"She personifies the kind of teacher every student deserves — caring, dedicated, talented, energetic, and an advocate for helping students express themselves in positive ways," city schools CEO Sonja Santelises said in a statement.
Kyriakakos was born in the U.S. and spent a decade in Greece as a child. After receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, she moved to Connecticut and found a passion for teaching.
Her career has included studying and teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago, and positions in Greece and Sweden. She was named Teacher of the Year for Maryland after being named the city's Teacher of the Year in April.
Her class, Foundations of Art, teaches three lessons. Not painting, drawing, sculpture, she tells students, but rather, focus, perseverance and resilience.
The first week she has students draw the contour of their left hand, again and again.
"They understand I will not accept anything lower than the highest possible product," she said. "They will excel. I will call them at home. I will text them at night. I will call their parents. I will sit after school every day until they get that damn hand."
Soon the students are swept up, arriving early. Last year, someone — she still doesn't know who — discovered how to jimmy the lock on her classroom. Students were working when she arrived.
"How can you get mad at them?" she said.
Lessons evolve from hands to painted portraits of power. She challenges students, "What is power in your life?"