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Brandner, Kremer make grade as Teacher of the Year candidates

Suzy Brandner (left) and Roxanne Kremer, both teachers at Prairie Elementary, have been nominated for state teacher of the year. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — Two District 518 teachers — both veteran educators at Prairie Elementary — are among the 128 candidates for the 2014 Education Minnesota Teacher of the Year designation.

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Kindergarten teacher Roxanne Kremer and third-grade instructor Suzy Brandner have been part of District 518 since the early 1990s; each is proud to represent Worthington and eager to bring the educational focus back where they believe it belongs: the kids.

“Education and learning are sometimes overshadowed by the emphasis on high-stakes test scores,” said Brandner in referencing the philosophical platform she submitted as part of her application portfolio.

“Assessments are important, and teachers certainly need to be held accountable, but the unique demographics in our district make individual student growth equally as or more important than simply test scores.

“As teachers, we want to maximize the potential for each child’s growth, and individual student growth is what teachers find very satisfying.”

Kremer is similarly passionate about the need to level the playing field for kids by advocating for full state funding of all-day, every-day kindergarten — a dream that is expected to see fulfillment in 2015.

“I’ve written lots of letters to the state legislature, because we are expected to help all children succeed, even though there is a huge difference between the kids who arrive at kindergarten having been well nurtured and read to and those who don’t know how to hold a scissors or pencil,” said Kremer, who has been a kindergarten classroom stalwart since 2000. 

“To help close that achievement gap, early intervention is critical, and having the students in school all day allows us to address social and developmental needs, as well as skill building. District 518 recognized that a long time ago and made all-day, every-day kindergarten a priority.”

Kremer, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 1978 at Concordia College, Moorhead, and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Southwest State University, was elected the 2012 Education Minnesota Worthington Teacher of the Year. She was also chosen the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Citizenship Education Teacher Post Recognition awardee in 2012.

Before moving to teach at the kindergarten level, Kremer taught for seven years at West Elementary in the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade multi-age classrooms, and had previous experience before joining District 518.

Brandner, the 2013 Education Minnesota Worthington Teacher of the Year, attended Minnesota State University – Mankato, graduating in 1991, and later earned a master’s degree in curriculum instruction at St. Mary’s University. Her entire 23 years of teaching have been spent with second- and third-graders in Worthington schools.

“Both Suzy and Roxanne are very deserving of this honor,” said Heidi Meyer, assistant principal at Prairie Elementary. “Prairie is extremely lucky to have such talented, dedicated individuals on staff. 

“Throughout their careers, they have made countless connections with students, families and colleagues.”

Prairie Elementary Principal Josh Noble is not surprised that two Worthington teachers — indeed, two from the same school — are on the list of Teacher of the Year candidates, as he has great confidence in the skills of all the teachers he supervises.

“In our system, you have to be a topnotch educator, and if the evaluators take the time to learn what they do day in and day out in a school like ours, I would expect that many of our teachers would stand out among others in the state, because we have such high-quality teachers at Prairie and in District 518 as a whole,” Noble said.

“Roxanne’s expertise and years of experience bring a lot to the kindergarten and Prairie teams, and Suzy is one of the best team players I’ve seen, who collaborates positively with her third-grade teaching colleagues and always brings something to the table,” Noble continued.

Kremer, who calls her candidacy “very humbling and a humongous honor,” lives with her husband, Jim, in Wilmont. Their three grown children — a daughter and two sons — all attended District 518 schools, which Kremer wholeheartedly recommends.

“I can’t say enough about our wonderful district and the services we have available, and the terrific support staff and administration we have,” praised Kremer. “Not all school districts have that, and this is one of the best districts a teacher could possibly work in.”

Brandner said the nomination leaves her “speechless,” though she is honored to represent District 518 and Prairie Elementary.

“There are so many deserving professionals here, and so many who have put more time and energy into this career,” said Brandner modestly. “I view this as being a ‘representative’ of all those who work so hard for our children, not the one who does more or better.”

Brandner and her husband, Bob, live in Worthington with their three sons, all of whom are enrolled in District 518 public schools. 

In the coming weeks, the 128 Education Minnesota 2014 Teacher of the Year candidates will be narrowed to a list of semi-finalists, then finalists, by a panel of 25 evaluators. The process culminates in a May 4 banquet in Bloomington, which both Kremer and Brandner plan to attend.

“I am honored to share this experience with Roxanne,” said Brandner. “I know, both as a colleague and parent, how phenomenal she is, and I have learned from her calmness and kindness to her students and their families.”

One District 518 teacher in recent memory — Worthington High School instructor Mary Beth Blegen — was selected the state Teacher of the Year in 1995, and was ultimately chosen as the 1996 National Teacher of the Year. While that was before District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard was in town, he is pleased to have two local teachers in the mix this year.

“We’re excited to have them as a part of it, because they are both wonderful educators and also quality individuals,” said Landgaard. “This shows the overall quality of our teachers, and Suzy and Roxanne will represent Worthington well.”

“My favorite part of teaching is watching kids grow in their learning,” added Brandner. 

“It’s priceless to see a student go from ‘Ugh…I don’t get this!’ to, ‘Mrs. B! I got it!’ That just never gets old.”

One of Kremer’s valuable pieces of advice for new teachers “Education is a three-way commitment,” she stressed. “It includes the child, the parents and the teacher, and for a child to be truly successful, we need everyone involved.

“We are all in this together, working cooperatively in the best interest of the student.” 

Three other area teachers are also on the list of 2014 Education Minnesota Teacher of the Year candidates: Shelly Hotzler, a physical education/health teacher at Jackson County Central; Aniessa Sebring, a Windom High School math instructor; and Kirsten Harms, a first-grade teacher in the Murray County Central district.