Who will be Albert Lea’s 2013 Teacher of the Year?

Published 7:54 am Sunday, March 24, 2013

District 241 will name its 2013 Teacher of the Year Wednesday in the commons area at Albert Lea High School. The ceremony begins at 3:30 p.m.

The event acknowledges all district Teacher of the Year finalists and will conclude with the Teacher of the Year award from the Albert Lea Education Association.

Albert Lea's 2013 Teacher of the Year candidates.

Albert Lea’s 2013 Teacher of the Year candidates.

This year’s finalists are Terry Gjersvik, Lisa Haney, Elizabeth Nelson, Brenda Nelson, Kathy Niebuhr and Jacque Sorensen.

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Following is a little bit about each of the finalists.


Terry Gjersvik

Terry Gjersvik, a special education teacher at Albert Lea High School, has been with District 241 for 12 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in emotional/behavioral disorder from Minnesota State University of Mankato.

He’s a building representative for ALHS for the Albert Lea Education Association and a member of the high school’s equity committee.

Gjersvik is on the patient’s advisory council for Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. He also stays involved with the Albert Lea Youth Soccer Association, Albert Lea Community Theatre and First Lutheran Church.

Gjersvik worked in business for 19 years before getting licensed in special education in 2004. In the future he would like to get involved in reducing the drop-out rate at ALHS. He was the manager of the 21st century Community Learning Center grant and in the summers of 2002 to 2004 had 400 kids at Lakeview in summer school with 35 staff.

A native of Albert Lea, he attended Ramsey, Lakeview, Southwest and graduated from Central High School in 1979. Gjersvik enjoys running around Fountain Lake and spending time with his wife, Dara, and their children Lars, Hannah and Grace. He also runs a large corn and soybean farm with his dad.


Lisa Haney

Lisa Haney, a second grade teacher at Lakeview, has been with the district for 25 years. She has a bachelor’s degree from Moorhead State University and a master’s in education from the University of Minnesota-Rochester.

Haney is a member of the social studies committee, a mentor, an ATPPS building coordinator and a part of both the building leadership team and district curriculum committee. She’s previously been nominated for Teacher of the Year.

A member of Ascension Lutheran Church, Haney has served on the education, stewardship and mutual ministry committees. She was also a neighborhood leader for a walking moai group.

Haney is married to Jim, and they have children Ben and Morgan. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching movies, traveling and spending time with her family.

Teaching is her passion, and her goal is to give students the tools they need to be successful. Watching students discover new things is one of her favorite things about teaching and she enjoys when students get excited about learning.


Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson, a kindergarten teacher at Lakeview, has been with the district for 10 years. She received her master’s degree in teaching and learning in 2008 from St. Mary’s University. Her action research paper focused on brain research.

Nelson has been on various district and school committees in her 10 years of teaching. Currently she’s on Lakeview’s building leadership team. She’s a member of the school’s child study team that meets each week to help all teachers with students’ academic and behavior needs. Nelson is on the district’s English Language Arts committee, which helped implement new reading curriculum.

This is the third time Nelson has been nominated for Teacher of the Year. The Rochester native now lives in Albert Lea with her husband, Justin, and their 2-year-old Charlie.

Nelson said teaching doesn’t feel like a job because she loves what she does. She likes to set fitness goals like learning golf and running another half marathon. Her next professional goal is to go back to school to get a K-12 reading certificate.

She said each year she sees students who haven’t been to preschool or exposed to colors, shapes or the alphabet as well as students who come to kindergarten with more experience. She said she’s amazed at how much children at that age can learn in a year, and that she’s glad to make a positive difference in students’ lives.


Brenda Nelson

Brenda Nelson, a math teacher at ALHS, has been with the district for 19 years. She has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in math from Minnesota State University-Mankato, as well as additional course work through St. Thomas University.

Nelson coaches junior high volleyball and is on the K-12 math committee. She’s a former high school representative on the Albert Lea Education Association and has served on various committees including those related to new school construction and the realignment that brought eighth-grade to the high school. She’s a past nominee for Albert Lea Teacher of the Year.

She has wanted to be a math teacher since she was 5 years old, and realized after taking an English course in college that math was her calling. Nelson and her husband, Jake, have been married for almost 19 years. They have two children, Sam, 13, and Megan, 10.

Nelson credits her family for many of her successes in education. She said being married to another teacher allows her the opportunity to discuss ideas, vent frustrations and celebrate successes. Having students in school has helped her gain a new perspective with students having lots of other activities outside of school that also keep them busy.


Kathy Niebuhr

Kathy Niebuhr, the K-5 library media specialist for the entire district, has been with District 241 for 27 years. Her responsibilities include providing technology support and help integrate iPods and iPads into classrooms. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business education from the University of Minnesota. She earned her master’s degree in education technology and her K-12 library medical education specialist certification from Mankato State University.

Niebuhr has been a member of the district technology and media committee; secretary, negotiator and past treasurer for the Albert Lea Education Association; past curriculum team leader for technology; and past Office Education Association/Business Professionals of America adviser.

She was the winner of the Sallie Mae First Year Teacher award; has been nominated for the Teacher of the Year award before; and was the recipient of an Education Minnesota Foundation grant.

Niebuhr is a religious education teacher at St. Theodore Catholic Church, is a member and secretary of the Albert Lea Girls’ Basketball Booster Association and member of the Albert Lea Youth Soccer Association, a member of the American Association of University Women and a member of Minnesota Educational Media Organization.

A native of St. Paul, she and her husband of 25 years, Brad, have three daughters, Beth, Chelsey and Sarah.

She said her professional goal is to instill that same pride and sense that hard work is rewarded in many different ways in the children they are entrusted with every day at school and beyond.


Jacque Sorensen

Jacque Sorensen teaches fourth grade at Sibley and has been with the district for 19 years. She has a master’s degree from Hamline University, and has earned plus 30 in reading and administrative courses.

Sorensen has been on various district committees including the reading committee and intervention committee. This is her fifth time being nominated for Teacher of the Year. She enjoys bringing her class to the Good Samaritan Society once a month where students have made friendships with residents.

Sorensen has been a Sunday school leader and teacher for 15 years as well as a vacation Bible school leader for 12 years. She’s on the altar guild at Redeemer Lutheran Church and has been a 4-H club leader for nine years.

She said she is always looking for balance in her life because she has so many passions. Sorensen values many things about teaching including helping children academically and socially. She likes having the chance to connect with students and their families. She wrote “being with the students to hear their stories, excitement, creativity and adventures is powerful. As a teacher, I could not ask for anything more.”

Sorensen has been married to her husband, James, for 22 years. They have four children: Jacob, Isaac, Levi and Caleb. The live near Freeborn and are involved in 4-H, boating and camping, among other family activities.