Surprise ceremony announces RI’s Teacher of the Year

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A kindergarten teacher at Oakland Beach Elementary School has been named the 2025 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.

Students, educators and state leaders gathered Tuesday to surprise Milissa O’Neil with the award.

Warwick Superintendent Lynn Dambruch called O’Neil a “shining example of excellence in teaching, leadership, selflessness, and professional learning.”

O’Neil has been an elementary and special educator in the district for the past decade and has spent the last six years at Oakland Beach Elementary. Her colleagues said she has an enthusiasm for teaching and is a leader both inside and outside of the classroom.

Milissa O’Neil (third from right) was named the 2025 Rhode Island State Teacher of the Year in the surprise ceremony held at Oakland Beach Elementary School.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, a lifelong Warwick resident, were there to present the award, along with last year’s recipient, Aimee Couto.

“Milissa is not just a teacher; she is a bright light of inspiration and a vital part of this community,” Couto said. “Her classroom is a sanctuary where curiosity is nurtured and every student is encouraged to take risks and push to their fullest potential.”

The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) posted a YouTube video showing how O’Neil uses a “school family” approach to make sure students feel safe and as though they belong.

O’Neil will work with RIDE over the next year to improve education statewide.

“I know that moving forward as 2025 State Teacher of the Year, I will certainly have a voice for not only all students in Rhode Island, but also educators,” O’Neil said. “I thank you for this opportunity to represent Warwick and the state of Rhode Island.”

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