Baesler Announces Cass County Teacher of the Year Finalists

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Dale Wetzel, Public Information Specialist
Office 701-328-2247
Cell: 701-400-8557
Baesler Announces Cass County Teacher of the Year Finalists

CASS COUNTY, N.D., Sept. 18, 2017 – State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler on Monday announced that three Cass County school teachers have been chosen as finalists for the 2018 North Dakota Teacher of the Year Award.

Baesler said the honorees are Sandy Evenson, a sixth-grade science teacher at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo; Leah Juelke, an English Language (EL) instructor at Fargo South High School who teaches immigrant students who do not speak English fluently; and Thomas Klapp, who teaches physics, chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry at Northern Cass High School in Hunter.

Baesler planned visits to the three schools on Monday to inform the three teachers of their selection as finalists for Teacher of the Year. The superintendent is visiting each finalist in his or her school to call attention to each person’s achievement, and to draw attention to teaching excellence in North Dakota’s public schools.

On Sept. 28, Baesler and Gov. Doug Burgum will honor the person who is chosen as North Dakota’s 2018 Teacher of the Year. Earlier, Baesler announced that Lynae J. Holmen, a special education teacher at Minot’s Longfellow Elementary, and Heather Tomlin-Rohr, a kindergarten teacher at Louis L’Amour Elementary in Jamestown, were finalists for the prestigious award.

Here is some background on the three finalists announced Monday:

Sandra Evenson

Everson has taught in the West Fargo public schools since 1991. She is in her third year of teaching science at Cheney Middle School, after previously teaching at L.E. Berger Elementary.

In her classes, Evenson said, she focuses on “more than the subjects I am teaching.”

“For me, the greatest contributions and accomplishments are the small things,” she said. “Some examples would be, greeting students by name, the smiles, the laughter, the consistency of boundaries. Also, looking where each student is, both academically and behaviorally, and providing opportunities to build on those to a new level.”

Evenson said her teaching style was inspired by her own high school speech teacher, who taught the class  that Evenson “dreaded the most.” Her teacher called students by name, complimented good work in front of their peers, and told her classes not to be discouraged by mistakes, which she shrugged off with an infectious laugh and references to “joining the mistake club.”

“She made me feel important, and that I could conquer things I had not in the past,” Evenson said. “I am grateful that I ran into her after I became a teacher, because I was able to tell her how her teaching influenced me, and how I wanted to implement the things that set her above the rest.”

Tracie Bents, a school counselor at L.E. Berger Elementary who worked with Evenson when she taught there, described her as “empathetic, trusting and sincere” and said parents often asked that their children be placed in her class.

“Sandy listens to students and parents, which allows them to be heard,” Bents said. “She goes above and beyond with her time and her own personal resources in order to better serve students. She undoubtedly puts her students’, parents’, and other staff members’ needs before her own.”

Leah Juelke

Juelke has taught at Fargo South since 2013. Her teaching career has taken her to a private school in Ecuador, a boarding school in Taiwan, and volunteer work at a rural school in Costa Rica. She has trained teachers in the African country of Tanzania in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP, a method of helping teachers to teach English to non-native speakers more effectively.

During a fellowship visit to Tanzania and South Africa, Juelke said, she was able to immerse herself in African culture and visit schools and villages to learn more about her African students in Fargo.

“To further educate myself, I ask my students to teach me words and phrases from their native language,” she said. “This is quite amusing -- to them.”

Juelke said she began considering a career in education after she joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as a medic during her second year at college. She intended to complete a resident nursing degree, but her Guard unit was deployed overseas, leaving her back home and responsible for training new recruits.

“I found planning and implementing the medic training enjoyable and fulfilling,” she said. “I loved the leadership role and the realization that I was making a difference. At that point, I decided to change my major from nursing to teaching.”

Juelke began a writing project for her immigrant students, “Journey to America,” two years ago to help them strengthen their ability to write English and to assist the students’ teachers and peers to better understand their backgrounds and cultures.

The students wrote about growing up in refugee camps, hiding under beds while their villages burned, and having family members killed in wars. Anthologies of the Fargo students’ “Journey to America” stories have been published, and the project led to a new book, published by a Minneapolis nonprofit called Green Card Voices, which produces books of immigrant stories.

“One of my greatest accomplishments in education would be that I have helped to give my students a voice and a platform to express themselves and to educate others,” Juelke said. “Ignorance and lack of understanding fuels prejudice and discrimination in the community. As Fargo grows into a much more diverse community, cultural education is imperative.”

Thomas Klapp

Klapp has taught at Northern Cass for 11 years. He began teaching life sciences, biology and earth science, and now teaches physics, chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry. He describes the physical sciences as his “true passion area” of instruction.

Klapp said he began considering a teaching career during his third year at Valley City State University, from which he graduated in 2004. Teaching “offered a wealth of knowledge and experiences, something new each day, and perhaps most of all, the ultimate success of helping others achieve success in life,” Klapp said.

“I believe my greatest accomplishment as a teacher is the relationships that I have built throughout the years with my students,” Klapp said. “Content, rules and procedures are all important – don’t get me wrong – but when a student can connect with a teacher and build a relationship built on trust, caring and passion, then true learning can take place.”

Cory Steiner, superintendent of Northern Cass, called Klapp a “distinguished teacher” and a “wonderful asset for students and staff within the academic realm.”

“He is a true advocate for his students,” Steiner said of Klapp. “With his guidance, students have made significant progress in developing not only their academic skills, but also key social and emotional skills necessary for success in and outside of school. In my years of education, he is one of the very best teachers I have ever had the privilege of working with on a daily basis.”

Northern Cass is located in Hunter, about 40 miles northwest of Fargo. In addition to his science teaching, Klapp coaches volleyball and baseball, serves as an advisor for student science and engineering competitions, and is the lead contract negotiator for the Northern Cass Education Association.

North Dakota Teacher of the Year candidates may be nominated by people within a teacher’s school or community. Nominees are asked to detail their educational history and awards, and to write several essays, including descriptions of their teaching philosophies, what influenced them to become teachers, and their thoughts on major education issues.

The applications are reviewed and evaluated by a selection committee that chooses five finalists. The Teacher of the Year is picked from among those finalists.

The committee includes representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and groups representing teachers, school administrators, career and technical education and nonpublic schools. The incumbent Teacher of the Year is also asked to participate.