When Ashli Skura Dreher was young, her mother tried to register her in private school, only to be told to take her to a public school instead. Dreher had some special needs that the private school was unable or unwilling to address.
It may have been the luckiest day of her life.
Inspired by a succession of impassioned and dedicated public school teachers who helped her discover her strengths, Dreher went on to become a teacher of students with special needs in the Lewiston-Porter schools.
As the 2014 New York State Teacher of the Year, she brings to her work both her recollection of those formative years in public schools and her belief that every child is capable of learning.
"I can tell you from first-hand experience: Our public schools are NOT failing," Dreher declared. "I am proud to have been educated in our public schools. Public education has shaped me."
Visitors to her classroom might see a poignant challenge as students with a variety of disabilities painstakingly tackle the Common Core curriculum and basic life skills such as cooking, but Dreher sees hope, possibility and achievement.
"One of the mothers who works with her has called her a miracle worker for helping her son achieve so much," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said. "She is a truly dedicated ambassador for the teaching profession."
Dreher introduced and thanked her teacher aide Darcy Licht. Dreher said that her success is the product of a network of school staff and educators that includes support staff, bus drivers, monitors, custodians and health care professionals.
"Transforming students' lives for the better begins with us, the great teachers and School-Related Professionals working together across the state," she said.
The award presentation opened with the introduction of several past teachers of the year in the audience, many of whom have continued to be advocates for their profession and for NYSUT's work on behalf of students and educators.
Said Neira, "I have to tell you that the teachers who stood up today are the ones who stand up to the commissioner every year."