2019 Kansas Master Teacher Michelle Hilliard
“Math is difficult to teach at any school. Math is REALLY difficult to teach at an alternative school where students are all working on individualized contracts,” said Michelle Hilliard, who has taught at Complete High School Maize since 2007. As an alternative school, Hilliard says, there are stereotypes of the students who attend the school. However, Hilliard maintains, “There are 60 to 70 students who are there for 60 to 70 different reasons.”
Hilliard earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wichita State University in 1994, a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Wichita State in 2003, and second master’s in education, building leadership, from Kansas State University in 2016.
Hilliard began her career in 1994, teaching third grade at Maize Elementary School. In time, she moved to teaching middle school English. Then, she said, “When the alternative school called, I only briefly hesitated at the thought of going back to school [to get high school certification]. Few future teachers go to college with the goal of teaching at an alternative school.”
When a local retirement community needed a general store, Hilliard and her students stepped forward. Students run the store, provide delivery to residents who have difficulty walking and tech support as well. “There is no way to measure the magic that happens when a pink-haired alternative school student with a nose ring and a white-haired senior citizen sit down for their monthly ‘Cards and Conversations’ date, where students and residents play cards and talk,” Hilliard said.
Her presence provides an impact to students and colleagues alike. Of the new teachers Hilliard has mentored, three have won Horizon Awards and one of those received the Milken Award.
If a new teacher asks Hilliard how to connect with at-risk students, she answers, “No matter what, we never, never, never give up on them. Why? Because every now and then, probably more frequently than even we admit, a student will come back and say ‘Thank you for never giving up on me. You were the only ones who never gave up on me.’”