2019 Teacher of the Year:
For Jessica Dueñas, a first-generation American whose family faced language, financial and social challenges, school could have been an isolating place if not for her kindergarten teacher. "Jessica, y tus papás? Where are your parents?" classmates would ask when her parents didn’t attend school events. Dueñas would shrug her shoulders. Sensing Dueñas' discomfort, Ms. Youssef reminded her that other students’ parents couldn’t make it to school. Her teacher’s cultural competence meant she knew parents like Dueñas' did the best they could with limited resources. Ms. Youssef didn’t allow this to affect her relationship with and expectations for her students.
Because of her teacher’s influence, Dueñas was inspired to teach in a New York City middle school. After moving to Louisville, Kentucky in 2012, Dueñas joined Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) at Shawnee Academy and later moved to the district’s Highland Middle School. In 2015, Dueñas transitioned to Oldham County Middle School. This year Dueñas returned to JCPS to join the new staff of W.E.B. DuBois Academy, one of five schools in the nation supporting males with an Afro-centric curriculum targeting the lowest performing demographic.
Dueñas builds relationships with struggling students who are often overwhelmed and forgotten. She is an advisor to Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis and is a statewide equity trainer. Dueñas serves on the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children and mentors Latino students at Adelante Hispanic Achievers. Her writing has been published in The Courier-Journal and Education Week TEACHER.
Dueñas teaches 6th grade special education at W.E.B. DuBois Academy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Hunter College at the City University of New York and a Master of Science in Teaching Students with Disabilities from the Brooklyn College at the City University of New York.