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The Hood Magazine

2023 Educator of the Year Nominations

Mar 07, 2023 ● By The Hood Magazine

Congratulations to the 2023 ‘hood Educator and Childcare/Preschool Provider of the Year nominees. Scroll below to read all of the amazing nominations!

Aaron Munce, 6th Grade Teacher at Abiding Savior Academy

When I seen the post on Facebook for nominating Educator of the year I asked my son if there was anyone he would like to nominate this year. He immediately said “Mr.Munce!” When I asked him why he wanted to choose him he said “Mr.Munce should be nominated because he is such a nice and funny character! He really gets kids and wants to spend time with them!” Mr.Munce recently joined our school family and in the short amount of time he’s been with us he has made such a positive impact on my son! He comes home daily and shares the things he loves/enjoys about Mr.Munce! To name a few… he loves that he uses lots of BIG fancy words, talks in different voices, makes learning FUN and most importantly chooses to sit with the kids at lunch and gets to know them! It’s the little things that make such a BIG difference to these kids! Mr. Munce, thank you for being YOU and for choosing to teach at our school! Thank you for showing up with a positive attitude and for making learning fun! Thank you for making the kids feel like they are seen and that they really matter! We are so grateful for you and appreciate all you do! You deserve to win this award!

-Charlie Froke

Alyssa Avery, Preschool/Pre-K at Peace Lutheran Preschool & Pre-K

She devotes her time and soul to the kids of Peace Lutheran!

-Reegan Yttreness

Amanda Bork, Resource Teacher at John Harris Elementary

This year, I have been so fortunate to work with Amanda in my classroom. I am a 2nd grade teacher at John Harris, and I have seen the incredible difference Amanda makes day in and day out in the lives of our students. This year, she and I worked closely with a student who had recently experienced trauma...and his behaviors were heightened because of this. In a year that has felt extra emotional and difficult, Amanda has been there every step of the way. Not only for our student, but for me, too.  Amanda has such a gentle and positive spirit. Her classroom is calm, and students are able to grow academically and socially with her nurturing, compassionate, and thoughtful teaching practices. She makes our students, and staff, better. John Harris is so lucky to have someone like Amanda changing lives every day.

-Miss Kelsey Moser

Amanda Wiltse, Mobile Infant Room at Bright Eyes Daycare

Amanda has been an incredible Lead Mobiles Teacher for Bright Eyes for over 9 years! She has been working with 0-2 years old and is in constant communication with me about anything and every thing even after the children left her room. Her passion for children shows immensely! She always has been sweet, kindhearted, understanding, and when addressing any concerns she will make sure to work on them and keep us updated on the progress. She has made wonderful friendships with teachers & other parents especially since her children grew up with theirs. She is an amazing mother of two children, and even with everything going on in her life she still found time to get her CDA! She is a great addition to the Bright Eyes and I couldn’t have picked a better person for this!

Amy Miller, Junior Kindergarten Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

Mrs. Amy Miller has been a blessing to our family this year. At the end of last year, my son was still crying and upset about going to school. His first year of preschool was not the best for him emotionally. He was fearful to start again this fall. However, Amy Miller has turned him to loving school, playing and making new friends, pushes him to show his creativity in a variety of ways, and learn while doing all of it! My son comes home each day talking about something fun that he did in Mrs. Miller's classroom. For Christmas, Mrs. Miller made each of her students a fleece scarf. It was all wrapped up in a gift bag, and students were told they would have the scarf and know that they were wrapped in her care! Additionally, Mrs. Miller and her husband recently attended my sons' weekend drumming performance. She has also seen us at a restaurant and had my kids in her lap, socializing with her and her tablemates. Amy Miller goes above and beyond her classroom duties to interact with students, past and present. Long story short, Mrs. Amy Miller is amazing and our son is blessed to be in her classroom!

-Benjamin Kastens

Angie Olsen, Head Preschool Teacher at The Sandlot Preschool Academy

Miss Angie has been a wonderful addition to my children's lives. She encourages them to be themselves while also teaching them to be great friends to their peers. All of her students (and their parents) adore her. She started her own preschool program with Jaclyn last minute this year, and it has turned out to be very successful. Her play based approach to learning and growing has been wonderful for my children and was exactly what I was looking for.

