Edina schools gained their first Minnesota Teacher of the Year when a 10th-grade English teacher was chosen Sunday from more than 300 teachers nominated in the 48th year of the contest.
Most of the Edina High School English Department was present and cheering when Jackie Roehl, 47, received the honor at a banquet at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park.
"I was shell-shocked," Roehl said shortly after receiving the honor. She's been teaching in Edina since 1998.
The award program, sponsored by Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, has produced four National Teachers of the Year, more than any state except California. Roehl was chosen from among 10 finalists. Candidates include pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers from public or private schools.
Roehl, whose family lives in St. Louis Park, said she was nominated to represent a team of Edina High School teachers working on reducing the racial achievement gap by using "culturally responsive" teaching methods. She noted that Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps in the nation.
Her goal is to help other teachers use those methods to engage students of differing skills and background to learn better and improve their test scores, Roehl said.
Edina has closed the racial gap for basic reading tests, but not in top-level student testing, she said. After several years of researching teaching methods, surveying student parents and planning, her team recently received approval from the Edina School Board to merge advanced-placement and regular English classes into one course to make sure regular students are challenged as much as advanced students, she said. Students in her class sit not in rows, but around tables in groups of four -- whose members she selects to balance race and gender -- to listen and discuss assignments.
"They help each other," she said.
Roehl also co-leads an evening class through St. Paul's Hamline University to teach other teachers how to use culturally responsive methods. "We give them ways to change how they look at students" and how they can learn, she said. One technique is designing assignments so students can use their diverse skills and cultural background to help them learn the material, she said.
Roehl said she was inspired as an Orono High School student by some of her teachers to consider teaching. After trying an advertising career, she returned to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul to earn a master's degree and teaching license.
"I wanted to end my life knowing I had made a difference in some small way," she said.
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Jackie Roehl was one of 10 finalists chosen by a panel of community members. The other finalists:
• Christy Anderson, fifth-grade math, O.H. Anderson Elementary School in Mahtomedi.
• David Borash, social studies, grades 11-12 , Brainerd High School.
• Ryan Canton, eighth-grade U.S. history, St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West.
• Bruce Danielson, 11th-grade math, Cambridge-Isanti High School.
• Robyn Dettling Madson, 10th-through-12th-grade English, Forest Lake High School.
• Neil Eerdmans, third grade, Oxbow Creek Elementary School in Champlin, part of the Anoka-Hennepin district.
• Greg Goddard, 11th- and 12th-grade Advanced Placement psychology and International Baccalaureate psychology, St. Louis Park High School.
• Joe Meyer, eighth- and ninth-grade language arts, Eagle Ridge Junior High School in Savage, part of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.
• Eric Oppegard, fifth grade, Lincoln Elementary School, Owatonna.