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Lalitha Murali

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Inspiring Leader

USA and Canada
Glendale River Hills School District
Lalitha Murali is a gifted and talented teacher at the Glendale School District. When she started her job as a teacher, she noticed that there were only a handful of immigrant and minority children in the gifted programs. Lalitha’s belief is that given the right resources and experiences, every child can reach his/her true potential. Through starting educational outreach programs and organizing workshops, she started to reach out to the underrepresented groups in her school, and today she has a strong advanced level programming for all of her students where more minority and immigrant children are participating.
Lalitha was chosen as one of the top 20 women of influence in her state for her educational leadership in 2017. She was also chosen as one of the top 21 International Rotary Peace Fellows in 2019 and spent three months in Thailand. She is one of the 2023 Kohls Fellows for her skill as a leader and agent for positive change and her superior ability to inspire a love of learning.
As the President of Wisconsin Science Education Foundation, she organizes and conducts the Badger State Science and Engineering Fair every year for WI students. Her goal is to close the opportunity gap that exists among the inner city and suburban school districts and provide opportunities for inner city students to participate in science fairs and other STEM programs.
Lalitha also submitted a successful application to put two science and engineering experiments on the International Space Station both scheduled for August 2023. Lalitha and her students worked with area companies to create the STEM experiments. One of the experiments will look at the flow of CO2 in microgravity and the other on the influence of charge on electrostatic materials in microgravity.
Lalitha's students won the state championship for the prestigious Future City STEM Competition fourth time this year.
About diversity and inclusion promotion
12 years ago, I noticed 3 or 4 students sitting in the library all by themselves working on an online program. I was told that these students were excelling in their classes so the district is providing this opportunity to challenge them at school. How can a district with more than 1,000 students provide enrichment activities to only a handful of students? In order to close the achievement gap between advanced students from low-income backgrounds and those from more advantaged circumstances, I reached out to my administrator and expressed my desire to work with all students who demonstrate advanced proficiencies. My administrator approved my request and I started my Gifted and Talented Resource class, where I had the top 30% of students from every grade. I researched various enrichment programs and competitions and created my own curriculum. I incorporated projects to push willing and able students to excel
further in math, reading, writing, music, performance, art, social studies, science, STEM, spelling, and public policy. Today, I provide 30 different programs to our students and more than 200 students participate in our enrichment program. Not every student is a good test taker. I strongly feel that through equity and excellence, we can meet the needs of high-potential students from under-represented backgrounds. In order to close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students, students of color, and their peers, I have personally reached out to my colleagues and encouraged them to identify minority students who are quick learners. By giving opportunities for them to work
with other advanced learners, I was able to increase their confidence and motivation to learn.
One of the African American students that I recruited in this way a few years ago is attending Stanford University this year. Her father sent out an email to our Superintendent and below is his testimony about my resource class: “Ms. Lalitha Murali is a drum major for excellence and intellectual curiosity in the Glen Hills school district. Her enthusiasm is unparalleled. In our view, Lalitha is the epitome of the ideal teacher. She is patient, cheerful, encouraging, thoughtful, and hardworking. The genesis of Joyce’s grit is related to the discipline, nurturing, and the work ethic made possible by the Gifted Talented program at Glen Hills. Joyce is currently presenting at the International Science&Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Atlanta, and as fate would have it, Ms. Murali is one of the two chaperones for the Wisconsin team. In the end, the Gifted & Talented program nurtured and bolstered Joyce’s confidence and intellectual curiosity, broadening her horizon in the process.
Joyce gained admission to multiple fine institutions, including USC, UC-Berkeley, Emory, University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison which offered her a free ride.” It is my mission to make a difference in my classroom everyday by loving, inspiring, and motivating my students to believe in themselves.
Similarly, as a coach, I educate others on the benefits of diversity in the workplace, try to create more inclusive workplace policies, communicate and offer meaningful opportunities for diverse staff engagement and promote mentorship programs.
About me as a leader
I always look for free PD opportunities that I could attend during weekends and breaks so that I can bring in more innovative projects to my classroom. Ten years ago, I wanted to start a Robotics Program for our students in order to strengthen their research, problem solving and creativity skills. I contacted G.E. Healthcare, received their sponsorship, and started four FLL Robotics Teams in collaboration with the Nicolet High School Robotics Team. Seven years ago, I launched a Future City Program which is a project-based learning program where students imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future. Our students won the Wisconsin state championship for three years in a row. Last year, we even won fifth place at the international competition. I collaborated with a 7th grade social studies teacher and initiated WE THE PEOPLE, a Project Citizen Project 12 years ago. Students were asked to identify a local community problem,
research alternative policies, then take action to solve the issue. Past projects have included installing recycling bins in Kletzsch Park, creating bullying prevention programs, learning about brownfields, green fields, and greyfields around our school and working with city officials on redevelopment projects and educating teachers and students about paper and plastic usage in our schools and community. Our students won the state level and national level competition and received an exemplary award at the national competition for their outstanding project.
Every year, I apply for grants to provide various learning opportunities for our students. In the past six years, our students have taken classes on green initiatives, future problem-solving, youth advocacy, and climate change. As green activists, they learned how the daily changes they make can impact and make a difference. They explored the need for environmental change, created action plans to reduce our carbon and water footprints, tracked the changes made, and learned how to make them long-lasting. As future problem-solvers, they focused on solvable problems in their own community by becoming a leader for positive change. As Climate Crusaders, they explored why taking action is necessary and how they can be leaders of change and become advocates for environmental change. They examined and took inspiration from historical and contemporary case studies of youth advocacy movements and human rights issues. They debated critically about contemporary issues like housing, food security, education, and a healthy environment and identified issues in their own community and developed the knowledge, experience, and leadership skills to create social change. Finally, they presented their findings to their school board members and developed action plans. They are now the proud recipients of this year’s Lake Michigan’s Champion of Conservation Award for their green initiatives.
A local documentary company is making a film about my class to showcase the awesome things that are happening at our school. It will be a good example for others to see that any one can make a difference in the community.