-Abram & Hogan Hall

Miss Angie exudes compassion, dedication, excellence, fun, and kindness to not only her students but also to anyone lucky enough to be around her. She goes above and beyond, always!


Ashley Markley, Early Preschool at Bright Eyes Daycare Center

Ashley has the most patience I've ever seen from a teacher. My children gravitate towards her even after moving to another classroom. She always has a smile on her face. She connects with children uniquely and meets them where they are. She leads by example and puts up with so many personalities. The most tender heart and special personality of anyone who's ever taken care of our kids.


Dr. Brad Bierle, Principal at Abiding Savior Academy

Dr.Brad Bierle joined our school family at the beginning of this school year and I knew immediately after meeting him that he was going to be such a huge asset to our school! Mr.Bierle has been wonderful with his communication to parents, He always has a smile on his face and such a kindness about him that you can feel from across the room! I absolutely loved hearing that Mr. Bierle would sit with the kids at lunch everyday! My son would share how each day his new principal would choose a different table to sit with and would ask questions and get to know all the kids! He said “Mom he is SO NICE!”  My son was having a rough day at school recently and had approached Mr.Bierle and had asked if he could pray for him. Seeing he was in need Mr. Bierle chose to take the time to pray with him right there on the spot! This act of kindness really helped turn my sons day around!  Mr. Bierle, thank you for being an amazing person & Principal to the kids and parents at our school! We are so happy and grateful that you are with us and you are so appreciated!

-Charlie Froke

Cait Haug, Kingergarten Teacher at Discovery Elementary

Mrs. Haug changes lives. She colors the world for new learners (and their families) and believes every child has the potential to move the biggest mountains. Cait's opens up her classroom (her life!)...loves our children like her own, meets them where they are (emotionally, academically, socially, etc.), and engages every single child in a way that makes them believe they're unstoppable.  Her classroom feels like home. A safe place that sparks imagination. When my son was in Kindergarten he got very ill. He was absent for over a month of school after a diagnosis with an autoimmune sickness. Away from friends. Routine. He may not have been in the classroom but she never let my sick, sad little boy miss anything. Mrs. Haug adapted lessons for home. She dropped him off goodies and projects. She kept his classmates in touch with him. He was a part of their days. The darkest time in his life was brightened by her shining light. Mrs. Haug's heart beats with compassion mixed with care. Her profession is not a job, it's a calling. She takes the time to know the kids and love them. For who they are and what they give. She is funny and creative. And pulls out all of the stops...costumes to real life learning… all in an effort to make education relevant and retainable. In a world full of tests and data, her classroom sparkles with individualized education. A safe place for kids from all backgrounds, walks of life, and stories to come and feel cared about. Mrs. Haug is a super hero. A diamond in the rough. A treasure. If you've been lucky enough to know her, you've been influenced by greatness.  Elias has since moved on to 1st grade. But everyday is filled with detours to Mrs. Haug. Hugs. Jokes.  Book talks. And worth. Mrs. Haug is the teacher parents pray for. And we thank God for all ways she's changed our live!

-Elias Varcoe

Carla Tibbetts, 4th & 5th Grade Teacher at Abiding Savior Academy

Mrs. Tibbetts is a great teacher. She works tirelessly, instilling values and enjoyment of learning that will last a lifetime. She helps the children stay focused and learn the harder material they have in the upper elementary grades. She gives daily of herself, and is a blessing to all.


Dayleen Swanson, 3 Year Old Preschool at Gloria Dei Preschool

Mrs.Dayleen is a phenomenal teacher that deserves recognition! She has taught all 4 of our children during their preschool years. She pours her heart and soul into making sure each child has a fun, educational and safe preschool experience. She goes above and beyond with the children’s projects and incorporates their imagination and suggestions into them as well. She shows each child an incredible amount of respect and validates their feelings when they are nervous, scared or apprehensive of trying new things. She does an amazing job of fostering love and learning together making a HUGE impact on these students for years to come.

DeAnna Dreesman, Director at Peace Lutheran Preschool & Pre-K

I have had 3 of my boys go to her school for 2 years each (Preschool and then Pre-k.) She has been amazing with each of their personalities. When they are scared she takes them under her wing. When they get a little too excited she expertly guides them. I can't say enough good things about the program that she leads. I have another son that will also eventually attend her program because it is so great. They learn so much, even years later they bring up things they learned in preschool! The memories we have made attending her program have been irreplaceable. She designs their plans, decorates their room and changes the toys out based on what they are learning. It is so well run and organized by her that I have recommended many people to it. Deanna puts her heart and soul into her teaching and it shows! She absolutely deserves recognition for her excellent teaching as well as leading such an awesome program. Talking to her for only a little while you will see she has a passion and is perfect for this career.


