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CCSSO Announces Finalists for 2022 National Teacher of the Year

19-Jan-2022

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today announced that four exemplary educators from across the country are finalists for 2022 National Teacher of the Year.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today announced that four exemplary educators from across the country are finalists for 2022 National Teacher of the Year:

  • Autumn Rivera, the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year, is a sixth-grade science teacher who encourages students to make a difference now, rather than waiting until they are adults. Her students raised funds to help save a local lake from development and conserve it as a state park.
  • Whitney Aragaki, the 2022 Hawai'i Teacher of the Year, teaches high school science using cultural and place-based activities to engage students. She also works to provide equitable access to environmental science and computer science courses statewide.
  • Kurt Russell, the 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year, teaches high school history and emphasizes cultural relevance and diverse representation in the curriculum. He co-founded a Black Student Union at his school, leading to positive impacts for both students of color and white students.
  • Joseph Welch, the 2022 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, teaches eighth grade U.S. history. He leverages technology to foster opportunities for students to access and creatively tell diverse stories from their communities and our nation's past.

CCSSO's National Teacher of the Year Program identifies exceptional teachers across the country, celebrates their work in and outside the classroom, and, through one-of-a-kind professional development opportunities, helps them amplify their voices and empowers them to take part in policy discussions at the state and national level.  

"Teachers have risen to the occasion, working tirelessly to serve students throughout three school years of a pandemic. CCSSO is proud to recognize their dedication, creativity and expertise this year — and for the last 70 years — through the National Teacher of the Year Program," said Carissa Moffat Miller, chief executive officer of CCSSO. "Congratulations to the finalists for this recognition and thank you to the Selection Committee for the hard work of selecting among the outstanding 2022 State Teachers of the Year."   

Each year, states, U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity select outstanding educators to serve as State Teachers of the Year. The 2022 cohort is comprised of 56 educators. From that group, the National Teacher of the Year Selection Committee, which includes representatives from 19 education organizations, selects four finalists based on written applications.

The finalists announced today will conduct interviews with the National Teacher of the Year Program's Selection Committee, and CCSSO will announce the selected 2022 National Teacher of the Year later this spring. The 2022 National Teacher of the Year will spend the next year serving as an ambassador for education and an advocate for all teachers and students.

"We are proud to recognize teachers for their ingenuity in adapting education to serve students through an ever-changing pandemic, and we thank them for their dedication to students and community despite unprecedented challenges," the Selection Committee said in a statement. "The finalists recognized today should be commended not only for their excellence in teaching and commitment to an equitable education for all students, but for their intentional integration of community and family supports to help students succeed. Any one of them would do an excellent job as National Teacher of the Year."

Additional information on the finalists can be found below. More information about the 2022 State Teachers of the Year and CCSSO's National Teacher of the Year Program is available at ntoy.ccsso.org.

Special thanks to the National Teacher of the Year Program sponsors: Clorox, Cognia, Curriculum Associates, Data Recognition Corporation, Equitable, ETS, Google for Education, Instructure, NWEA, Pearson, Smarter Balanced and Voya.

Autumn Rivera, 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year

Autumn Rivera is a sixth-grade science teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School in Colorado, as well as an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College. From assisting in a preschool while a high school student, to tutoring fifth graders while in college, to volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya one summer, Rivera has enjoyed working with children most of her life. During her 17 years as a professional educator, she has worked with elementary to postgraduate students.

Rivera holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a Master of Arts in Teaching in secondary science from Colorado College, and a Master of Arts in educational leadership from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She is on the Colorado Science Conference planning committee and the Colorado Science Education Network steering committee. Rivera is the Region 3 Elementary Board representative for the Colorado Association of Science Teachers; volunteers with the American Association of Chemistry Teachers; and has presented a variety of professional development courses at the Roaring Fork EdTech Summit and the Colorado Science Conference.

