Celebrated educator Bernadette Russoniello left the classroom at the height of her teaching career.
She didn’t leave education, however.
The consecutive Teacher of the Year awards presented to Russoniello in 2016 and 2017 were evidence to the recipient it was time to learn something new.
“I like to say I’m an ‘edupreneur’ because I’m constantly recreating what I do and doing it so I can help students,” Russoniello said.
After 17 years as a high school teacher, Russoniello transitioned to a new position as Maricopa High School’s College and Career Coordinator. Russoniello works alongside the school’s guidance counseling team to provide students with resources and opportunities for life beyond high school.
She also presents workshops to teachers districtwide in an effort to prompt the conversation of post-high school planning that, for Russoniello, would ideally begin in kindergarten. Most recently, Russoniello organized a college fair at MHS with representatives from 20 universities, community colleges, trade schools and the military.
Inside the school library, students also have access to the College and Career Center, which Russoniello described as a “space for culture and planning.”
“It’s funny because it’s what I did in the classroom as well; I help kids,” Russoniello said of her new responsibilities.
But instead of 150 students a day, Russoniello now meets with the entire student body.
Her previous marketing students said she has always encouraged their future goals through conversations about career exploration.
“It was because of her that I now know what I want to do with my life and how I learned to make the best out of every situation thrown at me,” said senior Harrison Edmondson.
Russoniello assisted 17-year-old Fides Bernales in declaring a college major and learning the first steps toward applying for a community college scholarship.
“You can tell her true passion is teaching and helping students find that path that was meant for them,” Bernales said. “Her dedication is one of the things I admire about her.”
Russoniello exhibited innovation in her career long before her evolution from the classroom to the front office.
In 2001, she began at Maricopa Unified School District as a first-year English teacher. Later, she taughtdifferent grade levels and subjects including government, yearbook and marketing. Russoniello introduced AP programs and sponsored student clubs and organizations, including student council, LINK crew and DECA – earning two Master of Education degrees in the process.
“I feel I always went through these reiterations as a teacher because I love learning,” Russoniello said.
Like Russoniello, her husband Michael began his career at Maricopa Unified School District and both are leaders at their schools. Michael is a teacher on special assignment (TOSA) at Santa Cruz Elementary and is a 15-year veteran of MUSD.
They have four children and explore national parks when school is out.
Professional growth within districts is a standard and celebrated practice – often taking award-winning teachers away from the day-to-day dealings of a classroom.
Russoniello said her vacant classroom is just another opportunity for the next generation of educators.
“I don’t worry,” Russoniello said. “When there are more opportunities to grow and be involved, then more people will flourish.”
This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.