Two area teachers named Region 4 finalists for Kansas Teacher of the Year


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — Laurel Thisius, a fourth-grade teacher at Cheney Elementary School, Cheney Unified School District 268, and Kristin Salazar, a business and Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher at Eisenhower High School, Goddard USD 265, were named Region 4 finalists for the 2022 Kansas Teacher of the Year award during a virtual ceremony Saturday, March 27. This award recognizes excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state.

In prior years, the Kansas Teacher of the Year finalist ceremony has taken place in person. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place virtually this year.

As finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction, Thisius and Salazar each will receive a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit, the major corporate partner for the Kansas Teacher of the Year program. In addition, they are each now eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during a ceremony Saturday, Sept 25, in Wichita.

Thisius and Salazar were among six Teacher of the Year semifinalists from Region 4, which covers the fourth U.S. congressional district.

Other semifinalists were Drenda Higgins, a second-grade teacher at West Elementary School, Valley Center USD 262; Cheryl Rodriguez, a kindergarten teacher at Maize Elementary School, Maize USD 266; Claire Clifford, a music, English and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Halstead High School, Halstead USD 440; and Heather Daerr, a science teacher at Garden Plain High School, Renwick USD 267.

Each of the semifinalists will receive a red marble apple with a wooden base, compliments of The Master Teacher in Manhattan.

This year, 138 educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.

Nominations are made in each of four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators and higher education representatives to select semifinalists and finalists from each region.

Each panel selects six semifinalists — three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists. 

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serves as an ambassador for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession.

The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year is eligible for national distinction as National Teacher of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation.

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