District recognizes 7 finalists for Teacher of the Year

Published 7:07 pm Thursday, March 22, 2018

A list of 67 was whittled down to seven finalists as Albert Lea Area Schools prepares to name its 2018 Teacher of the Year. The seven finalists will be recognized at a 4 p.m. reception for district employees Wednesday, at which the 2018 District 241 Teacher of the Year will be announced.

The seven finalists for the 2018 teacher of the year are:

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Steve Alford

Alford has worked for Albert Lea Area Schools for six years.

Steve Alford

He currently teaches special education at Albert Lea High School and is also a new teacher mentor, an ALICE committee member for the high school and a professional learning community facilitator. This is his third year in a row as a Teacher of the Year nominee.

Outside of school, he participates in a men’s summer golf league and a men’s winter bowling league. He enjoys running and biking. Alford is married to Heather Heltman Alford.

He said his most memorable teaching experience is when he sees students start to believe they can overcome challenges using problem-solving skills.

“Bottom line, I love working with kids and teaching them not just academics, but about life,” Alford said. “I make it a goal each day to teach to the whole child.”

Wendy Bidne

Wendy Bidney

Bidne is a special education teacher at the Area Learning Center and has worked for the district for 12 years. She has spent some of that time writing her own curriculum for her Transitions class, as well as working with another teacher to develop curriculum for a team-taught language arts class, and she currently serves on the ALICE implementation committee.

She is married to Jay Bidne and has three children: Ashley, Logan and Dakota, with whom she has enjoyed chances to travel around the U.S. and internationally. She credits her inspiration to start teaching to her favorite teacher, Glen Parsons, and also Lioba Forman.

“My professional goal is to continue helping our students at the Area Learning Center (ALC) to become more confident in their abilities and help them to achieve their goals,” Bidne said.

Jenni Braaten

Jenni Braaten

This is Jenni Braaten’s fourth year as a Teacher of the Year nominee from Albert Lea High School. Braaten was inducted into the Albert Lea High School Wall of Inspiration in 2015. She works as a school social worker for Albert Lea High School and the Area Learning Center. At school, she is a part of the invisible classroom teacher study group, which focuses on what at-risk students bring to the classroom and how to address their needs, and she is a chairwoman of the high school’s annual fall silent auction.

Outside of school, she is a member of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association, is involved in the city of Austin Human Rights Commission and enjoys horse-riding, growing flowers and doing Hardanger embroidery. She has also taught ELL in Mexico. Braaten has a 10-year-old daughter, Ellie.

She has been a social worker for over 15 years, and she has been a part of Albert Lea Area Schools for eight.

Lisa Haney

Lisa Haney

Haney teaches second grade at Lakeview Elementary School, serves on the building leadership team and has worked for the district for 31 years. She was named the KAAL Excellent Educator in November 2012. This is her seventh time being nominated for Teacher of the Year, and her second time as a finalist.

Haney has a husband, Jim, and two children, Ben and Morgan. She enjoys spending time with them as well as reading and watching movies.

“Teaching is my passion, and I am very proud to be a part of this profession,” Haney said. “Each day I strive to make connections with my students and help them to reach their full potential. … I also like to add a little silliness and fun along the way.”

Robin Hundley

Robin Hundley

In addition to teaching sixth grade math at Southwest Middle School, Hundley coaches sixth-grade volleyball and math masters. She has worked for the district for 11 years.

Hundley has four children, Chandra, Sarah, Madison and John, and her husband is the pastor at Albert Lea Vineyard Church.

She enjoys listening to audiobooks, doing home improvement projects with her father and playing with her granddaughter, Miriam.

She is trying to learn Hebrew, after which she would like to move on to Greek.

Jenna Miller

Jenna Miller

During her time at Hawthorne Elementary School, Miller has had her hand in coordinating the science fair and the safety patrol. She is a district math committee member, a district science committee member and is involved in various building committees. Miller has worked for the district for eight years and teaches fifth grade.

Outside of school, she mentors with the STARS for Kids mentoring program and is a tutor during the summer. Right now, she’s channeling much of her free time into remodeling her home. Miller was born and raised in Albert Lea and is one of three members of her family working for the district; her two twin sisters are also teachers in the district.

Her first year of teaching was in Mexico. She said she wants her students to have a sense of wonder and start seeking answers to their questions.

“Teaching is definitely what I was meant to do,” Miller said. “I love coming to school every day and working with my fifth-graders and coworkers.”

Kristen Seeger

Kristen Seeger

In addition to being the media specialist at Lakeview and Sibley elementary schools, Seeger is a member of the Minnesota Coding in the Classroom Leadership Advisory Council, a Building Technology Integration coach at Sibley and a Gobble Wobble planning committee member. This is Seeger’s fourth year as a Teacher of the Year finalist for the district. She was also named the Rochester Area Math Science Partnership Outstanding Educator for 2017.

She has a husband, Dirk; one daughter, Peyton; one son, Culley; and a dog, Beckett. Seeger said her goal as an educator is to provide experiences for students and teachers that demonstrate how important literacy and technology are in their lives.

“I want my students to develop a love of reading, and I strive to stock my libraries full of books that meet the needs and interests of all my students,” she said. “Through my technology lessons, I hope to give students tools and experiences that will allow them to learn and create in ways they never thought possible.”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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