In addition to being the science lead and a track coach at her middle school, Rivera holds other district leadership roles. She serves on the Roaring Fork School District's interest-based bargaining committee and is building advisor for the mentor and advisor program. As design facilitator, she plans, organizes and runs schoolwide events such as student-led conferences and Better World Day. In addition, she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading and spending quality time with people she loves.

Rivera's Teacher of the Year application is available here.

Whitney Aragaki, 2022 Hawai'i Teacher of the Year

Whitney Aragaki supports students to learn through a lens of abundance that honors place, people and cultures. Her teaching focuses around conversations, practices and systems that sustain the intimate inter-relationship of public education, community and environment. Returning to serve her high school alma mater, Aragaki teaches biology and environmental science at Waiakea High School in Hilo, Hawai'i.

In partnership with the Hawai'i Virtual Learning Network, Aragaki aims to provide equitable access to environmental science and computer science courses statewide. She is the daughter of two educators and was a student in her mother's biology class. Aragaki's two children thrive in this supportive public-school ecosystem.

Aragaki has a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Swarthmore College, and a Master of Science in tropical conservation biology and environmental science from the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. She currently is at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa College of Education, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy with a focus in curriculum and instruction.

Aragaki began her teaching career with support from the Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aspiring Teachers of Color Fellowship and the National Science Foundation's GK12 Fellowship. She is an alumna of the Hawai'i State Teacher Fellowship and the National Education Association Teacher Leadership Institute. Aragaki is a National Board Certified teacher in adolescence and young adulthood mathematics, a Google-certified educator and a 2019 and 2021 state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in mathematics and science teaching.

Aragaki's Teacher of the Year application is available here.

Kurt Russell, 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year

Kurt Russell, a high school history teacher in Ohio's rural community of Oberlin, believes education can transform students' lives. He emphasizes cultural relevance and diverse representation in the curriculum for the 9th-12th grade classes he teaches: African American history; U.S. history; International Baccalaureate History of the Americas; and Race, Gender, and Oppression.

Russell also serves as a lead teacher for the school and advisor for the Black Student Union, Student Council and Junior Class. Russell received Teacher of the Year awards from the Oberlin Heritage Center (2009) and the Oberlin chapter of the NAACP (2019).

As the head coach of the boys' varsity basketball team, he has received numerous awards, including the Lorain County Basketball Association Coach of the Year and the Northeast Ohio Coach of the Year. Inspired by his first Black male teacher, Russell made the decision in middle school to pursue teaching as his career.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in history and a minor in Black studies from the College of Wooster. He obtained a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from Ashland University and continues to take courses in child development at Oakland City University.

Russell's Teacher of the Year application is available here.

Joseph Welch, 2022 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year

Joe Welch is a National Board Certified Teacher and currently teaches eighth grade U.S. history at North Hills Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has taught within the North Hills School District for 15 years, previously serving as seventh and eighth grade team leader for more than 10 years.

Welch holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Bachelor of Arts in history, and Instructional Technology Specialist Certification from Duquesne University. He earned a Master of Arts in teaching from California University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned his Pennsylvania principal certification.

Currently serving as the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, Welch was named the 2019 National Middle Level Educator of the Year by the Association for Middle Level Education, as well as the 2019 Pennsylvania Social Studies Teacher of the Year. In 2018, he was honored as National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

He often presents his experiences at regional, national and international conferences and has authored a book, Interpreting Primary Sources with Stop Motion. Welch was recently elected to his local school board and serves on teacher advisory councils for the National Constitution Center; the Gilder Lehrman Institute; and Penn State University's Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Initiative.

An Apple Distinguished Educator and PBS Lead Digital Innovator, Welch is a strong believer in bringing equitable opportunities, diverse stories, personal emotions and community connections into lessons and in fostering experiences that promote student-led conversations to enact changes aligned to their passions and interests.

Welch's Teacher of the Year application is available here.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Bureau of Indian Education, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.


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