Very knowledgeable in fun ways to help children learn. She’s full of energy so she can keep up with the kiddos! And she always bring joy to everyone around her.


Ms. DeAnna is amazing with all the kids. She works closely with so many kids and makes an impact!


DeAnna is such a great teacher and child care provider that we have our 2nd child signed up ready to go. We have moved all the way to the east side and there’s no one else we’d rather have our kids get started by than DeAnna. She always goes the extra mile and is a wonderful person all around.

-Braleigh & Chloe

Deanna loves all her kiddos and has such a passion to help teach them new things, love on them like they’re her own, and help them know that they are special!


Delaney Zahnley, Toddler Room at Bright Eyes Daycare

When looking for the best locally family tan child care facility, Brighteyes is the only one to choose. Our family has been using this facility for the last 7 years and two kids later. This facility maintains the high standards for nutrition and safety for our kids. They go the extra mile in ensuring the right staff is in place. The curriculum taught at this school placed our children ahead of the curve and ready for kindergarten.


Dena DenHerder, K-6 Music Teacher at Lincoln Elementary- Yankton

Dena goes above and beyond for her kids. She loves doing the extra things for the kids from making costumes for their concerts to bringing in little treats and teaching dances to make the music more memorable! 

Desiree Burggraaf, Lead RISE Teacher at Ben Reifel Middle School

Mrs. Burggraaf is an amazing RISE Special Education teacher to the grades 6th-8th at Ben Reifel Middle School. As an seasoned educator (13 years), she is definitely a teacher that deserves to be recognized for her contribution to her students and too Ben Reifel. This year Mrs. Burggraaf started the Unified Club which brings regular education students and RISE students together to play games, converse, crafts, other projects for the school, but ultimately they are brought together to become friends! This club is exclusively open to only 6th grade regular education students this year, but hopefully within the next school year or two they will be able to expand it to 7th and 8th grade regular education students as well. Our RISE students all participate in the club and it has been such a blast to see everyone interact and get to know other students within Ben Reifel. She goes above and beyond for her students to meet their needs not only academically, but emotionally too. She makes her students know they’re all loved and respected. She loves what she does and you can see that in anything/everything she does for these exceptional students. Honestly she is the teacher I aspire to be once I am able to complete my teaching degree within the next couple years.

-Chelsea Durfee

Destinee VanGerpen, Team Lead / Toddler 2 at La Petite Academy

Destinee has been amazing for both of our children as they have gone through her room. She is ALWAYS happy to see the parents, and the children. It is such a breath of fresh air knowing that our children have spent time with this amazing lady. She is so great with the children she is surrounded by. She gets on the floor and interacts with them and it really seems like she understands children. In a time when quality childcare providers are difficult to come by Destinee proves to be an outstanding resource. La Petite is lucky to have her.

-Macklan Mutchler

Ellen Weber, 1st Grade Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

On very short notice in the summer of 2021, Ellen Weber was told she would be teaching Kindergarten. My son was in her class and we had the best year. Miss Weber quickly learned the ins and outs of all of her students, and challenged my son accordingly. At the end of last year, we were notified that Miss Weber would be returning to her 1st grade position for 2022-23. My son personally talked to the principal to ask to be in Ellen's class again. He told me that he knew that she was the best; therefore, he wanted to be in her class so that he could be his best too! Our family was beyond thankful to know that Andrew would be returning to Miss Weber's room, since she knew his learning style, struggles, and abilities and would continue to hold him to high expectations. This year has not been easy for my son socially, but Miss Weber has helped him find his way and has kept him on a learning path best for him. In two years, she has shared many a family experiences with us, such as losing teeth, winning and losing sporting events, various illness and sending work to keep my son learning from home, and more! Ellen Weber has been very responsive when I've had the "it's my first kid to do this" questions and concerns. She has gone above and beyond for our family and we cannot thank her enough for the two amazing years in her classroom. I pray that we will get Miss Weber again when the youngest moves through the ranks!

-Andrew Kastens

Emily Rasmussen, Kindergarten Teacher at Inspiration Elementary

Ms.Rasmussen has gone above and beyond for her kindergartners, helping over come behavior problems, separation anxiety and just overall helping each child become their best self! Each day she shows each of them grace and never holds anything against a child when they have a bad day. I think if each of us had a little bit more of Ms.Rasmussen’s good and had more grace for each other this world would be a better place!

-Milijana Gligorevic

Esther Crandall, SPED Teacher K-5 at Harrisburg Liberty Elementary

Mrs. Crandall has been Eli’s SPED teacher for a couple years now and the growth we’ve seen is incredible. Mrs. Crandall truly cares about her students and what is best for them. She helps them become the best versions of themselves and follows their leads and interests. Eli uses a communication device to talk and she has been such an advocate for him to use his voice and incorporate his talker in all areas of his life. It can be really scary to leave your child when they are unable to communicate, but we continue to be so grateful and confident he’s getting the best education.

-Eli Hamilton

Heather Miller, 3 Year Old Preschool at Sioux Falls Lutheran

She is so full of joy and happiness every single day! She truly loves her job and it comes through in every action, activity, or thing she does with the children each day! She makes every single child feel loved and special. She takes the time to not only teach but to actively play with the children. You will find her playing in the grass or snow or on the floor at the kids level in the class room. She is such a blessing to every child that she teaches and to the school!

-Joel Engel IV

Jennifer Fenicle, Lead Daycare at an In-Home Daycare

Jennifer has been our daycare provider for the past 5 years. In that time she has cared for 4 of our children. Jennifer goes above and beyond all expectations we have for the care and teaching of our children. We know that every dollar we pay her goes right back into the kids. Each day she greets us with a smile and a hug. The kids all know that she loves them like her own. She has circle time with the kids where she teaches them both academics and character building traits. Jennifer does school work with the kids which always includes a math and reading activity as well as a craft. She differentiates the activities based on the kids’ ages and abilities. She is just all around a wonderful person and teacher and I just feel beyond blessed that she is in our and our kids’ lives.

-Brielle, Joshua, Revin, Charlie Fiegen

Jennifer is truly the best at what she does. She is so selfless and giving to all of her kids and families. She loves our kids like her own and they know that.she goes above and beyond the typical in home daycare to provide educational experiences for our children. We had struggled to find good childcare with our oldest and went to 3 daycares before finding Jennifer. Our 3 year old loves her and misses her when she doesn’t see her. Child care is often a thankless job of service. Jennifer deserves this recognition for all that she does!


Jennifer goes above and beyond for our kids. During the school year she does preschool with the kids, she is an amazing teacher! She does so many hands on projects with them as well. My refrigerator stays covered in artwork and school work! Every holiday she has a party for the kids! Spring and summer months are full of outdoor play and activities! She rents a bounce house every summer! Every child gets a birthday party and gift! She truly puts in so much time and love into our children! Finding somebody you can trust your kids with is hard. I was at two other daycares before I found Jennifer and for the first time, I never worry dropping my kids off and going to work. That is HARD to find!! She loves our children as her own and they love her just the same!!

-Grayson and Adalynn

Jennifer Pearson, 2nd Grade Teacher at Abiding Savior Academy

Mrs. Pearson is an amazing teacher. She is often the first one to the school to prepare for the day. She fosters a love of reading in the children with good books and read alouds. Her fun math games and clever activities are very impressive, showing the children learning can be fun. We have been blessed to have her teach out children two years in a row. My daughter is praying the school year goes slower because she wants to have Mrs.Pearson as her teacher longer.

-Mirren and Ramsey

Jess Snyder, School Administrator at 605 Prep

Jess is amazing! She is 605 Prep! She is there every morning at the door to greet all of the kids and parents to wish them a good day. She is there every afternoon to once again open the door with the best smile, kind words and gives you an update on your child's day. She is involved in all of the classrooms throughout the day and is aware of everything that is going on with the children. She has hired amazing teachers and assistants that all care about the children. Jess is like the kid's fun aunt that you trust your kids with every day. She sings songs, dances and makes the kids laugh and smile while making them comfortable. She has put so much thought and detail into every aspect of the school. She cleans with products that provide a healthy environment and that are safe for the young kids that put everything in their mouth. She has special lights in the classrooms to help with their eyes. The computers in the classroom are hard wired so no there is no radiation. There is film on the windows of the classroom so as a parent you can look in on your children without them seeing you. It is fun to see the kids in their element. In addition to some of the safety features she has in place; she has created not only a safe environment but quite the learning center as well. The activities that my children work on every day has them leaps and bounds ahead of other kids their age in a standard daycare. My son just turned 5 and came home with a painting of the world that he created, and he rattled off all of the continents. My 8-year-old son laughed and said I just learned about the continents this year in 3rd grade. Our son also knows most of the sounds that all the letters make and each day he is one step closer to learning to read. He will be more than prepared for kindergarten in the fall. So not only has Jess created a loving, SAFE, nurturing environment, she has created ones where the children can learn and grow. The sky is the limit and she lets them navigate and decide how much they want to learn and never holds them back. We are very thankful for Jess and 605 Prep!

-Finley and Marley Giglio

Jody Holt, 2nd Grade Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

Mrs.Holt is amazing. She meets her students where they are at academically and pushes them to keep going! She has wonderful hands on lessons that help students understand concepts. The best had been in social studies where my student has made a landform and identified 5 areas. They then continued to use their creation to write about it, how cool. She is outstanding in her field!


Joseph Thompson, Jr. Kindergarten at Truks and Trykes Playcare

Mr. Joe is extremely committed to teaching the students in his class. Repetition is key and he makes sure they practice practice practice. He wants to make sure learning is fun so he is always introducing new and fun ways to learn. Mr. Joe was so committed to taking his class to the Washington Pavilion for a day of learning that he paid for the students' admission out of his own pocket! Also, to keep his class on schedule, Mr. Joe hosted an hour+ of e-learning to the pre-K class on a snow day! We recently transferred into this center and this was just over the top committed in my opinion. Mr. Joe raised the bar for us and our expectations of educators.


Mr Joe always makes sure the kids are learning something new and fun. He goes above and beyond to let us use his learning programs so the kids can keep learning even after school hours. He always makes sure that if something happens we know about it right away. Jaden is always so excited to see Mr. Joe in the mornings and to tell me about what he got to do that day every night.

-Jaden Jurgens

Julie Reiter, PE Teacher at Fred Assam Elementary

Justin Pudenz, 3rd Grade Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

Mr. Pudenz goes above and beyond to teach each of his students. He likes to joke with his students and keep them entertained in all academic areas. The lesson I have heard about many times has been teaching students about the clouds and how important it is to know the difference in each cloud. He is great at calming my child down when they are worked up over a situation. We love him.


Kelly Powell, Kindergarten at John F Kennedy Elementary

Mrs Powell has been my children’s kindergarten teacher for 3/4 children. She does such an exceptional job of making learning fun and fostering a positive,creative learning environment. Some examples of how she goes above and beyond are : 1) having a reading boot camp that includes a runway fashion show when it is completed. 2) having a 1950’s style party for the 50th day of school complete with TONS of fun learning projects to celebrate! 3) Earning gingerbread babies at Xmas time and little accessories to help them take care of their babies.The list could continue but these are just some of the main highlights. The amount and love that she pours into each child’s learning experience is phenomenal and deserves to be recognized


Megan Finnicum, 2nd Grade PL Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

As shared from her 8 year old learner, "Mrs. Finnicum is kind. She is helpful. She helps us solve our problems. She makes every day in 2F (her classroom) feel special, because she is an awesome teacher. She makes us feel safe and at home in our classroom together. We are her littles and we work as a team." In addition to her learner's thoughts, from our parental perspective, Mrs. Finnicum is a respected professional. She is warm and knowledgeable. Her ability to develop young people is exceptional. She has helped our daughter feel excited about learning and school. Mrs. Finnicum has helped her establish a strong love of reading and math. She encourages all of her learners to do their very best every day. We can see the positive impacts of Mrs. Finnicum's instruction in our child's life. Beyond academics, our daughter is thriving and comes home happy every day. We know this is because of the welcoming and inclusive classroom evnriomrent Mrs. Finnicum has created for her learners. For these and many more reasons, Mrs. Megan Finnicum is most deserving of 'hood's Educator of the Year award.

