involved in no less than five community projects and encourages her students to volunteer with her.
Mrs. Hayes succeeds because she can directly relate to the challenges and difficulties some of her students face: "I am that urban child,” she says.
But she also said the award is not about her individual accomplishments.
“I’m thrilled that the Waterbury Community’s perspective is entering the national conversation,” Mrs. Hayes said.
Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O'Leary said Mrs. Hayes' recognition is well-deserved and reflects on the hard work of every educator in the Waterbury School System. "I'm so proud to know what an impact she has had on our students," O'Leary said.