Johnson County dominating teacher award
When reading specialist Jeri Powers of Riverview Elementary School was named Kansas Teacher of the Year last month, it marked the sixth-straight year a Johnson County teacher had been chosen.
That run has some wondering why the honor couldn't be passed on to candidates from other areas in the state.
Message boards on some news Web sites reporting Powers' win accused the KTOY selection of being unfair and biased toward Johnson County candidates. However, that is not the case, said Karla Denny, director of community relations and recognition programs for the Kansas Department of Education.
"I have eight finalists and my committee looks at all eight finalists," she said. "They pick whomever they would believe to be the best teacher of the year."
Denny said Johnson County school districts were participating more and could be better preparing their teachers for the application and interview process.
"When I am out in western Kansas - they have great teachers our there - but I only get 30 candidates from that entire three-quarters of the state," she said. "I know that school districts in Johnson County support their teacher candidates. They put panels together to read their applications."
The De Soto School District has a thorough selection process for its district candidates, said Superintendent Sharon Zoellner. Nominations for the 2009 Kansas Teacher of the Year already have been made at each of the district's schools. Once an elementary and secondary candidate is chosen, the district provides practice interviews and feedback to prepare them for the next stage.
"We put some resources behind it because we believe teachers need to have that recognition," Zoellner said.
Leigh Anne Neal, spokeswoman for the Shawnee Mission School District, said that district, too, has a rigorous process for selecting district finalists.
"Each year when those nominations come in, it's hard to whittle it down to secondary and elementary candidates," she said.
Neal and Zoellner agreed that their school districts are able to attract and retain top-quality teachers.
"The classroom teachers are in direct contact with our students so our goal is to get the best and brightest," Zoellner said.
Denny said she couldn't find a valid reason to change the way the Kansas Teacher of the Year was selected.
"I think for the integrity of the program, we have to leave it the way it is," Denny said. "I can't say 'OK I have finalists from that area but we are not going to choose them.'
"We let the teacher applications and the interviews speak for themselves, and our teachers are doing very well at the national level, which tells me we are doing something right.
Three of the last five Kansas Teachers of the Year were named finalists for National Teacher of the Year. Two of those taught in Shawnee.
Past Kansas Teachers of the Year and their school districts
2003 Ruth Ann Gharst, Olathe
2004 Keil Hileman, De Soto
2005 Brett Potts, Blue Valley
2006 Ron Poplau, Shawnee Mission
2007 Josh Anderson, Olathe
2008 Jeri Powers, De Soto