An exuberant James Harris accepts the Alaska Teacher of the Year title.

An exuberant James Harris accepts the Alaska Teacher of the Year title.

Champion teachers for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

On Dec. 6 the Alaska Commissioner of the Department of Education Michael Johnson made a surprise appearance at a student assembly at Soldotna High School. The occasion? The State Championship of Teaching announcement.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) Superintendent Sean Dusek was as proud as a peacock as he announced that not since 1999 when Daniel Walker of Seward Middle School and 1988 when Sammy Crawford from SoHi had Alaska’s Teacher of the Year been from the KPBSD. And the sweep of both Teacher of the Year and Alternate Teacher of the Year was unprecedented for the KPBSD.

In announcing the Championship of Teaching award Commissioner Johnson told the assembly, “James Harris believes that the fundamental purpose of teaching literature is to connect students with the world. That’s a very good definition of teaching in general. To his classroom, Mr. Harris brings his knowledge, passion, practical experience in writing, and empathy for students. He is an inspiring choice for Alaska Teacher of the Year.”

In an interview with the Dispatch, Harris said he knew he had been nominated because it’s a long process and then he had been interviewed as a finalist, but added, “I had no idea this was coming today at all. I don’t even know if my wife knew before today. It’s overwhelming! There were so many great educators that made it to the finals, this is a true honor. Nationally now it’s a responsibility to represent all those legendary educators. I look at the position of teaching as one of the most vital and important professions in our country and I look forward to representing Alaska’s teachers and all they strive for in the coming year.”

He will be a member of Commissioner Johnson’s teacher advisory group. The Alaska Teacher of the Year is the state’s nominee for national Teacher of the Year.

A 12-year professional, James Harris has taught English at Soldotna High School for seven years. A published writer, editor, and college educator, he chairs the English department and professional development at his school, and coaches youth hockey.

“Through literature I hope to help my students empathize with the human story, open themselves up to the joys, sufferings, motivations, disappointments, and triumphs of others, and thus achieve a kinder and more complex understanding of themselves. I get chocked up just thinking about it but I learn something from my students every day and they are the reason I won this award,” he said.

KPBSD Superintendent Dusek said, “This is the State Championship of teaching! We are excited and humbled to have two of our teachers recognized as the best in our state! Congratulations to Mrs. Cronin for being the alternate this year. She is and always has been an outstanding teacher. As for our new 2017 Alaska Teacher of the year, Mr. Harris, I am very pleased his great effort with our students has been recognized at the state level. He is an excellent representative of the teachers in our district! It is truly a great day in our district as both of these outstanding individuals have earned the highest honors in our state.”

Stephanie Cronin will serve as Alaska Teacher of the Year if Mr. Harris is named national Teacher of the Year.

She has been teaching mathematics and engineering at Seward High School for 17 of her 19 years in the profession.

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