Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and the Department of Public Instruction have announced the four finalists for the 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the Year award. All four finalists are members of North Dakota United and our affiliate local education associations, and in the near future, we will be profiling all four candidates in depth on our website,, and in our official magazine, United Voices.

Baesler traveled across the state on Friday, Sept. 14, to honor teachers Annette Hovey in New Rockford, Kayla Delzer in Mapleton and Leslye Thiery in Grand Forks, with ceremonies at their schools. Today, Sept. 19, Baesler traveled to Minot to award Sara Medalen with her finalist award in front of her students.

Baesler and Gov. Doug Burgum will announce the winner of the 2019 N.D. Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in the designee’s school, before the end of the month.

The four finalists are:

Sara Medalen, a Title I reading and math teacher at Sunnyside Elementary School in Minot. She has worked in education since 1991, and has taught at Sunnyside and Dakota Elementary School in Minot, as well as in Surrey, ND, and Yuma, Ariz. Medalen is a member of the Minot Education Association, and was selected as the MEA Teacher of the Year at the beginning of this school year.

“It’s a real privilege and honor to have been selected as Minot Education Association Teacher of the Year,” Medalen said about her union’s nomination for the state’s top prize for educators. “I’m so privileged to work in Minot Public Schools with so many amazing educators. I hope that I can just be the best representation of all the great teachers in Minot. … I used to really think that I’m going to go in there, and I’m going to do my job. I’m going to work with kids and build relationships, that’s what I do best. And just love those kids up. That has really evolved for me as an educator, to now I realize the importance of ALL the teachers, and also the importance of public education. Great public schools lead to great communities, which leads to a greater nation. I really feel it’s a privilege to be a teacher, and to empower students to be the best versions of themselves.”

Leslye Thiery, a fifth-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School in Grand Forks. She has taught for 26 years, at Discovery, Viking, Wilder and Ben Franklin Elementary Schools, and is a member of the Grand Forks Education Association.

“Personally, I feel so excited that we’re able to share the message of putting kids first,” Thiery said about being a finalist for Teacher of the Year. “I feel blessed that I’ve been put in the role to love kids. And I feel blessed that every year, I meet new kids and I’m excited to see where the kids are going to go. I feel responsible for making sure the kids feel confident and happy, and that learning is something that is going to be lifelong, and that there will be struggles. But I feel really valued in that I am the one who puts those experiences in front of them, to help them learn how to fail, and helping them organize their lives, to be balanced, and to figure out how to be a good person.”

Kayla Delzer, a third-grade teacher at Mapleton Elementary School. She is a 10-year veteran of education, and previously taught in West Fargo and Thief River Falls, Minn. She is a member of the Mapleton Education Association, and maintains a popular teaching blog,, with more than 105,000 followers on Twitter, @topdogteaching.

When asked what it means to her to be among the finalists for Teacher of the Year, she said, “It is by far the most humbling experience that I’ve been a part of, the biggest honor, by far. I’m so grateful for so many mentors and teachers and educators along the way, who have pushed me and supported me to get me to where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t be here without all their ideas and help. And also just the encouragement of my students, to help me be brave in my classroom and to try different things. There is no better job in the world than being an educator, and knowing that I see the product of my work every single day, through my kids. I know that I’m making the world a better place through them.”

Annette Hovey, a music teacher at New Rockford-Sheyenne High School. She has been teaching since 1996, in New Rockford-Sheyenne, East Grand Forks, Minn., Emerado and Climax-Shelly school district, Minn. Hovey is a member of the New Rockford-Sheyenne Education Association.

“I’m so honored to have this,” she said about being a finalist for Teacher of the Year. “I think that it’s such a great platform to keep education important in our state, and in our nation, that teachers, even from small-town New Rockford, North Dakota, are able to have a voice and be able to speak out for education and our students. We see these little phrases that come out, and one of them is: Our students are our future leaders. So, what we do every day is providing for the future of our country. What’s more important than that?”

— Story and photos by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications.