A Detroit educator has won the 2021 Educator of the Year award and a $10,000 prize from the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence in Education program.
The award winner, Janice Smith, is a school social worker at Fisher Magnet Lower Academy, which is part of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, and Lottery Commissioner, Brian O. Neill, recently presented Smith with the award during a surprise video call.
Smith has been a social worker with the Detroit Public Schools for 30 years. She is known for bringing infectious excitement, positivity, warmth, joy, love, professionalism, respect, and genuine kindness to her role as a social worker.
The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education awards in 2014 to recognize outstanding public-school educators across the state during the school year. Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $1,500 cash prize, and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. Each winner also is featured in a news segment on the Lottery’s media partner stations: WXYZ-TV in Detroit, FOX 17 in Grand Rapids, FOX 47 in Lansing, and WNEM-TV in Saginaw.
Each year, one of the weekly winners is selected as the Educator of the Year and receives a $10,000 prize.
“I am truly humbled to be named the Michigan Lottery’s Educator of the Year,” said Smith. “I love all of the 652 students that we have and the wonderful amazing staff at Fisher. We cannot do this alone, we are all in this together for our children, for our future.
“Love makes everything grow, and if we spread love to our children, they will grow!”
“Janice chose a career as a social worker because she believed it would allow her to have a great impact on the lives of students,” said Lt. Governor Gilchrist. “She recognizes that students need to be supported emotionally, as well as academically, and works every day to help students realize their full potential and be their best selves.
“Public education plays an important role in the lives of students in every community across Michigan. Educators like Janice are critical to developing the next generation of citizens, residents, and leaders in communities across our state.”
“Throughout her 30-year career as a social worker with the Detroit Public Schools, Janice has established a reputation for going above and beyond to help students and families, a visible dedication and passion for her work, spreading joy, and making a positive impact,” said Lottery Commissioner Neill. “We are very excited to name Janice Smith the Michigan Lottery 2021 Educator of the Year.”
More than 800 educators from across the state were nominated for an Excellence in Education weekly award during the seventh year of the program and 34, including Smith, were selected to win a weekly award.
Previous winners of the Educator of the Year award were:
2020 – Megan Sidge, an Autism Spectrum Disorder teacher at Hickory Woods Elementary in Walled Lake.
2019 – Stewart Kieliszewski, an Earth science, biology, mechatronics, and media teacher for eighth through 12 graders at the Ubly Community Schools.
2018 – Kerri Moccio, a first-grade literacy intervention specialist at Bedford Elementary School in Dearborn Heights.
2017 – Linda Holzwarth, a social studies teacher at Portage West Middle School in Portage.
2016 – Daniel Carr, a Spanish and sports marketing teacher at Waverly High School in Lansing.
2015 – Michael Craig, a special education teacher at the Charles Drew Transition Center in Detroit.
Smith said her love of children led her to a career in education.
“I love working with children,” said Smith. “I thought by working as a social worker, I would be more impactful in their lives by helping shape and mold children, while supporting their emotional needs.”
She said her favorite part of being an educator is building relationships with students and their families.
“Building relationships is so valuable to my role,” said Smith. “Working together and witnessing a student do something or understand a concept for the first time makes my heart smile.”
A colleague nominated Smith for the award. The nomination cited her dedication, kindness, and the extra effort Smith puts in.
“When she enters a room, or if she is near you, she brings excitement, positivity, warmth, joy, love, professionalism, respect, and genuine kindness. Dedication and giving are the least I can say about her. Ms. Smith provides resources to our parents daily. She restores dignity to families who come to the school in need of help by listening to them with concern and doing everything in her power to address their needs. She mentors and resolves conflicts with students. I’ve seen Ms. Smith go out of her way to care for our students- providing transportation, hygiene products, clothing, food, and other services. She works beyond her scheduled time because she knows there is a job that needs to be done. She sits on various committees to nurture the growth, academic excellence, and social development of our school and the families we serve. She is an example of someone who loves her work and it is very evident.”
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in science from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University. She has been an educator for 30 years, all with the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Excellence in Education award nominees are evaluated on the following criteria:
- Excellence – Their work consistently helps students and/or their schools or school districts advance to higher levels of academic achievement.
- Dedication – They consistently go above and beyond expectations to help students succeed.
- Inspiration – Their work inspires others around them to exceed expectations either academically or professionally.
- Leadership – They demonstrate clear leadership skills in their positions with their school or school districts.
- Effectiveness – The nominee’s work has clear and positive results on the educational advancement of students within the school or school district.