Gaithersburg High School Educator Wins MCPS Teacher of the Year

May 1, 2024

Summary: Melissa Porter Parks, English Language Development teacher, will now compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year. Also during the annual Champions for Children event, Bruno Smith, building service manager at Mill Creek Towne Elementary School, was named Supporting Services Employee of the Year.

Melissa Porter Parks, English Language Development resource teacher at Gaithersburg High School, was named the 2024–2025 MCPS Teacher of the Year during a celebration at Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville on May 1. She will now compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Porter Parks oversees more than 800 Emerging Multilingual Learners (EMLs), the largest English Language Development (ELD) department in MCPS. She grew up in poverty, received free and reduced price lunches, and worked several jobs while attending high school. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and is a first-generation college graduate.

Porter Parks was one of four finalists for this year’s Teacher of the Year, along with Janie Earle, kindergarten teacher at Poolesville Elementary School; Carrie Kraynak, English Language Development teacher at Flower Hill Elementary School, and Morgan Patel, social studies teacher at Montgomery Blair High School.

In the other big reveal for the evening, Bruno Smith, building service manager III at Mill Creek Towne Elementary School, was named this year’s Supporting Services Employee of the Year. Smith has worked for MCPS for seven years.

Smith was one of three finalists, along with Robin McCue, administrative secretary III in the Department of Athletics, and Chaula Butterworth, paraeducator at Farmland Elementary School.

Melissa Porter Parks

Porter Parks’ support and encouragement have made a difference in the graduation rate of EML students since 2018; that rate has increased from 33.3 percent to 60 percent in 2022. More students at Gaithersburg are also meeting college and career readiness goals, and accessing higher education opportunities. She organizes higher education financial aid information sessions for undocumented students and their families. She’s also involved in International Night, an event that helps students represent their cultures through song, dance, food and presentations.

She has the extraordinary ability to connect with students on a personal level to understand their individual needs and learning styles. She consistently weaves multicultural literature and culturally relevant topics into the curriculum. She cultivates strong relationships with families and community partners, building a network of support that extends beyond the school walls. Staff and community partners have hosted drives to help families receive free clothing, household items and other items, such as baby formula, diapers and personal hygiene products.

Students say she has changed their lives. Porter Parks “has always motivated me to complete my goals no matter how tough they are,” one said. “She cares and she shows it every day.” Another added: “I have an IEP and she has always seen me as a person and not a student with a problem.”

Porter Parks holds a master’s degree in teaching, and has completed the coursework for her doctorate in educational leadership from Drexel University.

“Melissa truly understands the big picture of how her guidance provides a comfortable space for teachers to develop and thrive. This thoughtful leadership is critical in creating a strong department able to provide an exemplary high school experience for our GHS multilingual learners,” wrote a team of ELD teachers and paraeducators. 

As Teacher of the Year, Porter Parks will receive a cash prize and a one-year car lease from Fitzgerald Auto Malls.

Bruno Smith

Capable, considerate and trustworthy, Smith takes pride in his work, responds quickly to jobs that need to be handled and takes on the stresses of his job with a smile. He deals with issues calmly and professionally. He understands that his work is critical to students—by keeping the school clean, well-stocked and damage-free, he ensures that they can focus on their studies.

He has a superhero-like ability to make a positive impact on students—regularly checking in with those who have difficult days, sometimes walking with them to calm down, having lunch with them or creating art with them. He supports students’ social and emotional health and wellness, following up with teachers about student behaviors he notices. In the cafeteria, he reminds students to follow rules, clean up, behave and keep the noise down. He has inspired students to take pride in the school grounds and they volunteer to pick up trash on the field during recess. Many students return to earn Student Service Learning hours beautifying the school grounds. Smith is also very artistic. To raise school spirit, he designed what has become the favorite logo for the Mill Creek Towne Dragons—a full body dragon

logo as well as an alternate logo of the school name with the letter “C” turning

into a dragon tail. On Fridays at school, you will find much of the staff wearing his design. As Supporting Services Employee of the Year, Smith will receive a cash prize for his win.

Several other MCPS staff members and community members were also recognized for excellence and commitment during the 22nd annual Champions for Children event. They were:

  • Danielle Gover, chorus teacher at Westland Middle School, Rising Star Teacher of the Year
  • Margarita Bohórquez, director of International Admissions and Enrollment, Dr. Edward Shirley Award for Excellence in Educational Administration and Supervision
  • Farron Riggs, paraeducator and baseball coach at Rockville High School, R.A.I.S.E. Champion of the Year
  • Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, Community Champion for Children

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