Betsy Paz-Gyimesi has a reputation for being a powerful voice for the students and families she works with, though she probably wouldn’t tell you so herself.

“She’s incredibly humble and won’t recognize this, but she is this powerful voice for her community,” East End Community School Principal Boyd Marley said.

Paz-Gyimesi, a Spanish-speaking family and community engagement specialist in Portland Public Schools, is part of a critical team of multilingual staff in the district working to ensure students from diverse backgrounds are prepared and ready to learn.

On Tuesday, the district also announced that she’s one of two state finalists for a national award recognizing exemplary school employees who work in occupational specialties such as student services, transportation, nutrition and maintenance.

“Support staff members are the backbone of Maine schools, ensuring everyday that children are transported to and from school, that they are fed, that they are learning and that they have the support they need to be successful,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin during a ceremony at East End.

The Maine Department of Education also selected Deb Bodge, an administrative assistant and secretary for Regional School Unit 2 in Hallowell as a finalist for the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees, or RISE, Award. The award is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, and a national honoree is expected to be chosen this spring.

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Paz-Gyimesi, 53, of Kennebunk, works with Spanish-speaking students and families to ensure their needs are being met and they understand how the schools operate and how to engage with them. That could include assistance on everything from school itself to accessing food, immigration services and employment.

“Betsy is an incredible force for good in this school district,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “Her commitment, her passion and her advocacy day in and day out for all our students, but especially for our (Latino) families and students is beyond a doubt something we should all aspire to.”

Betsy Paz-Gyimesi, a Spanish-speaking family and community engagement specialist in Portland schools, hugs the mother of a fifth-grade student after receiving the RISE Award for Excellence on Tuesday outside the East End Community School. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Paz-Gyimesi, who is originally from Cuba, was herself an English language learner in elementary school. She began her professional career as a registered nurse and also worked as a school nurse and case manager in New York City before joining Portland Public Schools in 2016. As a bilingual person, she said she understands the need for language access for students and families.

“When I started my job, I thought it would be helping families by using my Spanish language skills to support the school-family relationship and communication,” she said. “My job is so much more than that. What I actually do much of the time is support families in all aspects of their lives.”

Those who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony described Paz-Gyimesi, who is known as Señora Betsy at school, as a dedicated and passionate staff member who goes above and beyond to provide support to families. Paz-Gyimesi said she feels blessed to work in a job she loves.

“I’m just speechless,” she said. “I’m grateful to do something I love and that’s personal to me.”


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