Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion James Harris, an English teacher at Soldotna High School, accepts his title as the 2017 Alaska Teacher of the Year during an assembly Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2016 at the school in Soldotna, Alaska.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion James Harris, an English teacher at Soldotna High School, accepts his title as the 2017 Alaska Teacher of the Year during an assembly Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2016 at the school in Soldotna, Alaska.

Soldotna educator named Alaska’s Teacher of the Year

James Harris, an English teacher at Soldotna High School, is the state’s new Teacher of the Year.

Harris was awarded the title by Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson during an assembly held Tuesday at the high school. The Department of Education gives the award as part of the National Teacher of the Year Program. Amy Jo Meiners, last year’s Alaska Teacher of the Year, presented Harris’award to him.

This is the first time a teacher of the year has been selected from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District since 1999, when Daniel Walker, who taught at Seward Middle/High School, won the title. The prior winner from the district before that, Lorraine “Sammy” Crawford in 1988, also happened to be from Soldotna High School.

“This is the state championship of teaching,” Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek told students at the assembly.

Harris, with a total of 12 years experience under his belt, arrived in the district seven years ago from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He was considered along with 11 other teachers for the award, according to a release from the Department of Education. Another district teacher, fellow finalist Stephanie Cronin of Seward High School, was named the Alternate Teacher of the Year.

“The top two teachers for the year this year come from our district, which says a tremendous amount about the staff that we have here on the peninsula,” Dusek said. “I’m looking forward to seeing James working with all these different schools and districts.”

The third Alaska finalist was Eric Filardi of Nenana City Public School.

Harris, who is also a published writer and editor, credited those he works with while accepting his award Tuesday.

“Since I came here about seven years ago from teaching at UAF, I’ve just grown so much because of all of the people that I’m surrounded by,” he said. “They do an amazing job.”

Dusek said Harris’ ability to get his students to think and use problem solving in his classroom is just part of what makes him a great educator.

“My daughter had him. She’s in college now and has always told me he truly prepared her for college,” Dusek said. “He’s a college-level teacher, but he meets the needs of all kids, not just the college prep kids.”

Alaska’s Teacher of the Year becomes a member of Johnson’s teacher advisory group, according to the Department of Education release, and is the state’s nominee for the national award. Teachers of the Year can be called to participate in statewide working groups for education or speak at education conferences, the release states.

“I also want to just say thank you to all of you students,” Harris said in closing, getting choked up as he did. “You’ve just made a really big difference in my life and I love my job.”

He added that the announcement of his new title came at a perfect time, just as his students finished their final on “Moby Dick.”

“Can’t wait to grade it,” Harris said with a smile.


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