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The Hood Magazine

2021 Hood Magazine's Educator of the Year Nominees

Apr 09, 2021 ● By The Hood Magazine

2021 Educator of the Year Nominees 


Winer: Sara Gohman, Fifth Grade, Garfield Elemnentary 

Sara is our ANGEL! My daughter was in the 4th grade in 2017 at Garfield. We had gone through some tough times as a family and she began acting out terribly. The summer of 2017 Sara reached out to me and asked to be my daughter, Draya's teacher for that upcoming here. We lived close to the school so before school began Sara began building a relationship with my daughter by having her come to the school to help w/classroom decor etc. During Draya's 4th grade year she had been suspended over 20 times received over 50 office referrals and i was slowing losing my daughter to depression. Little did I know what Sara had in store for us! Sara was able to connect w/my daughter in a way the counselors and psychologists could not. I was starting to see my baby again. She excelled in all her testing, and did not receive one office referral or suspension. I am a single parent and christmas time was approaching. Sara went above and beyond to make sure we had the best christmas! she showed up with gifts, food, clothing, gift cards! All i could do was cry because without her we would not have had anything. She always made sure we had food even before and after Christmas. I remember going to Draya's first conference of the year and i was so nervous because the year prior conferences were not the best and full of counselors, tier two teachers, principals, school psychologists. My daughter was doing so well and the only reason there were other teachers in the room was to tell me how well Draya was doing! We all agreed that it was because of Sara. I hugged her and cried happy tears for the first time in a long time. Sara became a member of our family. She shows up for us whenever and wherever. In fact, when Draya started 6th grade Sara would go to her middle school once a week to check in on her and make sure she was staying on track. We were lucky enough to have Sara for the second year in a row because i have another daughter a year younger! Thanks to Sara I was in a much better place financially and mentally I was able to witness all she does for all her families! She makes sure all her kids have snow gear and food! I know quite a bit of families who have been blessed with Sara's kindness and also consider her their angel. I have nominated Sara 3 times for vern eide teacher of the year and she has yet to win. My daughter Draya is now in 7th grade and my youngest Kamya in 6th and Sara is a constant in our life. She shows up for my kids comes to their sporting activities and always checks on us! I do not know where we would be had Sara not come into our lives. We were at our lowest point and a TEACHER who had no obligation towards us, picked not only my children but me up off the ground and put us back on our feet. Without a shadow of doubt I can honestly say I wouldn't be here today without her. She saved me. She saved my daughters. She saves children and their families everyday with no judgement. Draya is a straight A student now and made A team for both basketball and volleyball this year. She will forever be a part of our lives and everyone deserves to know how incredible this woman is. I know Sara doesn't care about the fancy awards but as i sit here w/tears in my eyes and think back to the day we met Sara and where our journey took us there's not one person I know that deserves more praise than her. Every student, every family deserves a Mrs.Gohman!! 

LeeAnna Rabine,  First Grade, Hawthorne Elementary School 

My son is a high functioning Autistic Child with ADHD and had Mrs. Rabine this year for First Grade.  The stuff he has learned this has made me extremely pleased with the quality of education he is receiving in her room.  She goes above and beyond her job title while making parents happy and content knowing that their child is being taught by a knowledgeable and competent teacher.  My son's reading and math scores have gone up this and every night he comes home telling me what he did in school.  I could not be more proud of the education he is receiving in Mrs. Rabine's room.

Jill Pederson, Third Grade, Robert Bennis Elementary 

She is amazing at what she does. She communicates so well and makes each day enjoyable for Mason. This year has definitely been a challenging year dealing with a pandemic but she is making it as normal as she can for her students! We appreciate everything she does!!!   “She is the best teacher. She makes school really fun and she thinks I’m funny”-Mason

Sue Dekker, First Grade, Robert Bennis Elementary 

Sue has been amazing for my daughter and helping her gain confidence in herself socially and academically. Callie loves school and that’s because she has an amazing teacher. During one of the hardest years for a teacher, she has done amazing at making it as normal as possible. It is so appreciated all of the hard work teachers have done this year!   “Mrs Dekker is the best. She teaches me lots of things and helps me”-Callie

Tracey Swenson, Third Grade, Baltic Elementary 

Ms. Swenson is dedicated to helping each of her students succeed. she spends countless hours to make sure what she teaches has meaning and is the best for each child. Not only has my son has made great gains educationally this year with with Ms. Swenson but he gets excited to go to school every day.  As a co-teacher I have always known Ms. Swenson loved her job but to see her share her love of education with my son has been priceless. Thanks Ms. Swenson for your dedication to our children you are an unsung hero!

