Two Teacher of the Year Finalists

An art teacher at Smoky Valley and an elementary teacher at Rock Creek are finalists for the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year award program.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, Erin Pittenger, an elementary teacher at St. George Elementary School, Rock Creek Unified School District 323, and Gretchen Elliott, an art teacher at Smoky Valley High School, Smoky Valley USD 400, were named Region 1 finalists during a ceremony Saturday in Salina.

This award recognizes excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. The Kansas Teacher of the Year Region 1 Awards Banquet took place at the Tony’s Pizza Event Center in Salina.

As finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction, Pittenger and Elliott each will receive a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit, the major corporate partner for the Kansas Teacher of the Year program. In addition, they are each now eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 23, in Wichita.

Pittenger and Elliott were among six Teacher of the Year semifinalists from Region 1, which covers the first U.S. congressional district.

Other semifinalists were, Lindsey Graham a first-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, Clay Center USD 379; Chantay Hill, a third-grade teacher at Heusner Elementary School, Salina USD 305; Kelly Estes, a special education teacher at Wamego High School, Wamego USD 320; and Karl Stover, an agriculture teacher at Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth USD 327.

Each of the semifinalists will receive a red marble apple with a wooden base, compliments of The Master Teacher in Manhattan.
This year, 124 educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.

Nominations are made in each of four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators and higher education representatives to select semifinalists and finalists from each region.

Each panel selects six semifinalists – three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists.

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serves as an ambassador for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession.

The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year is eligible for national distinction as National Teacher of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation.