Governor Kevin Stitt (left) tours an outdoor classroom with 2018 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Donna Gradel at Broken Arrow High School. The 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year will be announced in September. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Congratulations to the 12 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalists for 2020. The honored teachers were announced by state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister last week.

Forgive us a bit of parochialism, but we will admit to being especially proud of three local teachers who made the final cut:

• Kirbey Dietzel is a fifth-grade teacher at Jenks East Intermediate. The Shawnee native is a University of Oklahoma graduate and is entering her seventh year as a math and science teacher at Jenks Public Schools.

• Kari Rhoden is a pre-K teacher at Oologah Lower Elementary in Oologah-Talala Public Schools. She has been an educator for 24 years and has held her current position for five years.

• Michelle Rahn is a sixth-grade science teacher at Will Rogers Middle School in Claremore Public Schools. She’s been an educator for 11 years and has held her current position for three years.

The winner will be named Sept. 17 in a ceremony at the Oklahoma State Fair and will spend the 2020-21 school year touring the state as a traveling advocate for education.

All the finalists are models for their peers. They have established records of creativity and accomplishment. Each has already been honored as the teacher of the year in their district and advanced through regional competitions judged by educators, legislators and members of business and nonprofit organizations.

The problems of public schools are much on the public’s mind these days and for good reason. Oklahoma’s schools are underfunded, overcrowded and not getting the educational results that everyone wants. Whenever there’s a scandal, everyone holds their breath.

But, in our experience, the vast majority of teachers are dedicated, hard-working professionals. No one understands the challenges faced by Oklahoma’s public schools more than the teachers, and no one wants the state’s school children to succeed more.

The 12 finalists are exemplary in many ways and deserving of their honors, but they also are representative of the excellence in classrooms across the state.

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