As students, teachers, faculty and staff at West End Elementary School were preparing to head home on Friday, October 2nd, and begin their Fall Break festivities, several key administrators were busy scheming behind their computer screens as they planned a special surprise announcement for West End Pre-K Teacher, Heather Melillo.

Melillo, who was patiently waiting in her classroom to join a last minute “planning meeting” via Zoom, was named Georgia’s Public Pre-K Teacher of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL).

This amazing accomplishment is one that West End Principal, Dr. Dennis Drummond, is beyond proud of and wanted to be sure Melillo’s one-of-a-kind recognition was celebrated before taking off for the break.

In previous years, DECAL Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs and Deputy Commissioner of Georgia’s Pre-K Program and Instructional Supports, Susan Adams, made surprise visits to the winner’s school. This year, due to COVID-19 and social distancing, the visits were made via online Zoom meetings.

As the Melillo joined the online meeting, it became clear that she was not sitting in on a planning session, as the smile behind her mask was evident. Although the delivery of the news may have been different from past years, the excitement was much the same as Melillo ecstatically accepted the honor alongside some of her colleagues who were just as thrilled as she was.

After hearing from members of the DECAL Program, as well as Louis Byars (Superintendent of Rome City Schools) and Dr. Dawn Williams (Assistant Superintendent of Rome City Schools), Dr. Drummond made his way down to the pre-k hall to personally reward Melillo with a special Edible Arrangements gift.

“I appreciate the way Mrs. Melillo continually looks for ways to go above and beyond for our students,” smiled Dr. Drummond. “I frequently receive feedback from her parents letting me know how awesome she is. As our only Pre-K teacher, she represents the first West End experience for many of our families, and I cannot think of anyone better to take on that challenge of making it the best! I am thankful for her love for our students and their families and for the fact that she always gives her very best for her students and her colleagues. We are blessed that she is part of the WEE family.”

As Pre-K Teacher of the Year, Melillo will receive a $3,000 check to use for herself, $3,000 for a classroom makeover and supplies, and $500 to cover out of the classroom costs while she is away. Melillo will also serve as an ambassador for Georgia’s Pre-K Program, which includes public speaking, representing Georgia’s Pre-K at various meetings, and modeling effective classroom practices. 

“This is awesome. I mean, I have no words,” smiled Melillo. “I really feel like this is a chance for me to share my passion and beliefs with the world. These little people are just amazing, and they help me grow every single day—as a person and as a teacher. I truly love what I do. I am blessed with this opportunity and can’t wait to tell my kids the news when they get back from Fall Break!”