(left) Teacher of the Year Flora Fitzhugh.
(left) Teacher of the Year Flora Fitzhugh.
RIALTO - Flora Fitzhugh's almost 50 years older than many of her students. But it's what she has in common with them that makes the difference.

"I got married at 14, had two kids by 17," she said. "So these kids are me."

Fitzhugh teaches English at Rialto Unified's John H. Milor continuation high school, where students who haven't succeeded at the district's traditional high schools end up.

Although she has a bachelor's and a master's degree now, Fitzhugh didn't graduate high school - her Mexican-born mother didn't go to school at all - and makes no secret of it when teaching.

"That's what I tell them: I make bad choices every day. It's what you do with it."

And what she's done has worked out: Fitzhugh was recognized earlier this year by the California League of High Schools as one of their 11 regional Educators of the Year.

On Friday, she'll speak at the group's annual convention in Sacramento and possibly be named the State High School Educator of the Year.

Principal Amanda McLeod- Weiser nominated Fitzhugh for the award.

"Flora has a passion for her students," McLeod-Weiser said. "She's always open to trying new things and ideas, if she thinks they'll help her students."

Fitzhugh got her start as an educational assistant in 1972, after volunteering at her children's school in El Monte and was asked to apply for a job.

"From the first day, I established a relationship with the kids and was part of a teaching team."

The first person in her family to go to college, she went to night school for six years.

"In `78, I said `I'm going to school full-time and get my own classroom; I'm ready."

After getting her teaching credential in 1980, she's taught at 11 schools in California and Arizona, teaching every grade but second and fourth.

"Every time, it's been me putting in a transfer to grow. As a teacher, I strongly believe you can stagnate. So you always have to grow instead."

She's been at Milor since 2000.

"These kids are very special," Fitzhugh said. "I'm not just a teacher; I'm a grandmother, a nana, a counselor. But I'm strict."

Retirement - which she was eligible for eight years ago - may finally be in the cards for Fitzhugh after the 2014-15 school year, so that she can spend more time with her grandchildren.

But her principal will believe it when she sees it: "I think Flora will always have her hand in education in some way."

And Fitzhugh is just as passionate about education as she was back in 1972, as a young mother helping out at her local school.

"(Kids) haven't changed. We've gotten older, but they haven't changed."

Fitzhugh will be honored at Wednesday night's meeting of the Rialto Unified school board.


Reach Beau at via email, call him at 909-483-9376, or find him on Twitter @InlandED.