Leslie Richie, Kindergarten, Waubay Elementary 

There are no words to properly describe Mrs. Leslie Richie. She puts in COUNTLESS hours for her students. When our family had COVID she made sure to video conference and read with our daughter. My daughters eyes lit up with joy upon hearing that she got to see her teacher that week away! They sounded out vowels, consonants, and my daughter read her our favorite book. This was all after Mrs. Richie had a long day with students in class.   Mrs. Richie is involved with every aspect of our school  and wants to truly make each and every single day important for every student. This winter, we had a student in the upper grade level pass away (we are a high/middle/elementary school combined). His sister was in the same grade as Clara. She made sure every student was aware and went to everything she could to support her students. This was a very tough time for all in Waubay School but Mrs. Richie handled it with kindness and compassion that we could all hope to have.  Clara is genuinely excited and happy to get to school everyday and see her teacher, Mrs. Richie. She is thee most kind, caring, compassionate person and we can only hope to have many of her for our future generations. She genuinely cares and is excited to see each and everyone of her students everyday. I hope that my daughter can feel this every single day of her school life!

Joseph Thompson, Head Preschool, Discovery Learning Center 

Mr. Joe Thompson is an outstanding teacher with a unique passion for teaching/education and is caring and understanding of kids and their needs in all aspects. I believe he’s a great example for other Teachers and assistants to strive to be like. He definitely deserves recognition for all he does!

Mr. Joe has been an amazing teacher for the past year and a half my son has been in his room. He has been able to get him to focus on what he needs to do academically, which is saying a lot since my child never stops moving unless he is asleep. He has also gone above and beyond helping out the kids and siblings that he teaches. He is all around a great person and you can tell his passion is teaching.

Blossom Freeborn, Third Grade, Brandon Elementary 

Mrs. Freeborn has been amazing this year with the kids. I know that everything has changed over the last year for all of our teachers, but just so very thankful to be in the Brandon Valley School District where are teachers are so thoughtful, caring, and responsive to the kids.

Gina Sershen, Fifth Grade, Brandon Valley Intermediate School 

Mrs. Sershen has gone above and beyond this year with our son. I know she does this for so many students, but so very thankful for her! Our first year at the Intermediate School, and after spending so many years at the elementary school and knowing everyone, to going into a new school during a pandemic and everything looking so different! Mrs. Sershen is his homeroom teacher, and also takes the time in power hour each day to help him with his planner and assignments. I know his love for science has so much to do with her as well, as that is what she teaches in addition to being his homeroom teacher. We are so very thankful and appreciative for her!

Susan Foster, Principal, Fred Assam Elementary 

Mrs. Foster is an inspiration to all those around her. She goes above and beyond to make her school a fun and enjoyable place to be. As a parent with children attending it is always enjoyable to hear of the stories from them. Some examples of her 

Jose Gonzalez Martinez, Fifth Grade Writing, Sonia Sotomayor Spanish Immersion Elementary School 

I've worked with Jose for 2.5 years. He has such great energy with our students throughout the day. This year has especially been difficult but every morning he is at the door greeting students with a smile and laughing with them. He works so hard as many educators do. With our program, we try to see how students can learn in Spanish but also apply the skills they're learning into English work or vice versa. He is great to work with and has so much to be proud of inside and outside the classroom. 

Lindsey (Lesner) Lambert, Preschool, Baltic 

Mrs. Lesner meets her kiddos where they are at! She uses grouping to effectively meet her students' academic needs, and she makes learning fun! She does all that while letting her students grow and develop at their own pace. She provides the necessary learning and fun to allow each student to bloom in their own way and time! She has had such a positive impact on my son: watching him come out of his shell and embrace his gigantic imagination within her classroom has been a wonderful gift!

Christina Sieber, Special Education, Liberty Elementary  

Mrs. Sieber has been my son’s special education teacher for 4 years and is nothing short of amazing. My son has an extremely rare disease that has global developmental delays including lacking the ability to walk or talk. It is so scary thinking about sending your child with disabilities to school and it has been nothing but an amazing experience. My son loves going to school everyday (every year). I think of Mrs. Sieber as Grant’s amazing ‘Wizard of Oz’. Always facilitating a personalized educational positive experience... but not only for him, all the other students in her special education class. She wants each child to be their best version of themselves and goes above and beyond to differentiate their education for that goal. Her communication and love for her job is top notch and we are forever grateful for Grant’s amazing start to his educational career (which is the most critical). 

