by Jim Boyle
The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be chosen from a field of 132 candidates.
Among them are Ben Kirkwold, a fifth-grade teacher at Westwood Elementary School in Zimmerman, and Sue Yankowiak, a teacher at Ivan Sand Community High School in Elk River.
These candidates have accepted their nominations and completed the required materials to become eligible for the honor. This year’s program will name the 53rd Minnesota Teacher of the Year, celebrating the tradition of excellence in teaching in Minnesota. Candidates include prekindergarten through 12th-grade and Adult Basic Education teachers, from public or private schools.
Kirkwold, who graduated from Winona State and student taught in Holmen, Wisconsin, got his start in the Elk River Area School District in 2011 when he taught middle school science at VandenBerge Middle School.
Kari Sampson, the principal at Westwood, has worked with Kirkvold for five years and said he has the ability to connect with all students and effectively meet each student’s needs. He has successfully differentiated his instruction for gifted and talented students as well as special education students, Sampson said.
Kirkvold leads the student council and is a member of a school PBIS committee.
Yankowiak is a careers and work experience teacher at the alternative high school in Elk River.
She said the nomination has been very humbling, as she never saw it coming.
“I am dedicated to my students and profession with the belief that all students have the ability to succeed and overcome obstacles with the support from a caring, encouraging and inspiring teacher,” she said. “Every teacher at this school feels a personal responsibility to the success of every student.”
Yankowiak said she is happy that the nomination has brought the unique work that is done in alternative education to the foreground.
“The work we do touches the lives of all of us,” she said.
Ivan Sand Principal Tom Hoffman said Yankowiak has been a champion of at-risk learners for more than two decades.
“Her passion for those who are marginalized is remarkable and unmatched by most public school teachers,” he said.
Yankowiak implemented a program called YouthBuild, which partners with Sherburne County to provide student exploration in building and construction.
She is also working with others at the school to develop a curriculum and program application and she hopes to partner with Anoka Technical College next year.
The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced Sunday, May 7, at the Radisson Blu Mall of America hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the coming weeks, a 25-member panel of community leaders will name a group of semifinalists and finalists.