Salem Educators Garcia, Smith, Superintendent Zrike Earn Honors at LFE State of Latino Education Conference

Posted on: October 6, 2023
Salem Educators Earn Honors at LFE State of Education Conference

Ms. Garcia, Smith named Exceptional Latino Educators; Dr. Zrike recipient of La Lucha Award

SALEM (Oct. 6, 2023) – Salem Public Schools educators Janet Garcia and Odilia Smith were named Exceptional Latino Educators while Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike was named the recipient of the La Lucha Award at the Latinos For Education 2023 State of Latino Education conference Wednesday night at the UMass Club in Boston.

Ms. Garcia and Ms. Smith were two of 26 teachers statewide honored with citations, which were presented to educators who are outstanding proponents of dual language classrooms.

Dr. Zrike was honored with the La Lucha Award, presented to the exceptional school administrator who demonstrates consistent commitment to educational equity.

The Conference is held annually during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).

Ms. Garcia, a kindergarten teacher, began teaching in the dual language program, launched in 2019, at the Bentley Academy Innovation School. She was among very few teachers across the country who taught in-person during the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, well aware of the challenges of virtual teaching of kindergarten students and the risk of contracting Covid-19.

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Ms Garcia was born and raised in Salem and graduated from Salem High School in 2011. She received her undergraduate degree from Salem State University in 2015, and genuinely feels she is giving back to the city in which she was raised by teaching her dual language students each day. 

“There are so many (educators) in this district, so it’s really nice to be acknowledged, especially in this program,” Ms. Garcia said. “Teaching is something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to give back, and Salem (Public Schools) was always a place I wanted to work.”

Ms. Smith has been a Spanish educator at the Collins Middle School for 27 years and came to the District in 1996, speaking little English. She commutes to Salem daily from her home in Boston, by way of two trains and two buses.

“This is not just for myself, it is for many people in this district,” she said. “It is the culmination of a lot of people who helped me grow, who mentored me in so many ways. It is something that is more for Collins Middle School than for me.”

Among one of Ms. Smith’s students was State Representative Manny Cruz (SHS 2010), SPS School Committee member and the Advocacy Director of Latinos For Education, who spoke at the ceremony. 

Ms. Smith and her husband, Karl, live in Boston and have raised two grown daughters. 

Dr. Zrike came to Salem as the superintendent in July of 2020, following similar roles in Holyoke and Wakefield. Since, the School District has seen significant overall improvement in the MCAS Access and Accountability Results

Additionally, the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School was recently named one of 66 schools statewide to earn School of Distinction honors by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“I’m certainly grateful to the Latinos For Education organization for recognizing me, along with Janet and Odilia, who are two exceptional educators,” Dr. Zrike said. “This is a terrific honor for each of us as well as for Salem Public Schools.”

About Salem Public Schools

Salem Public Schools is an urban public school district in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is a small, diverse city with a proud maritime and immigrant history. Our leaders and our teachers are all passionate about education and understand the urgency of improving student achievement with equity and social-emotional needs as the lens we view all of our work through. We respect and value the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of our students and their families, and have a strong commitment to the Salem community. Salem Public Schools staff serve all of our students, regardless of ability or language. Salem Public Schools enrolls approximately 4,000 students across its eleven schools.