Finally an elementary teacher has broken through.

Gilbert "Gil" R. Still Jr., a fourth-grade teacher at Northwest Elementary School in Dodge City (Dodge City Unified School District 443), and Samantha "Sam" J. Neill, a high school English language arts teacher at Buhler High School (Buhler USD 313), were named Region 1 finalists for the 2018 Kansas Teacher of the Year award during a ceremony held Saturday in Salina. This award recognizes excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state.

As finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction, Still and Neill each received a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit, the major corporate partner for the Kansas Teacher of the Year program. In addition, they are each now eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during ceremonies in Wichita on Nov. 18.

"It’s unreal," Still said in an interview Monday afternoon. "It’s so amazing. I’m just ready to continue to push the envelope and inspire others to help students as much as possible."

Still and Neill were among six Teacher of the Year semifinalists from Region 1, which covers the first U.S. congressional district.

Other semifinalists were Carmen Zeisler, a fourth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in McPherson (McPherson USD 418); Sarah J. Kueser, a third-grade teacher at Ellsworth Elementary School (Ellsworth USD 327); McKenzie K. Lueders, a high school chemistry teacher at Dodge City High School (Dodge City USD 443); and Ryan C. Miller, a junior high and high school agricultural education teacher at Cimarron High School (Cimarron-Ensign USD 102).

Each of the semifinalists received a red marble apple with a wooden base, compliments of The Master Teacher in Manhattan.

"It’s about time an elementary teacher broke through for Dodge City," joked Still, mentioning two Kansas Teacher of the Years who came from Dodge City High School. "Really, I’m honored. It was an honor to be nominated, an honor to be a finalist and I’m glad I’m able to do everything I can to help my students."

This year, 111 educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.

Nominations are made in each of four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education, sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators and higher education representatives to select semifinalists and finalists from each region.

Each panel selects six semifinalists — three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists. 

"I tell my students to go out and help others, do what you can for others who need help," Still said. "If I can inspire my students to do this and to extend it outside the area, it will all be worth it."

The Northwest Elementary teacher also realizes with two Kansas Teachers of the Year and several nominations the reputation of Dodge City may help in the future of teacher recruitment.

"It shows the passion we have here for our students and the lengths we’ll go to teach these children," Still said. "Teachers should want to be a part of that passion, that desire to help the students learn, both in and out of the classroom."

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serve as ambassadors for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession.

The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year is eligible for national distinction as National Teacher of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation.


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