Gov. Doug Burgum and State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler on Monday announced that Sara Medalen, a reading and math interventionist at Minot’s Sunnyside Elementary School, is the North Dakota Teacher of the Year for 2020.
“Sara Medalen goes above and beyond to engage her students with hands-on, innovative experiences that instill courage and curiosity and prepare them to be lifelong learners and problem solvers,” Burgum said. “We thank Ms. Medalen and all of the finalists for their passion and dedication to empowering students with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their fullest potential.”
“Sara Medalen is one of the best our North Dakota teaching profession has to offer,” Baesler said. “She is an exceptional instructor who has tremendous love, respect, devotion and high expectations for all her students. She supports and brings out the best in her students and her colleagues. Sara is an exemplar of what the North Dakota Teacher of the Year is.”
Medalen said she had “a grateful heart right now. I want to say thank you.”
“I’m proud of the education system in North Dakota. We have one of the best education systems in the nation,” Medalen said. “I hope to communicate with all the educators, so that I can be a spokesperson and advocate for them.”
Burgum and Baesler will host a celebration for the new Teacher of the Year in mid-October.
Medalen assists students who are struggling with reading or math at Sunnyside, which is a grade K-5 school in Minot. She has also started programs to encourage reading, leadership development, and physical fitness.
Among them are Books and Braids, in which young girls sign up for appointments for Medalen to braid their hair before school while they read aloud from a book. Girl Power is a group of young students who do charitable projects and hear presentations from female role models, including public officials, first responders, business people, and athletes. Baesler visited the group at Sunnyside last November to read the children’s book “Grace for President.”
“One of the goals for Girl Power is to empower girls to make a positive difference in our lives and in the lives of others,” Medalen said. “I hope that I can carry that through in this role as North Dakota Teacher of the year as well. I'm excited and looking forward to becoming the 2020 spokesperson for the future of our students and schools.”
Medalen oversees STEAM Saturdays (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, Mathematics), which encourages students to collaborate, use critical thinking and problem-solving skills, take risks, and learn from failure. Medalen also founded Strides for Sunnyside, a running group for students, to promote physical activity and help students learn about healthy habits.
Medalen succeeds Kayla Dornfeld, who was the 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the Year.
Five finalists were selected for the 2020 honor: Medalen; Jessica Brandt, a Title 1 English and reading teacher at Casselton’s Central Cass school; Dr. Karyn Chiapella, a special education teacher and intervention specialist at the Scranton public school; Susan Lillian McPherson, an English Learner teacher at Northern Cass Public School in Hunter; and Sara Thompson, an instructional coach and reading specialist at Sweetwater Elementary School in Devils Lake. Baesler honored and celebrated each of the finalist candidates in their home schools earlier this month.
North Dakota Teacher of the Year candidates may be nominated by people within a teacher’s school or community. Nominees fill out an application, which asks them to list their educational history and to write short essays that describe their teaching philosophy and why they wanted to become teachers. Applicants are asked their opinions on major education issues.
The applications are evaluated by a selection committee that includes the incumbent Teacher of the Year, representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, and groups representing teachers, school administrators, career and technical education, and nonpublic schools.