R.I. Teacher of the year named
Beacon Charter School for the Arts in Woonsocket is home to this year’s Rhode Island Teacher of the Year in Nikos Giannopoulos.
WOONSOCKET — At the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, they call him Mr. G.
But yesterday they were calling math, film and special education teacher Nikos Giannopoulos something else – 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.
The honors were announced during a surprise ceremony at the Stadium Theatre yesterday by Gov. Gina Raimondo before some 300 students from Beacon and the new Founders Academy sixth grade. Upon hearing Raimondo call his name, Giannopoulos rose from his seat in the spectator section and joined some 30 dignitaries on the stage with her, including Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and the city’s entire legislative delegation.
“This goes beyond my wildest dreams,” Giannopoulos said, clutching a plaque and a bouquet of flowers. “I can’t say enough great things about this school. This is for anybody who has ever been anxious, for anybody who has ever struggled in math, for anyone who ever felt more comfortable in the art room than in the gym – this is for you guys.”
Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a nose ring and diamond studs in his ears, Giannopoulous then stood for a roaring standing ovation from the student body, including a number of seniors who showed up for the occasion even though they graduated the day before.
“You kinda like Mr. G,” Raimondo observed.
Among those with whom Giannopoulos shared hugs and kisses on stage after he accepted the honors were his mother and partner Justin Cardinale.
A Pennsylvania native, Giannopoulos, 28, has been teaching at Beacon for six years and is the second member of the faculty to be named Rhode Island Teacher of the Year since 2013, when Jessica Waters won the honors.
It’s an “amazing” achievement for a school with just 25 teachers, Principal Michael Skelton said. How do they do it? “At Beacon hiring is a team decision,” said the principal. “Beacon is a better place for his presence and I am proud to call him my colleague.”
As teacher of the year, Giannopoulos is automatically in the running for National Teacher of the Year. The winner will be chosen next April.
In addition to teaching film and math, Giannopoulos is the coordinator of special education at Beacon, handling the development of transition plans and evaluations for all of the school’s special needs students. He co-teaches courses in algebra and chemistry, and he serves as the sponsor and coordinator of the Beacon Gay Straight Alliance.
“His commitment to all students, and in particular to those who have special learning needs, and his work with the Beacon Gay Straight Alliance show me his strong commitment to diversity and to ensuring that everyone at Beacon is treated with respect,” said the governor. “We’ll all be rooting for Mr. G. as he becomes our candidate for National Teacher of the Year.”
Before he addressed the audience, Giannopoulos stood on the stage and quietly listened as a parade of dignitaries showered him with accolades.
The governor quoted testimonials that were provided by some of Giannopoulos’ students when they were interviewed during the evaluation process for the teaching competition.
“He goes above and beyond for all of us,” one said.
“...one of the kindest teachers in the building,” another said.
“He never lets us down in academic or personal life.”
The chairperson of the Board of Education told the student audience something about Giannopoulos they might not have know before.
“Math, too, was a struggle for Mr. G when he was a student,” said Cottam. “He wanted to change that for his students.”
Wagner said, “As we focus on coursework that is rigorous and relevant and on the importance of engaging students in challenging courses, I am glad that we have chosen as our teacher of the year an educator with such a diverse set of interests and skills.”
In addition to his teaching duties, Giannopoulos “is committed to diversity and to creating a safe and secure learning environment for all,” said Wagner. “He is an excellent choice as the 2017 Teacher of the Year.”
Baldelli-Hunt held up Giannopoulos as proof that the charter school concept works to nurture every individual’s uniqueness, not just among students but among members of the teaching staff. The mayor said she hears a lot of complaints about motorists getting waylaid on Main Street for traffic generated by Beacon, but for her it’s a pleasure.
It gives her a chance to watch Beacon students walking to school and check out their artsy styles.
“You give Woonsocket flavor,” she said.
But some of the most telling words about how Giannopoulos came to be chosen as teacher of the year were his own.
They were included as an essay in his entrance application for the contest, and they were read back to him by the governor as the winner blushed on stage.
“The reason I remain a teacher today is that nothing I have ever done makes me feel as good as teaching does,” he wrote. “I truly believe that the life of the public servant is as much a gift to the servant as it is to the people he is serving. My greatest contributions and accomplishments as an educator are not awards or accolades. They are the students and artists I have nurtured over the past six years at Beacon Charter.”