Gold Star Recognition Leaves Major Impact

RELEASE DATE: May 22, 2024 –Many of us can remember a favorite teacher from our youth – someone who encouraged, challenged, or supported us. We may recall the extra time they took with us, or the kind words they shared. They made an impression.

For Chief Joseph Elementary School librarian Tara Murillo, that special teacher was Miss Callies, her third grade teacher in 1982-83 at Devlin Elementary in Havre. “Every kid – and I mean every kid – wanted to have Miss Callies. She was that teacher,” Murrillo said.

So imagine Murillo’s surprise recently when a representative of the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation presented her with a Gold Star award in recognition of work as a teacher and librarian – from Miss Callies.  It’s actually Betty Callies-Melby now, but still Miss Callies to Murillo.

“I looked up to her so much. She was such a help and inspiration to me.  So receiving recognition from her meant the world,” Murillo said.

The Foundation’s Gold Star awards allow anyone to thank or honor a teacher or school professional who has helped or made a difference for them. Most often they are given by families to special teachers. In this case, though, it was the former teacher honoring a student who followed in her footsteps.

Callies-Melby explained that she’d watched Murillo grow from a bright, talkative third grader to an accomplished and caring educator. When she learned about the Gold Stars, she immediately thought of her former student.

“She’s quite special,” she said of Murillo. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her crabby. She’s always cheerful and happy, and she has a wonderful, wonderful work ethic. She deserves a Gold Star.”

The two have maintained a connection over the years, sharing both mutual respect and a love of books. Murrillo fondly remembers the fun – and funny – books Callies-Melby introduced that hooked so many kids on reading. Authors Shel Silverstein and Bill Martin Jr. were among the favorites.

Murillo went to college at Northern, then student taught at Devlin Elementary. While most of her time was in a first-second grade combo class, she also helped out in Callies-Melby’s class. “It’s kind of cool that I grew up in that school, then I started to teach there,” she said.

When Murillo was hired in Great Falls in 1998, Callies-Melby sent along some of her favorite books and teaching materials. Now in her 26th year, after being a teacher and librarian at the former Roosevelt Elementary School and now as a librarian at Chief Joseph, Murillo is still using some of them.

And as a teacher, Murillo had a “classroom store” where students could buy trinkets earned with good behavior – a store fashioned on one she recalls from her days in Callies-Melby’s class.

“You admire your teachers so much growing up. They’re such role models,” Murillo said. “To have her thank me for what I’m doing now means the world.”

For more information on the Gold Star program, visit our website at

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