During a ceremony Wednesday evening, May 4, the Santa Fe Institute awarded Melanie McKinley, a math teacher at the New Mexico School for the Arts, the Institute's 2017 Prize for Outstanding Teacher.
McKinley joined 13 Santa Fe-area high school seniors in receiving SFI’s High School Prize for Scientific Excellence. The prize is awarded each year to one local science teacher and to outstanding seniors from Santa Fe’s high schools.
“Thank you so much for this award! I am so blessed to have wonderful administrators and fabulous colleagues who have supported me and helped me to become the teacher that I am.” McKinley says. “I also have a houseful of teenagers who are willing to be my test subjects for new material. More than anything, I have a classroom full of eager, hard-working students who are always game for a new way to learn things and who help me to improve every day.”
McKinley has taken a decidedly data-driven approach to teaching, implementing a school-wide system to measure students’ growth and subject mastery. Her unique system gives teachers both access to test questions and results, allowing them to tailor follow-up instruction for students who didn’t understand the material the first time.
“This has been a game-changer for instruction,” says Acacia McCombs, a fellow teacher at NMSA who nominated McKinley for the award. “We now have a better sense of what each student knows than we have ever had.”
McKinley has also established a tutoring program, inviting retired community members to work with small groups of students who are behind in math. And, she works during lunch to help students prepare for the ACT.
Prior to teaching, McKinley worked as a chemical engineer. Now in her fourth year of teaching, McKinley brings the best practices from the private sector to the classroom. “Melanie is deeply aware of the anxiety students bring to the study of math,” says McCombs. “If a student says she can’t understand, Melanie will remind her to reframe her statement to ‘You don’t understand…YET.’”