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story.lead_photo.caption Courtney Cochran, (center), the 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, stands with this year’s four semi-finalists for the 2018 award during an Arkansas Department of Education recognition event Wednesday at the state Capitol. They are (from left), Amanda Jones of Poyen High School; Tasha Shoate of Cavanaugh Elementary School in Fort Smith; Cochran; Randi House of Theodore Jones Elementary School in Conway, and Brittany Berry of Helen Tyson Middle School in Springdale. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

A third-grade teacher in Fort Smith, an EAST technology teacher in Springdale, a kindergarten teacher in Conway and a high school science teacher in Poyen are the newly named candidates for Arkansas' 2018 Teacher of the Year, an honor that will be announced later this year.

Brittany Berry of Springdale, Randi House of Conway, Amanda Jones of Poyen and Tasha Shoate of Fort Smith were introduced Wednesday as the semifinalists for the singular honor during a state Capitol ceremony attended by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to recognize all 14 regional finalists in the 2018 competition.

Hutchinson noted all of the former teacher award winners, lawmakers, state Board of Education members, and school and district leaders attending the ceremony during which the teachers were presented bouquets of roses.

"This really demonstrates the importance of this initiative," the governor told the standing room only crowd in the Old Supreme Court chamber.

As governor, he said, he has visited about 54 of the state's high schools.

"And in all the schools, large and small, the one thing that is clear at every school that I go to is that the teachers are the ones who makes the difference."

"I'm here to just say thank you for what you do," he said.

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Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key said there is a lot he is called on to do as the state's education chief, "but the most important thing I can do is support teachers in the classrooms, support the learning that goes on there."

Courtney Cochran, the 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, introduced the 14 regional finalists and then announced the four who will continue in the competition.

"Entire nations rise and fall on the shoulders of teachers," said Cochran, who is a Spanish teacher in the Van Buren School District.

"We convince the public that the right thing to do -- the right thing for all of us -- is to protect and support every one of these precious young humans so they can soar and so they can make our world a better, brighter, more peaceful place," she said.

Each of the 14 finalists -- all teachers of the year in their local school districts -- will receive $1,000, which is made possible by an annual grant from the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville.

The person selected as Teacher of the Year will receive an additional $14,000 and a year's leave of absence from their school job in 2018-19 to travel the state and serve as an ex officio member of the Arkansas Board of Education. The state winner will also compete for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Berry, 33, a teacher of 10 years, is a sixth- and seventh-grade Environmental and Spatial Technology program teacher at Helen Tyson Middle School in Springdale. Her students have not only used technology to record more than 100 library books for students who are English language learners but they have also created virtual reality tours of Pea Ridge National Military Park and Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park historical sites.

Berry earned a bachelor's degree in political science at Texas State University in San Marcos. She was a high school social studies teacher in Texas for five years before moving to Arkansas where she first worked as a reading interventionist.

House has taught for 13 years, including stints in East Poinsett County and Nettleton before teaching at Theodore Jones Elementary in Conway. Kindergartners in her classroom have talked via the Internet with an author of the books they have read in class.

A couple of times a month, the children stage a cooking show, demonstrating for Facebook audiences how to cook a Thanksgiving meal in a crock pot or how to prepare foods from each of the seven continents.

House, 36, married with two daughters, is a graduate of Batesville High. She earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Arkansas State University and a master's degree in reading.

Jones, 41, teaches biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology at her alma mater, Poyen High. She has been instrumental in encouraging her students to participate in state robotics contests. She also partners with Vanderbilt University to provide once-a week after school science lessons via Skype to third through sixth graders.

Students entering her classroom are greeted with the Wall of Possibilities, which features pictures of former Poyen students who have gone on to careers and success after graduating from the small rural school.

The married mother of three earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Henderson State University and master's degree in secondary education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Jones has been a teacher for 18 years -- including two years at Magnet Cove. She recently completed an education tour to Cuba, where she was able to provide instructional strategies and materials for science and engineering lessons to teachers there.

Shoate, 30, a third grade teacher at Cavanaugh Elementary in Fort Smith, is in her ninth year of teaching and providing her pupils with life lessons that go beyond the classroom, such as being honest, kind, compassionate, hard-working and fair.

Volunteers from local businesses and civic clubs are invited to read to Shoate's students who in turn give back to the community with donations to the Humane Society and the Salvation Army. Shoate herself is a volunteer basketball coach at the local Girls and Boys Club.

A native of Spiro Okla., Shoate has a degree in early childhood education from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

In the coming weeks, a team of Arkansas Department of Education staff will visit each of the four candidates at their schools, to see the candidates at work and to talk to their administrators and colleagues.

After the school visits, the winning teacher will be selected and announced at a surprise event at the school of the winning teacher.

Photo by Benjamin Krain
Poyen High School science teacher Amanda Jones (center) is congratulated by a former student, Kyndall Rogers, on Wednesday after being named one of four state semifinalists for the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. The Arkansas Department of Education held an award recognition event Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Metro on 08/31/2017

Print Headline: List narrowed to four finalists for state's '18 Teacher of Year

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