Stratford teacher to receive national education, advocacy award – CTPost

STRATFORD — Stratford High School English teacher Michael Fiorello is an advocate in and out of the classroom — and is getting national recognition for it.

The Stratford High School English teacher has been named the Connecticut winner of the National Education Association Foundation’s California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence.

The president of the Stratford Education Association, the union which represents the school district’s teachers, Fiorello never has been afraid to call out school officials on behalf of his colleagues.

He said Friday that his teaching work and union advocacy serve similar ends.

“Education, to me, is liberation and empowerment,” Fiorello said. “I believe it is the surest avenue to finding meaningful work and fulfillment. Union work, and other things I do, such as advising the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, meet the same need — growing personally, being personally empowered, and helping others to grow.”

Fiorello, a Stratford native and Bunnell High School alumnus, has taught for 31 years, 20 of them at Stratford High and 11 prior to that as a middle and high school teacher in Bridgeport.

He said 2020 had been one of the most difficult years for educators and students alike due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but hopes the lessons learned from the experience will be applied going forward.

“Last year was especially challenging for students, families, and teachers,” he said. “Everything about education was impacted — making connections with and among students, facilitating small group work, conveying one’s enthusiasm for a subject to students. And to the extent that they are safe, I hope for changes that allow us to connect and collaborate more authentically.”

Fiorello was been one of the most consistent speakers during the public comment portion of Board of Education meetings, and led a protest last November as the school district prepared to call back more students to schools despite rising COVID cases.

In a prepared statement, Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias said Fiorello is a fitting recipient of the teaching excellence award.

“Michael is a dedicated professional educator and union leader who has consistently advocated for good working and learning conditions and has worked hard to ensure the safety of Stratford students and educators during the COVID pandemic,” Dias said. “He has earned the trust and respect of his colleagues and community members and has amplified teachers’ voices on important issues, empowering them to participate in policy discussions that impact students, public education, and the teaching profession.”

Fiorello said he was “thrilled and humbled” by news of the award.

“I have the utmost respect for the educators who work with and for our union,” he said. “To be honored by them moves me deeply, and I am profoundly grateful.”

In a press release, the NEA said the award “recognizes educators who embody excellence in their practice, advocacy for the profession, commitment to equity, diversity, and opportunity, community engagement, leadership and encouragement for fellow educators, and support for relevant, high-quality professional development.”

Fiorello will receive the award at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence Gala next February.