North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler announced Monday that Ivona Todorovic, an English Language teacher at Red River High School in Grand Forks, has been named North Dakota’s 2023 Teacher of the Year.
Burgum and Baesler made the announcement in the state Capitol’s Memorial Hall during a ceremony held to celebrate Todorovic and the three other Teacher of the Year finalists: Abby DuBord, of Bismarck, a first-grade teacher at Bismarck’s Elk Ridge Elementary; Megan Margerum, of Hunter, a third-grade English/Language Arts teacher at Northern Cass Public School; and Megan Wald, of Kintyre, a Linton High School business education instructor.
“Mrs. Todorovic has made an enormous impact on her students, on the Grand Forks community and the entire state through her passion for teaching students the English language and the skills they need to succeed in life, while giving them the opportunity to embrace and share their cultures with the community,” Burgum said.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Todorovic, for being a champion for your students, and for being the 2023 North Dakota Teacher of the Year,” Baesler said during the ceremony. “Thank you for the work that you do for our young people.”
Baesler said in recent weeks, she had attended celebrations for all four Teacher of the Year finalists at their home schools. She called the experience “inspirational and heartwarming. It was evident that (the four finalists) are respected and beloved by their students and their communities for the job they do as outstanding teachers.”
“It reminded me how important these teachers are to their communities, and the lives they touch every single day,” Baesler said. “They knew that their teachers cared for them, and they were eager to return that affection.”
Todorovic will succeed Bret Dockter, a sixth-grade teacher at B.M. Hanson Elementary School in Harvey, as North Dakota Teacher of the Year. Dockter, who attended Monday’s celebration, said he had three pieces of advice for Todorovic: Be ready to leave your comfort zone; get ready to explore; and be ready for hundreds of new relationships.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up and promote the greatest profession around,” Dockter said. “There are not many jobs in the world where you can change the future every day.”
Todorovic has worked in the Grand Forks school district for 27 years, including the last 17 years as an English Language teacher at Red River. She teaches students who are not fluent in English. Many are learning English for the first time.
A native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Todorovic grew up in Zenica, about 43 miles northeast of Sarajevo in southeastern Europe. When the former nation of Yugoslavia broke up into six independent republics in the early 1990s, war and ethnic conflict ensued, and Todorovic and her husband, Alex, emigrated to the United States as refugees.
The Todorovics arrived in Grand Forks in June 1995, and Ivona Todorovic began working two months later as a paraprofessional at Lake Agassiz Elementary in Grand Forks. She became Red River’s English Language teacher in 2005. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from the University of North Dakota, and a degree in elementary education from the University of Sarajevo.
Todorovic organizes district-wide professional development to provide advice to general education teachers about the most effective ways to work with new Americans and immigrant students. She helped to create “Culture Night” at Red River, which has become a community-wide event and opportunity for her students to share their cultures through dance, music, food, poetry, and crafts.
At a Sept. 1 ceremony at Red River held to celebrate Todorovic’s selection as a Teacher of the Year finalist, Grand Forks School Superintendent Terry Brenner called her “an example of the American dream” and said her own life experience helped her relate to her students, some of whom are refugees themselves.
“In many ways, she has lived their lives,” Brenner said of Todorovic. “You won’t find a bigger heart or champion of students.”
The process of naming the 2023 Teacher of the Year began last spring, when Baesler invited nominations for County Teachers of the Year. Forty-eight North Dakota educators were subsequently honored as Teachers of the Year from their respective counties.
The four finalists for the state Teacher of the Year award were picked from among that group, including Todorovic, who was Grand Forks County’s Teacher of the Year.
The state Teacher of the Year was chosen by an eight-member screening committee of education stakeholders, who reviewed their applications and interviewed the finalists. The process is outlined in North Dakota law, NDCC 15.1-02-21.
Nick Archuleta, a member of the selection committee who is president of North Dakota United, an organization that represents schoolteachers, said the Teacher of the Year finalists understand that “as public school teachers, they know we have the incredible responsibility to educate every child.”
“Teachers like our finalists embrace that responsibility every day, because they know that as a society, we don’t do anything more important than educating our future,” Archuleta said. “I hope your great example will inspire your colleagues across the state to reclaim the promise of great public schools and great public education, and serve, then, to attract the very best and brightest into this most important profession.”
Luke Schaefer, chairman of the state K-12 Education Coordination Council, invited the Capitol crowd to “share how amazing our teachers are.”
“When you are out in the community, whether it’s at the marketplace or at church or around the school at a basketball game, I urge you to send your appreciation to the teachers in your community,” Schaefer said. “I urge you to talk about the great teachers that you had, but most importantly, I urge you to encourage the next generation.”