University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Some Thoughts on Arkansas Teacher of the Year

In The View from the OEP on October 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm


Here at OEP, we wanted to extend our congratulations to Ms. Randi House, the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (ATOY)!  Ms. House teaches kindergarten in Conway, and as ATOY she receives a $15,000 award and, under Act 17, a year of paid administrative leave to work with ADE. Throughout the year, the ATOY creates professional development materials and provides technical assistance to Arkansas teachers and students.  In addition, the ATOY serves as a non-voting member of the State Board of Education, as an ambassador for education in Arkansas. The ATOY makes public appearances throughout the state and represents Arkansas in the National Teacher of the Year Competition.

Here at OEP, we love how the ATOY supports professional development and interacts with policy by sitting on the State Board.  We think hands-on experience with educational research might also be an interesting perspective to add and we would love to partner with Ms. House in researching a question of interest during her tenure.

According to ADE, the mission of the ATOY program is to promote the profession and recognize quality teachers who implement “best practices” in Arkansas public school classrooms. We know there are lots of great teachers in Arkansas’ schools, and we wondered about the process of identifying the Teacher of the Year.



How many ATOY have there been?

The National Teacher of the Year program began in 1952, but the Arkansas Department of Education lists ATOY back to 1959.  No ATOY is indicated for 1960 or 1961, so by our count Ms. House is the 58th ATOY!

Has an ATOY ever been selected as the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY)?

Not yet!  Arkansas is one of 17 states from which the NTOY has never been selected. Among our border states, Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma have each had two NTOY, Tennessee has had one, while Louisiana and Mississippi join Arkansas in never having had a teacher selected for NTOY.

Where do ATOY come from?

Based on the information provided by ADE, ATOY have been elementary, middle, junior high, and high school teachers engaged in teaching a wide variety of subjects.  The 20 most recent ATOY are listed below:

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ATOY have been selected from districts of varying sizes: in 2015 the ATOY was from Poyen which enrolled 582 students, while the 2014 ATOY was from Little Rock which enrolled over 22,000 students.  The percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced lunch in ATOY districts also varied- from 44% (White Hall- ATOY 1991) to 90% (Osceola- ATOY 1974).

Interestingly, over 40% of the ATOY came from districts located in the central region of the state, even though only 28% of Arkansas teachers are employed there.  Over time, 25 teachers from the central region have been selected, compared to eight from each of the other regions (the NW, NE, SW and SE). Northwest Arkansas is noticeably underrepresented- the region employs over 35% of Arkansas teachers, but has produced only 14% of ATOY.  Although ATOY have been selected from Fort Smith, Russellville, Van Buren, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville, we were surprised to see that no ATOY had been selected from Bentonville.

Why would there be such a discrepancy is where ATOY hail from?  We propose it is about visibility of the program in schools and districts.  Although each district may select one teacher as its District Teacher of the Year and nominate that teacher for the ATOY, very few do.  Only 33 districts, or 12% of those eligible, submitted a candidate for ATOY 2018.

Why wouldn’t EVERY district submit a candidate?

We have no idea! Perhaps districts are reluctant to participate because they don’t want to ‘lose’ one of their teachers.  This is understandable, because we all want our teachers working with students, but it is important to provide teachers the opportunity to move outside of the walls of their classroom to learn more about their profession and what is happening around the state. Almost all ATOY teachers return to the classroom following their experience, bringing back new skills and enriching perspectives to their school.

The ATOY application process is free, straightforward, and open to all licensed teachers from pre-k to 12th grade who have taught for at least three years, and who spend the majority of their time working with students in a classrooms.  Over 20,000 teachers are eligible to be ATOY, but only 33 applied.

Candidates for ATOY complete an online form and submit a resume, three letters of recommendation, two artifacts that showcase the candidate’s teaching and/or students’ achievement, a form that indicates the school and district leadership support the candidate’s application, and a photo.

From the submitted applications, 16 regional finalists are selected (one representing each education service cooperative and one representing Pulaski County), and four state semi-finalists are selected among the regional finalists. The selection panel visits each semi-finalists’ classroom before selecting the ATOY.

Interested in submitting an application?  

Having an ATOY can be a very positive for your community and provide an opportunity to highlight the great work being done by ALL the teachers in your schools.

Here are some next steps:

  1. Start talking with your staff about identifying a couple of excellent teachers to celebrate as district teacher(s) of the year.  Some districts partner with local businesses to provide bonuses (free meals, gift cards, services like car washes or house cleaning, etc.).
  2. With a team at the district level, select the teacher you would like to submit as a candidate for ATOY.  Keep your eyes out for the 2019 ATOY application, which ususally comes out in February and is announced through a Commissioner’s Memo.
  3. Help your district’s candidate for ATOY get the forms signed, the 3 letters of recommendation, and a nice portrait taken.
  4. Maybe your teacher will be selected as ATOY, and maybe Arkansas will get the opportunity to be recognized with a National Teacher of the Year.

While you are waiting for the 2019 application to come out, you can benefit from ATOY’s expertise by connecting with the Arkansas Exemplary Educators Network (AEEN). The statewide network is comprised of veteran and current Arkansas Teachers of the Year and Milken Educators Award recipients who have volunteered to share their knowledge and expertise with other educators and groups across the state. These educators have a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in education, as well as strong leadership skills, and are willing to support your work so take advantage of their expertise!


  1. How many of the ASTsOY have been National Board certified?

    • Great question!
      Out of the last 20 ATOY, we found eight with National Board certification, and one with certification pending. Cross-referencing the list of National Board teachers (from 1998 to 2016) with the ATOY list from the same period we find seven ATOY who were certified by the National Board. These are: Karen Denise Norton (ATOY ’02, NBCT ’01), Katherine Wright Knight (ATOY ’03, NBCT ’01), Donna Adkins (ATOY ’04, NBCT ’02), Paul Gray (ATOY ’08, NBCT ’05), Vandy Nash (ATOY ’10, NBCT ’07), Kathy Powers (ATOY ’11, NBCT ’06), and Courtney Cochran (ATOY ’17, NBCT ’14). We also found one ATOY who was National Board certified after being awarded the state distinction: Justin Minkel (ATOY ’07, NBCT ’11). Randi House (ATOY ’18) indicated that she has submitted material for National Board certification. Please note that if teachers changed names or moved in from out-of-state we may not be able to match the information to the NBCT list. Thanks for reading and for the question!

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