Photo by Jenni Dillon Sherri Baktuit, a second-grade teacher at Soldotna Elementary School, accepts congratulations after receiving the American Star of Teaching award Thursday.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
A Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teacher and school received awards Thursday from the U.S. Department of Education.
Soldotna Elementary School second-grade teacher Sherri Baktuit has been named an American Star of Teaching, while McNeil Canyon Elementary School outside of Homer was named a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School.
The awards, both presented by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Ken Meyer on Thursday, recognize outstanding achievement and improvement in education on the national level.
Baktuit worked in Seldovia for a year before joining the Soldotna Elementary School staff in 1997. She has taught second grade, kindergarten and a kindergarten-first grade mix in the last six years, though she also took a year off when her daughter was born.
Soldotna Elementary School principal Carolyn Cannava said Baktuit is the kind of teacher every child should have.
"She's a real solid teacher. She provides a huge variety of activities for kids so that she reaches all of them," Cannava said. "She manages her classroom so well that learning can occur, and she works well with all the faculty.
"She's been our tech expert, helping other teachers. She's just a joy.
"I'm so proud of the teaching she's done and the children she's helped. She's a star."
The U.S. Department of Education agreed.
The American Star of Teaching award part of the department's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative honors teachers who raise student achievement.
"This is a teacher who's not standing out on one particular area but truly exemplifies what a teacher is a should be," Meyer said. It is a particular honor, he said, because the recipients are nominated by the peers then go through a selection process at the state and national level.
Baktuit, lured to the gym by a Student of the Month assembly Thursday, was not told of the award until it was announced in front of the student body, a group of parents and special guests.
The secret-keeping was part of the honor and challenge. While much of the school buzzed Thursday morning in anticipation, Meyer and district representatives were fogged in in Homer, where they were presenting the Blue Ribbon award. Cannava kept in touch with the delayed dignitaries, while Baktuit's husband tried to hide from his wife in her school.
"Her husband was here in the first room with flowers (and a balloon) and she walked by and, man, I've never seen anyone get under a table so fast," Cannava said.
Also attending the ceremony was Baktuit's mother, longtime Sears Elementary School teacher Lorraine Hansen, who Baktuit tearfully thanked as she accepted the award.
"A lot of people tell me we're a lot alike," Baktuit said. "I know I wouldn't be up here without her. Thank you mom."
Hansen had nothing but praise for her daughter, as well.
"I'm still teaching, but I'm a past teacher," Hansen said. "She's the future. We have some awfully bright public school teachers. She's bright, loves kids; she's just great."
Also Thursday, McNeil Canyon Elementary School was named one of 256 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools in the nation. The award honors low-income schools (that qualify for Title I funding) that show marked improvement under the No Child Left Behind's accountability plan.
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