-Evelynn Lynch

Megan Schneider, 1st Grade Teacher at Harrisburg Explorer Elementary

I am nominating Megan Schneider as my son's teacher, as well as a colleague. Since she started teaching at our school, I noticed how positive, loving, and calm she is with our learners, but now as my son's teacher and I am noticing even more how she goes above and beyond to make sure that students feel loved and cared for while at school. She is one of the most positive people I have ever met, always finding the good in every situation and looking for ways to make things better. Her students KNOW that she cares for them. She keeps learning fun and finds ways to engage and motivate her students so that they are learning even when they don't know they are. I've worked alongside her on several committees, such as our PBIS Team and One Book One School Committee, and she's always willing to lend a hand to make school fun for our learners. She's not afraid to put in extra time for her students and our school. We are so lucky to have her at Explorer Elementary, and our family is especially lucky to have her as our son's teacher!

-Jude Keupp

Mel Wehrkamp, Teacher and Owner at Little Wings Preschool

She had an amazing program that uses sensory and play to help kids learn in a very loving and positive environment. Her focus on positivity and learning through structured play allows the kids to really develop thinking skills along with important social skills needed to be successful. She care so much about each child's wellbeing and learning it's so clear to see where her passion and love is.

-Madisyn & Parker

Mel is amazing with the kids. Our daughter can't wait to go to Preschool every day and absolutely loves her teacher and friends. It's been so fun watching her learn and grow and hear how highly she talks about Mel.


She provides fun learning activities and does amazing with all the kids!


Mel has been teaching my children for the last 4 years and has done such an amazing job at preparing them for kindergarten. Her kindness, patience and love for teaching is apparent in everything she does. She has grown Little Wings from a small basement preschool, to building with several staff members and an exciting learning environment. My daughter is always so excited to go to school and is learning something new everyday in math, English, science and skills. I'm so amazed by what she has built in the last 4 years. She has made a lifelong impact on so many children already, and she's only just beginning.


She is so amazing with all of the students. She is kind and patient and creates a fun and safe learning environment. My daughter has gone to her for 2 years and she has learned an incredible amount since then. Best teacher hands down!


Our family had a very challenging year with a medically fragile infant. The congenital defects required myself and my husband to be 13 hrs away in Michigan ICU, separated from our oldest for 6 months.  As I said it was challenging and a lot for a 4 year old to process. He was shy, and had never been to preschool, a little behind other kids his age. However, a few short months with Mrs. Mel and he is thriving! Tracing his name, counting, knowing the alphabet, cutting, coloring/painting, matching and so much more. Mrs. Mel is so encouraging, patient and is wonderful at making learning fun!


Rachael Hakl, Kindergarten Teacher at West Central Elementary

She is so hardworking, juggling being a teacher and a parent and always giving her all!

Sarah Smith, 3rd Grade Teacher at Frontier Tea Elementary

The amount of passion and care she puts into each day is astounding. Not only in teaching education but also teaching them healthy boundaries to set for our lives. We appreciate the example and role model she is for our daughter.

-Naomi Smith

Shelly Bryant Logue, Preschool Curriculum Planner at Bright Eyes Daycare

Ms. Shelly should be recognized as Preschool Provider of the year.  Leads the ‘regulator friends’ group for students to work in a small setting (5 or less children) every other week to work on developing skills to help regulate emotions, such as frustration, anger, and sadness. They also work on appropriate ways to express these emotions that don’t involve disruptions to the classroom. Our son was chosen to be part of the regulator friends group and we have noticed a significant difference in his ability to express his feelings and work through frustrations. Not only does Ms. Shelly lead the regulator group, but she invests her heart into teaching and fostering growth for her pre-schoolers. Our family feels she has played a pivotal role in the lives of our children and we are so very grateful for her. 

-Olivia & Cy Meyer

Shelly Enger, 3 & 4 Year Old Preschool Teacher at Central Preschool & Kindergarten

Both of my sons had Ms. Shelly as their 3/4 year old preschool teacher. (My youngest son had her LAST year). I am so thankful that she instilled a love of learning in both of them that they will hopefully carry with them for years to come. Our middle child is more shy and reserved, and she went above and beyond to make him feel comfortable and happy at school. She found out what his interests were and found ways to incorporate those into his day. She even wore his favorite superhero shirt the same day he did so they could match. I knew she was special when she made a special visit to our house because he was sick and had to miss the last day of school last year. He was on cloud nine because his teacher came to HIS HOUSE! He will never forget it and neither will we. Shelly loves her students and I am so thankful that our boys had the opportunity to spend a year with her.

