Pawtucket Times

R.I. Teacher of the year named

- By RUSS OLIVO rolivo@woonsocket­call.com Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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.”

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 ?? Ernest A. Brown/The Times ?? Gov. Gina Raimondo reaches out to embrace Nikos Giannopoul­os after announcing him as the 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year. Giannopoul­os is a special education teacher and coordinato­r at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket.
Ernest A. Brown/The Times Gov. Gina Raimondo reaches out to embrace Nikos Giannopoul­os after announcing him as the 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year. Giannopoul­os is a special education teacher and coordinato­r at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket.

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