South Milwaukee’s Joanna Rizzotto earns WEAC Award for Teaching Excellence

WEAC President Ron Martin presents the WEAC Award for Teaching Excellence to South Milwaukee teacher Joanna Rizzotto.

WEAC President Ron Martin on Wednesday presented WEAC’s Award for Teaching Excellence to South Milwaukee teacher Joanna Rizzotto.

“Joanna is a tremendous advocate for her students, advancing the very best in professional teaching practices and sharing her expertise with colleagues across the state,” Martin said in presenting the award to her in a ceremony at her school attended by colleagues and students.

Rizzotto is one of four WEAC members selected for the honor based on exemplary performance in the areas of professional practice, advocacy for the teaching profession, attention to diversity, community engagement, and leadership in professional development.

Martin noted that Rizzotto has received other community and state recognitions, including recently from a local TV station as a Top Teacher and from the Department of Public Instruction for helping students see school in different and important ways. She also counts among her accomplishments being a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellow and a member of the Professional Standards Council.  

One person who nominated Rizzotto wrote this about her: “I am so grateful that Joanna found the potential in me, and I hope that I can continue to learn and grow from her, so that one day I can be as strong of a leader as she is today.”  

A former student had this to say about her: “Mrs. Rizzotto is always innovating new ways to improve the REAL Academy. Having an inquiry-based program leads to significant educational differences between each student. This model allows students to go at their own pace and really invest themselves in their learning. Each child is encouraged by Mrs. Rizzotto to define what kind of learning style works best for them and base their term projects around those styles. Mrs. Rizzotto is always going out of her way to address the needs of her students. The attention to diversity that is present in the REAL Academy has always humbled me. Students are able to fully represent themselves no matter the labels that the outside world has given them. I can recall several days when we would spend time discussing the health of the community and how it can grow and change.  Mrs. Rizzotto prioritizes the needs of her students and makes personal growth a primary goal.”

Martin also noted that, to advance the profession, Rizzotto is working with a group of educators on teacher voice in the new federal education law, and provided advice on our union’s latest white paper, Moving Education Forward, which focuses on the restoration of professional status of educators; improvement of school conditions and climate; and establishment of educator attraction and retention policies. 

“I am honored to be able to be here today to present the Excellence in Education Award,” he said. “Let’s honor Joanna – outstanding teacher and longtime union leader.”

In accepting the award, Rizzotto said she is always aware that she is not alone in her work. “I will never give up my connection with students because that’s where I get the energy and the ideas and the forward motion and the vibe,” she said.

“The most important thing to me is that they (students) are connected and they’re happy and they’re moving through and they’re always growing and gaining and just bringing goodness into the world. That is the ultimate goal. … We love each other.”

Rizzotto, who is an active union member, said, “I have had the absolute privilege of being an empowered educator, so throughout my career I really have been able to create and innovate and design, and bring my heart to things. I’ve been empowered throughout my career and I want that so badly for teachers coming up.”

Overall, she said about her role as an educator, “It’s way more than a job. It’s about helping our world and our community.”