-George Keupp

Shelly Ziebell, Kindergarten Teacher at St. Michael Elementary

Sending your first child off to kindergarten is a tough thing for a parent, especially for a shy child. Within the first month of school, though, any fears I had subsided when my son transformed into a better version of himself. Mrs. Ziebell helped him feel safe and comfortable in a new environment. She has helped him learn responsibility. She does fun and exciting projects with the class that keeps 5 and 6-year-olds engaged. She is responsive to parents and any concerns they have about their child. She truly cares and works hard to set the child up for a successful school career by helping them fall in love with learning.


Stephanie Graff, 2nd Grade Teacher at Montrose Elementary

I am nominating Stephanie graff as educator of the year, because she is the most genuine, kind hearted, and hard working teacher that has ever taught in Montrose. She has been teaching for 15 years, and has been at Montrose for 5 years. She never fails to put a smile on every kids face who walks through her door. She has such a huge positive impact on each and every kid who has been taught by her. While she’s been in Montrose, she has managed to raise the average 2nd grade test scores significantly, and they continue to rise every year. She makes an impact on her students lives in and outside of school. Outside of school, she volunteers regularly and helps to run the Montrose youth softball and baseball programs in the summer and the youth wrestling program in the winter, while also coaching middle school volleyball for 4 years. She is the glue that holds our school together, and she deserves this award more than anyone.

-Riley Graff

Susan Foster, Principle at Fred Assam Elementary

Mrs. Foster goes above and beyond for the school. She is willing to step in and help when ever it is needed. We have seen her wiping tables at lunch, taking the time to help a child, dressing up for different events the school has. She even sets up a holiday shop for each child to come through and "shop" for each member of the family. Her energetic, outgoing personality is contagious. She is a pleasure to be around and she treats Fred Assam like it is her family. We are so grateful that she is our Principle.


Tammy Cooper-Moser, 1st Grade Teacher at Abiding Savior Academy

Mrs. Cooper-Mosser is quite possibly the best 1st grade teacher on the planet. To say she is amazing would be an understatement. It was my daughter's first year in school (she was homeschooled for K). She was terrified, and didn't even want to speak. Tammy met with her over the summer to try to help her feel more comfortable, bringing in games and stories for them to do together. A few months into the school year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My daughter was sure I was going to die (I am cancer free now). She cried at school more days than not. Tammy showed such patience and grace with my daughter. Not only did Tammy teach the academic lessons, but she taught heart lessons to my daughter and all the students. Not only did she help my daughter with feelings, but she aided with navigating friendships and feeling more confident in all areas of life. Tammy deserves an award for simply being an amazing human who shows God's love to all. But she must definitely deserves to be the educator of the year because she goes above and beyond for all her students, no matter what they are needing. She gives of herself time and time again. The lessons she teaches her students will last them a lifetime, and shape them into intelligent, kind people.


Mrs. Cooper-Moser loves teaching and goes above and beyond to meet her students right where they are at. She adds in exciting activities like bringing a telescope and planning a parking lot event in the night for her students to learn about the solar system. She has such a giving heart and pours her love for learning into her students!


Tasha Jensen, 3rd Grade Preschool at Blessed Redeemer Preschool

She has such a loving heart. She treats each child so special. At the beginning of the year my little guy was having some trouble separating from me and she was so loving and good with him. She goes above and beyond with each student. Helping that child with their own individual needs. She has such a way with words. She corrects in such a tender way. She engages their brain in questions in a cool way. They don't even know they are learning! How special! We love Ms. Tasha!

-Gage Paquette

Theresa Fischer, 1st Grade Teacher at Journey Elementary

She is so very kind and great with the kids. Our daughter was very nervous to start new school. Mrs. Fischer went out of her way to make our daughter feel comfortable and part of the new school. She is always doing fun activities the kids love. She makes learning fun!

-Lila Engel

Tina Schneider, 5th Grade Teacher at Baltic Elementary

Mrs. Schneider is the best teacher. If I don't understand something she will work with me until I get it. She even stays after school and helps other students who are struggling in their classes. I love knowing I can count on her to challenge me and help me grow academically.

-Ayden Ochsner

Tracy Robinson, Owner of Robinson Family Daycare

Tracy is the best with activities, keeping the kids engaged and teaching them to be good kids! She has helped my children grow into some great kids!

