Top of her field

Oakland Beach teacher named Teacher of Year

Posted 6/6/24

Kindergarten teacher Milisa O’Neil did not expect Oakland Beach Elementary School’s Field Day to become a celebration of her achievements.

However, that’s exactly what happened …

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Top of her field

Oakland Beach teacher named Teacher of Year


Kindergarten teacher Milisa O’Neil did not expect Oakland Beach Elementary School’s Field Day to become a celebration of her achievements.

However, that’s exactly what happened Tuesday, as O’Neil was named the 2024-25 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.

“I am truly blessed, and it’s an inspiration,” O’Neil said.

The festivities began at 9 a.m. with the Toll Gate High School band and student cheerleaders from Oakland Beach flanking each guest of honor as they walked in. Each student wore a light blue T-shirt commemorating the day.

Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green presented O’Neil with the award in the Gorton Administration Building gymnasium in front of the entire school faculty and student body.

Infante-Green, alongside 2024 Teacher of the Year Aimée Couto, who teaches first grade at Emma G. Whiteknact Elementary School in East Providence, presented O’Neil with the honor.

“Milisa is not just a teacher, she is a bright light of inspiration and a vital part of this community,” Couto said. “Her ability to connect with and inspire her students set her apart, making her a true role model for both her peers and her students.”

O’Neil is the first Warwick teacher to win the award since 2007, when another Oakland Beach teacher, Cathy Davis Hayes, received the honor, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website.

Rhode Island Speaker of the House Joe Shekarchi informed O’Neil that the House of Representatives would be introducing a resolution later that day honoring her on the House floor for her achievement. O’Neil also received a gubernatorial citation presented by Infante-Green on behalf of Gov. Dan McKee.

O’Neil has been at Oakland Beach for six years, and has been teaching for twenty years overall. Oakland Beach’s community, she said, was one that she was truly proud to be a part of.

“I am one teacher in this absolutely amazing school family,” O’Neil said. “I could not do it without all my colleagues- they are absolutely amazing to work with.”

That community has held true throughout an unusual year for the school, O’Neil said. With Oakland Beach Elementary School undergoing repairs and school being held at Gorton, O’Neil said that the staff worked hard to bring a strong learning environment to the building throughout the year.

That work did not go unnoticed by Infante-Green, who told students that Oakland Beach’s faculty had done a great job of making Gorton into a home for the year.

“Your school has been moving mountains,” Infante-Green said. “Your school district has worked really hard to make sure that you get the best education possible. When you do a good job, good things come to you as well.”

Infante-Green was also referring to the $875,000 Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant that Warwick Public Schools had recently received- another reason, according to Director of Elementary Education Patti Cousineau, for the event.

Cousineau said that the grant, received in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club of Warwick at Oakland Beach, would be used to participate in the X-Stream Learning Center, which would be available in after-school, summer and kindergarten ramp-up programs.

“The X-Stream Learning Center aims to enhance student literacy and address academic deficiencies through a comprehensive program that includes mathematics, science, technology, reading, engineering and art as well as community building,” Cousineau said in a statement to the Beacon. “By connecting to the core curriculum, the center will support student comprehension and engagement through hands-on projects that foster creative and critical thinking skills.”

Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said O’Neil’s teaching had been exceptional, but what stood out just as much was her commitment to helping enrich students with events outside of the classroom.

“Mrs. O’Neil’s somebody who goes above and beyond in being a shining beacon of excellence in teaching, leadership, selflessness and professional learning,” Dambruch said. “Mrs. O’Neil’s somebody who always goes above and beyond. I challenge us all to think of a school event that she did not attend, or, in most cases, did not plan, because she goes to everything.”

For Oakland Beach, Tuesday was a day of celebration and a way to cap the school year . For O’Neil, it was a day that she’ll never forget.

“I got into teaching because I wanted to make a difference in our students’ lives and make a difference through educating,” O’Neil said. “I’m honored and humbled.”

teacher, Oakland Beach, award


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