Kathy Velgersdyk, Intermediate Room Teacher, Hills Christian 

Kathy is an awesome teacher for the students at HCS.  She makes learning fun for them!  The small class sizes are great to keep the kids engaged and create a great learning environment.  We’re so thankful we sent our kids to HCS this year.  She is very encouraging for our son!

Joann Schultz, Fifth Grade, Dell Rapids St Mary 

Mrs. Schultz has been in education forever.  She has given her students ever chance for success.  She is a tough teacher with a soft heart.  Her students are ready for the next stage of their education future.  She deserves to be recognized by the world.

Bailey Jorgensen, Math, New Tech 

Bailey was nominated for teacher of the year on her FIRST year of teaching with the SF School district. Her students adore her and she is absolutely amazing with kids. She puts so much attention into her work to make sure kids understand. She is one of the absolute best. She also incorporates art into her teaching bc she is also an artist! Her husband is also a teacher!  I’m nominating her as her SIL. 

Erika DeWitt, Preschool, Abiding Savior 

She is always so kind and compassionate and has a passion for not only teaching my son academics but about Jesus. She is also helping to form him into a kind, respectful student.

Bridget Ebert, Sixth Grade, Tri-Valley 

Mrs. Ebert is an awesome communicator. She continually lets the parents know what their children are learning and how she plans on getting them to succeed in her class. Mrs. Ebert also goes the extra mile by staying after school or coming in early to help any student that may need the extra help. She is a blessing to have known and I’m so glad my son has her as a teacher.

Dan Jewett, Fourth Grade, Tri-Valley 

We have a daughter who struggles with school. Covid was hard on her with last year getting cut short and this year with shorter weeks at our school. He has gone above and beyond to try to break her out of her shell and help her with her work.  He's taken extra time to understand what makes her learning easier and what we can do to help her. Not only with her present studies, but also looking towards her future.  We greatly appreciate him looking out for her when it could be easier to push her aside and kick her to the next grade. Instead, he cares what happens.

Sara Rogers, Special Education Nurse, Tea Area School District 

She works as a school nurse and also works with the special education department at her school. She was pregnant during the beginning of the school year and for has been since the pandemic started. She worked through it like a champ. She also volunteers through two other organizations - the South Dakota epilepsy foundation and giving Christmas Sioux Falls. Her role in the epilepsy foundation is as a kids crew captain - spreading epilepsy awareness with kids in Sioux Falls and surrounding towns. Her and a friend starting the giving Christmas page to help families with children in need find presents and food for Christmas. They have helped as average of 50-100  families foe the last 6 holiday seasons.  Between those three jobs - she is showing love and compassion and kindness to children all over Sioux Falls. She is empowering children with epilepsy to have knowledge and to share that knowledge. She is helping children from low income families have presents to open under the tree. She is a true rock star woman. 

Delores Stratmeyer, Food Service Coordinator, Tea Area School District 

She was able to provide food during virtual learning and all summer to make sure all kids were fed. She continues to go above and beyond to provide quality meals for the students. 

Amanda Nelson, Kindergarten, Tri-Valley 

Unending passion to create the best and fun learning environment. What my child learns at school I see each night as she comes home and recreates what she has already learned.

Susan Olson, Fantastic Fives Teacher, Sioux Falls Lutheran School 

I am nominating Susan Olson for Educator of the Year because of the phenomenal job she does in instilling a love of learning in her students through joyful, hands-on experiences. Susan provides so many unique and intriguing learning opportunities for her students every single day, and you can sense the genuine interest from her students when they come home and start telling you about what they did at school without even being asked. All you have to do is read one of Susan's emails to parents or talk to her in person to realize that she is a true light for learning that the kids are naturally reflecting. I especially love when my student tells me about what she learned about Jesus that day, with sheer passion and wide eyes, explaining in great detail. It reminds me to aspire to the great faith of a little child, and I truly believe that Susan nurtures that great faith with love, patience, and by example.

Myrna Haak, Primary Teacher K-2, Hills Christian School 

HCS was faced with almost not being able to remain open for the 2020-21 school year due to the declining enrollment.  Our family along with 6 others chose to send our kids there for this school year.  The faith based small class sizes is amazing and our kids are loving it.  Mrs. Haak's primary room is full this year.  Typically Kindergarteners didn't attend every day but this year they allowed them to attend all 5 days!  We have twins in Kindergarten who love Mrs. Haak and their school.  She treats the like her own kids & makes learning fun.