-Abigail and Paige

Tracy is the BEST!!! She is the most fun loving person who loves my kiddos unconditionally. She is a huge part of their lives and even continues to be a part even when they have gone off to school. My kids are important to her and she helps raise amazing little humans. I know my children will grow up to be amazing people and she will have had a large hand in their growth. She celebrates all the wins and helps navigate the trials. She has become a friend, a second mom, and a safe haven for my kids. Knowing my kids are in the best hands possible while I’m at work is so comforting. I have never worried for my kids and never will. Colton loves going to daycare and seeing Tracy every day. He is always excited to see her. Jameson is now in school and talks about how much he misses being at Tracy’s. She has given our family the biggest blessing and opened up friendships to other families. I cannot say enough about how amazing she is and how much she deserves this recognition.


I have been taking my children to Tracy for 6 years. She isn’t just a woman that takes care of my kids, she’s a part of our family, a woman I entrust my children’s lives every day without a second thought. She’s amazing with them at all ages. Teaching them almost all the milestones they need to reach in collaboration with the parents. I’m not sure how potty training would have gone without her! She rarely takes time off and she’s amazing with communication and very involved with all the families. On top of that, she keeps close relationships with the mothers that have previously and do bring their children there. Bringing together the best group of ladies to a tribe a new and seasoned mom could ask for. Sharing their stories and advice and just having close friends to rely on. I wouldn’t have had that and the wealth of knowledge about parenting without Tracy. Hands down she’s selfless and definitely one of the most phenomenal women I’ve ever met. Even in times of grief like the loss of her mother and husband, she took a short time off (when no one expected her to return quickly) and cared about supporting the parents that needed her too. Hands down, she’s the perfect candidate for this honor.

-Evelyn and Adrian Bruggeman

Tracy is an amazing person along with being one of the most loving daycare providers I have ever had. Tracy started a group called creating ripples where she tries to create a ripple of good that influences someone else to want to do good. She volunteers with youth groups at Sioux Falls First Church, Finny Minis Farm, and she also volunteers at the St Francis house regularly(even if no one else can help at the St. Francis house she goes alone to do the job of 4). She also brings the older children to the St. Francis house to volunteer-if you ask any parent they would say their child is so excited about going everytime. Every year at Christmas she uses her own money to bring the daycare children to Hyvee to pick out food for people that are in need. I could continue to go on and on about the things she has done to change peoples lives-especially the children she has been there for in the last 20 years. Tracy continues to change these children’s lives even as they age. You will catch her at a play, sporting event, marching band, etc of a child she watched 15 years ago. These children are thrilled to see her. She has made it to soccer games and almost every dance recital my daughter has participated in-she even went to a princess party at the premier center we brought my daughter to. The only time she missed my daughters dance recital was the weekend after she lost her husband to cancer. This lady also educates the children and prepares them for life. Throughout the year she has weekly themes for the alphabet and counting. She potty trained my daughter when she was 2 and made it so much less stressful then it could of been by having a potty party for all of the kids that learned how to. Tracy has been through a lot this year with the loss of her husband who was her soul mate yet she never barely batted an eye and was right back to loving our children with her whole heart. Not only does Tracy impact the children in her life she impacts the parents. I never knew when I started going to her daycare that I was going to find a life long friend. She has been there for me during some of the hardest times in my life and has helped me to have the confidence and courage to better my life in so many ways. Tracy is deserving of this because she is not only a daycare provider-she is a good human.

-Blake Rose Erickson

Victor Naranjo, Kindergarten Teacher at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary

Sr Naranjo has a vested interest in each of his children’s education. When you walk into his room, you can just feel the excitement and energy he brings to his classroom. He is kind hearted, loving and challenges his students to be the best they possibly can.
-Harlow Lemke and Louis Lemke

Sr. Naranjo is exceptional! He is perpetually excited to see the children, educate and encourage them. He is creative in his methods using music, games, and allowing for individual strengths to be highlighted. As a parent, I enjoy the opportunity to volunteer in the classroom and am always so inspired by his natural way of connecting with each individual child. He does all of this while instructing in a language that is new to almost every child in the room. My child is excited to go to school every single day and daily has a story about something fun he did or is teaching them.

Celebrating 10 Years of Educator of the Year

Celebrating 10 Years of Educator of the Year

Looking back at 10 years of outstanding educators. Read More »