Keri Smith had just about given up.
It was after 5 p.m. on Wednesday and she had kept her fingers crossed.
Then, while sitting alone in her home, the phone rang.
When she answered, the fourth-grade teacher at Independence Intermediate School, heard the voice of Oklahoma State Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Hofmeister was calling to congratulate Smith on being named one of 12 finalists for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
“I really was surprised. I knew there were a lot of districts and a lot of teachers. It was late in the day when Joy Hoffmeister called to tell me I was one of the 12 finalists,” Smith said Friday during her lunch break.
“I had told myself the call wasn’t coming,” she said. “I was in the mindset that I hadn’t progressed to the next level. So, it was extra, extra exciting when I found out.”
Smith said finding out that she was among the finalists was surreal.
“I want to question whether they made a mistake, if maybe they got the name wrong. I’m really reflecting on how I got here and all the steps in my career. I’m really proud and really humble, but it’s still a shock,” Smith said.
The gifted teacher said she is in good company.
“There are so many better teachers out there than me,” she said. “I feel grateful to work in Yukon, where they support you.”
This is the third time in the last five years that a Yukon teacher has been a finalist for state teacher of the year.
Becky Oglesby, a first-grade teacher at Ranchwood Elementary, recently completed her service as the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
Smith, is one of two finalists from Canadian County. The other is Amy Lennertz, a sixth-grade Spanish and theater teacher at Piedmont Intermediate School.
Smith is in her seventh year with the district. It’s the only district in which she has taught.
She also is a graduate of the district.
Smith was also once the district’s rookie teacher of the year
Smith got a late start on her teaching career.
She previously said that she spent 10 years in the retail industry while raising her children before returning to school to get her early education degree from the University of Central Oklahoma.
She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in education administration through Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Her plan was to go into library science, but each day when she walked her children into school,l she got the feeling that she needed to be in the classroom.
“I like that I get to interact with young people every day to be a part of their growth,” she said after receiving Yukon’s teacher of the year honor.
The winner of the teacher of the year is normally announced during the Oklahoma State Fair. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oklahoma Department of Education delayed the public announcement of the finalists until Thursday.
“These tremendous 12 finalists reflect the best of Oklahoma’s classroom teachers,” said state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “Not only do these teachers use innovative instructional strategies, but they also place great emphasis on creating meaningful relationships with students and families. All have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the success of each of their students and are highly deserving of this honor.”
The 2021 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year will be named in February.
Beginning July 1, the winner will assume full-time Teacher of the Year duties, which include speaking engagements and serving as Oklahoma’s ambassador for teachers, encouraging others to enter or remain in the profession.
The 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, Jena Nelson of Deer Creek Public Schools, will continue to tour the state until July.
Yukon Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth said he was proud of Smith for becoming a finalist.
“We just hire the best teachers,” Simeroth said.
The fact that Smith grew up and graduated from Yukon makes the honor even more flattering.
“It is flattering not only for the district, but for some of the student-teachers who see that you can start at a place and be recognized by your peers and celebrate with your hometown. This is not like a star-athlete who moves in and is one-and-done. This is someone who has invested their life in Yukon,” Simeroth said.
The fact that so many finalists have come from the district also speaks volumes about the work of the principals and administrators involved in the hiring process, said Simeroth.
“Surprised? Yes, but not really. I know the quality of the teachers we have here. She works very hard, is super smart, is a great writer and a great teacher. She is involved in so much. Keri is also involved in the YEA (Yukon Educators Association), so she has a big stake in what goes on in the district,” he said.
The other nominees include Melanie Ball from Guthrie Public Schools; Ginger Billman of Stillwater Public Schools; Valerie Brink of Bethany Public Schools; Lesa Dickson, Broken Arrow School District; Jessica Eschbach of Norman Public Schools; Natalie Haworth of Durant Public Schools; Michael Patterson of Guymon Public Schools; Krista Starbuck of Alva Public Schools; Stephanie Terry of Mid-Del Schools; and Lori Zimmerman of Woodward Public Schools.