Russillo named 2020 R.I. Teacher of the Year

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THE RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT of Education named Smithfield High School chemistry teacher Elizabeth Russillo the 2020 Rhode Island Teacher on the Year on Thursday.

JAMESTOWN – Elizabeth Russillo was named 2020 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year in a surprise ceremony at Smithfield High School, where Russillo is a chemistry teacher and chair of the science department.

Russillo was praised for the development and implementation of several science programs, and her efforts beyond the classroom, serving as a mentor to other teachers, an adviser to students and a tennis coach.

“Innovation and excellence are key to success in life, and that all starts in the classroom. Elizabeth Russillo embodies both of these characteristics in all she does, and that shines through in her students,” Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said in a news release. “I want to congratulate Liz and the entire community at Smithfield High School for their shared commitment to providing an outstanding education.”

Raimondo attended the surprise announcement at Smithfield High School Thursday morning with Education Deputy Commissioner Mary Ann Snider.

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Russillo will now work with the Department of Education throughout the 2019-2020 school year to help support education statewide with special focus on education recognition initiatives. Russillo also is eligible to represent Rhode Island as the National Teacher of the Year.

“Teachers are the heart and soul of our schools, and Elizabeth Russillo sets an example of creativity and engagement that all teachers can admire,” said Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “Liz will be an incredible asset to RIDE over the coming school year as we focus on engaging students through rigorous coursework and real world experiences. I am excited to work with her.”

Russillo has been teaching at Smithfield High School since 2002, and has chaired the Science Department since 2010. She led the school’s efforts to fully implement the Next Generation Science Standards, RIDE said in a news release.

She has developed a list of innovative programs to bring science to life for her students, including a trip to Fenway Park so they could meet NASA astronauts. She planned a community Rube-Golberg machine night to help unlock the physical properties of the elaborate designs.

She writes regularly on the teaching profession and served as a FUSE fellow and instructional coach with the Highlander Institute.

“Elizabeth is crucial to the fabric of our school,” Smithfield Principal Dan Kelley wrote when nominating Russillo. “One cannot walk through her classroom without seeing the unique and innovative experiential learning activities, coupled with an expansive knowledge of current best practices. Elizabeth shines in her capacity as a leader of education.”