Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year is Donna Gradel, who teaches environmental science at Broken Arrow High School.
She has taught in the district for 21 years.
In her acceptance speech Gradel revealed the many great aspects and importance of teaching.
“Teaching has created so many opportunities for my students and I,” said Gradel.
She said that anywhere she mentions that she is a teacher, “it always elicits a response.”
“Teaching is one of the only professions that impacts every person on earth,” she said.
One example of Gradel’s classroom leadership was an aquaponics system that she and her class developed for impoverished orphans in Kenya.
The project provided clean water and a sustainable food system to raise fish and plants.
Once they designed it, they all went there and helped build it.
The state TOY is chosen from a field of 12 finalists who were chosen from school district Teachers of the Year from across the state.
Gradel will finish teaching this school year.
Then, July 1, 2018, she will go on the road across the state to deliver training and promote public schools and their teachers.
Sponsors provide the funding to hire a substitute for the TOY each year while they are on the road.
At the end of the year, the TOY returns to their classroom.
Oklahoma Teachers of the Year are chosen according to personal interviews and their portfolio of testimonials and work samples.
They are chosen from a group of finalists who are chosen from school district teachers of the year.
Oklahoma state Senator Greg Treat was one of the members of the selection committee.
He told Free Press after the ceremony that the process was “awesome.”
“They were all diverse in their background and approach to teaching,” said Treat. “But what they had in common was that all of them were dedicated to putting students first.”
Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools, praised all teachers in the state for working under difficult circumstances.
“What you do day in and day out is truly heroic,” said Hofmeister. “At these times that can truly test commitment, you have not faltered.”
“You are changing lives every day,” she said.
Oklahoma is in the bottom ranks in the United States for teacher pay.
In addition, the Oklahoma Legislature has cut education budgets, shrinking resources for teachers over the past several years.
Because of extremely low pay and what is perceived as a lack of respect from the Legislature, Oklahoma teachers have been leaving the state for other surrounding states that have significantly higher pay and stronger support from their legislatures.
John Hazell is the outgoing TOY and will return to his science classroom at Durant High School.
The 2016 TOY returned to his special education classroom in Norman Public Schools, then left the state for significantly higher pay, better work conditions and higher respect in Texas.
Putnam City TOY Neeli Boyd was the only teacher from the core of the Oklahoma City metro to make it into the ranks of finalists.
Free Press talked with her after the ceremony about the process.
“It’s been an honor to be a part of this process and an honor to meet the other finalists,” Boyd said.
We asked her what she thought was the most valuable aspect of the long process of creating a portfolio and then going through multiple interviews moving toward naming the state TOY.
“I learned so much about myself, my own story and my unique background,” Boyd said. “It’s what I value the most out of this process.”
The Oklahoma Teacher of the Year has been awarded since Ethel Briggs of Barnsdall was the first to be named in 1955.
Sponsors have made it possible for each year’s Teacher of the Year to have a full-time substitute in their classroom for a year while the winner travels the state.
The TOY also speaks to many civic groups and state government bodies statewide on the importance of having a trained and professional teacher workforce to provide the best education for Oklahoma’s future workers and leaders.