Elizabeth teacher surprised with $25,000 birthday gift

Tracy Espiritu beams with pride as students offer congratulatory hugs to the inspiring teacher who has been key to helping Dr. Albert Einstein Academy students attain 80% proficiency scores in math for the last four years.  Between creating the afterschool Einstein Astronaut Program, mentoring fellow teachers (even taking them to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and the work she does every day to give students the greatest chance at success, Espiritu was awarded $25,000 by Michael Milken.  (Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation)

Tracy Espiritu beams with pride as students offer congratulatory hugs to the inspiring teacher who has been key to helping Dr. Albert Einstein Academy students attain 80% proficiency scores in math for the last four years.
Between creating the afterschool Einstein Astronaut Program, mentoring fellow teachers (even taking them to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and the work she does every day to give students the greatest chance at success, Espiritu was awarded $25,000 by Michael Milken. (Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation)

A teacher at Dr. Albert Einstein Academy School No. 29 has received the Milken Educator Award along with a $25,000 gift.

Engineer-turned-educator Tracy Espiritu was presented the award at the school in front of her students by Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Michael Milken, who visited the school with New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie.

The award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education.

Espiritu, who once aspired to be an astronaut, began her career as an aerospace engineer but decided to make a change after getting laid off during an economic downturn.

She returned to school for a second master’s degree and became a teacher, sharing her passion with students in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, and Mathematics) program.

“My first month, I didn’t think I was going to survive,” she said. “Nobody ever thinks that teaching is hard. They really don’t, but having that perspective really gives you the enlightenment that you’re doing it for something that’s worth it.”

Espiritu is considered a “teacher leader,” as she takes on initiatives such as coordinating and leading school-wide and district-wide professional development activities, as well as grade-level meetings. She has mentored new staff members and has served on the district’s instructional leadership team to implement best practices in the classroom.

Her supervisors and colleagues point out that Tracy excels equally in the classroom, where she inspires her students individually and collectively, and engages them as active participants, whether they be gifted and talented or students who may be struggling. Surmounting economic and other challenges, more than 80 percent of Einstein’s students have scored proficient or advanced proficient in math over the past four years, in part due to Espiritu’s efforts in her classes and throughout the school.

Espiritu has been able to increase and enhance STEAM instruction in Elizabeth’s schools through partnerships she developed directly with The College of New Jersey, the Greater Newark Conservancy, Kean University, NASA and New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Engineer-turned-educator Tracy Espiritu was presented the award at the school in front of her students by Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Michael Milken, who visited the school with New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie.

The award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education.

Espiritu, who once aspired to be an astronaut, began her career as an aerospace engineer but decided to make a change after getting laid off during an economic downturn.

She returned to school for a second master’s degree and became a teacher, sharing her passion with students in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, and Mathematics) program.

“My first month, I didn’t think I was going to survive,” she said. “Nobody ever thinks that teaching is hard. They really don’t, but having that perspective really gives you the enlightenment that you’re doing it for something that’s worth it.”

Espiritu is considered a “teacher leader,” as she takes on initiatives such as coordinating and leading school-wide and district-wide professional development activities, as well as grade-level meetings. She has mentored new staff members and has served on the district’s instructional leadership team to implement best practices in the classroom.

Her supervisors and colleagues point out that Tracy excels equally in the classroom, where she inspires her students individually and collectively, and engages them as active participants, whether they be gifted and talented or students who may be struggling. Surmounting economic and other challenges, more than 80 percent of Einstein’s students have scored proficient or advanced proficient in math over the past four years, in part due to Espiritu’s efforts in her classes and throughout the school.

Espiritu has been able to increase and enhance STEAM instruction in Elizabeth’s schools through partnerships she developed directly with The College of New Jersey, the Greater Newark Conservancy, Kean University, NASA and New Jersey Institute of Technology.


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