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South Division bilingual school counselor Ana Báez is a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly gives MPS bilingual school counselor Ana Baez a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year award.Her own experience growing up in a Spanish-speaking household in Milwaukee led Ana Báez directly to her mission: to serve young people and their families as a bilingual school counselor at South Division High School.  

Her dedication led the state Department of Public Instruction to honor her as a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year for 2024-25, one of only five chosen from the state’s thousands of teachers. State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly made the surprise announcement from the stage at South Division’s auditorium on Thursday, May 9. Some of the seniors in the audience gasped at the news before all the students and staff erupted into applause for Báez. 

“It’s a job that is really rewarding, with a lot of emotion,” Báez said of school counseling. 

“I can genuinely say that I enjoy coming to work every day, particularly in this building, with these students and my staff and my administrative team,” she added. 

Báez, who attended Milwaukee Public Schools all the way from kindergarten through grade 12, is a graduate of Casimir Pulaski High School. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she returned to MPS.  

“The goal was always to come back and serve MPS,” she said.  

“This school in particular is a little bit over 50 percent bilingual, so I’m uniquely able to work with students here. Not just the students, but the parents,” Báez noted. 

Like other children of migrants and immigrants, she interpreted for her parents from a young age.  

“My mother didn’t always have educators who could speak to her in her language. I was often her interpreter. Now we have interpreters (at MPS),” she said, “but the fact that I can do it one on one …  I think really helps me connect with the families.”  

To keep the award a secret until the assembly, Báez was told she would be presenting an award to someone else on Thursday.  

One of the people she thanked from the stage was senior Jesús Ruiz Villamil, for being “part of the ruse.” Báez was told a week ago she would be presenting Jesús with a major award and should prepare a speech for the assembly.  

“She completely deserves it,” he said of the Teacher of the Year award. Báez was his freshman counselor when Jesús, an immigrant from Colombia, came to South Division, and she continues to counsel him. “She’s so willing to help,” he said. 

Underly noted that, in addition to counseling duties, Báez founded and raised funds to establish a scholarship program at South Division. 

The state superintendent said Báez’s colleagues praised her as a creative problem solver who is one of the most respected staff members in the building. “Ana deserves recognition for all of the heart and soul she pours into her students. And recognizing Ana elevates the voice and needs of her students,” one colleague said in a letter of recommendation. 

“It is truly an honor,” Báez said of the Teacher of the Year award. “I’ve been at South Division for 11 years, and it’s been a wonderful 11 years. And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” 

“I love the fact that I can do a little bit of everything with kids,” she added. “I’m not just teaching one subject; I’m kind of teaching the subject of life and helping them get ready for what’s after high school.” 

At the end of her remarks from the South Division stage, Báez said, “This is a complete shock.” 

“You deserve it!” one student shouted, and the rest broke into applause again. 

Báez’s family also attended the award ceremony, including her brother, Dr. Juan Báez, Principal at Milwaukee School of Languages. 

 In addition to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, dignitaries on stage for the award presentation included Joanne Anton, President and CEO of Herb Kohl Philanthropies, which includes the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation; Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Marva Herndon; and MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith P. Posley.   

Other state Department of Public Instructions officials present for the award were Dr. Keona Jones, Assistant State Superintendent, Division for Student and School Success; Demetri Beekman, Executive Director for Equity and Inclusion; and Dr. Darrell Williams, Assistant State Superintendent, Division for Libraries and Technology. 

As a state teacher of the year, Báez will serve on a quarterly state council and attend the State of Education address in Madison in the fall. One of the five state Teachers of the Year will be chosen to represent Wisconsin in the National Teacher of the Year program.   

South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Blvd., is home to one of the largest high school bilingual programs in Wisconsin. The high school offers Advanced Placement courses in subjects such as calculus, history, English, art, and Spanish.  

The school has two NAF Academies that prepare students for their careers: The Academy of Education gets them on their pathway to becoming teachers. The Academy of Health Sciences focuses on professions in health and biomedical sciences and this year earned Distinguished status from NAF headquarters.  

Contacts

Stephen Davis, Media Relations Manager

davis2@milwaukee.k12.wi.us
(414) 475-8675
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Milwaukee Public Schools is committed to accelerating student achievement, building positive relationships between youth and adults and cultivating leadership at all levels. The district’s commitment to improvement continues to show results:

  • Ninety-four percent of 2022-23 budget dollars go to support schools;
  • The MPS Class of 2023 earned $121 million in scholarships and grants; and
  • MPS is home to five of the state's top high schools according to U.S. News and World Report.

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