From left: Julia Brim-Edwards, Suzanne Cohen, Mercedes Muñoz, Chris Frazier, Guadalupe Guerrerro. Photo by Jason Trombley

FHS teacher Mercedes Muñoz received the prestigious Oregon Teacher of the Year award, along with the accompanying 5,000 dollar prize.

The announcement came during an assembly on October 4. PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill attended the event and presented Muñoz with the award. 

The assembly drew some fire from teachers and students because it was going to replace the tutorial scheduled that day, but Principal Chris Frazier created a compromise.

 “I think he did a great job with leadership,” Muñoz says. “I know when he announced that we would have a special assembly people were upset … and then of course we had the very devastating news about Mr. Tran. So I think for him to balance putting the community and the school first, putting students first, which was my heart … and to also pair the assembly with it.”   

Part of the problem for Mr. Frazier was that no one knew Muñoz had won until the October 4 assembly. “He did a really great job keeping the secret,” says Muñoz. “[I found out] October 4, right along with everybody else, at that assembly.”

Of course, the news didn’t come out of the blue. Muñoz had won the regional award earlier this year, and was among the final four candidates being considered for the statewide recognition. Also, the fact that Superintendent Guerrero was coming to Franklin was a sign that Muñoz may have won.

But the award was supposed to be announced in September. “All through the month of September I kept going on the website … and then when October came [I thought] it must not be me.” After the assembly was planned, some thought good news might be coming for Muñoz. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” she says.

Muñoz’s main role at Franklin is teaching special education, which means a lot of different work. “I teach just about everything,” from English support to academic skills like “organization, social skills, reading, writing, math support … science, could be language.” Muñoz also helped establish and implement PPS’s groundbreaking push-in program, which allows general education teachers to work closely with special education teachers to better support students. 

“I am humbled to know that you are on the ground dedicating your career of service to changing the narrative for so many of these students and preparing them to thrive after high school,” writes state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer in a letter of congratulation. There has been an outcry of support for Muñoz throughout the Franklin community. 

All her hard work has paid off, not only with being declared Oregon’s Teacher of the Year, but also in the form of a 5,000 dollar prize. Her plans with the money aren’t glamorous; she wants to pay off some student loans and credit cards. However, Muñoz hopes that the money could help her towards buying a house. “If there’s a little tiny bit, me and my family might get away for a weekend,” she says.

As Ms. Muñoz says, “there’s no glam life for teacher living.” But sometimes, a teacher can get recognized for the work they do. On October 4, Mercedes Muñoz was that teacher, and Franklin is lucky to have her supporting our students. 

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