Just one month after Jessica Saum began her tenure as 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, four finalists for the 2023 award were announced on Aug. 4 at a special ceremony held at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock.
Finalists for the 2023 Arkansas Teacher of the Year include Amber Leaton, 11th-grade and 12th-grade social studies teacher at Bryant High School; Stephanie Long, third grade teacher at Walter Turnbow Elementary School in Springdale; Capri Salaam, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at North Little Rock Middle School; and Elouise Shorter, ninth- through 12th-grade math teacher at Dollarway High School in the Pine Bluff.
The ceremony included state leaders, educators and other members of the community. In addition to the four state finalists, 13 regional semifinalists were recognized at the event.
Each of the four finalists received high praise from students and colleagues, and each of them was recognized for going above and beyond in their commitment to helping students succeed.
In addition to sponsoring the Bryant High School’s student senate, Leaton has grown and developed the school’s Advanced Placement United States History program through technology and innovative projects.
During Long’s 12 years as an educator, she has received more than $16,500 in grants and donations for her students and their families, and also helped establish a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Night at her school, which is now an annual event with more than 30 community organizers.
Salaam is known for her bright personality and passion for outreach. When she’s not dancing down the hallways at North Little Rock Middle School, Salaam spends her time training and mentoring novice teachers, leading professional development workshops, and drafting a weekly event newsletter for parents. Salaam is also known for discreetly passing out personal hygiene products to students before they attend extracurricular activities.
At Pine Bluff’s Dollarway High School, Shorter can be found guiding her students through practical lessons that include public speaking, personal finance and preparation for job interviews. Shorter is committed to helping students who are struggling academically to meet their potential for college and career readiness.
Saum spoke Thursday before honoring the four finalists along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Education Secretary Johnny Key.
“You are here because your school, your district and your community have all been made better because of your dedication to the teaching profession and to the students that you serve,” Saum said. “You are here because you deserve to be. You went above and beyond in a year that many classified as the most difficult year of teaching to date.”
Saum, a special education teacher at Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, was selected for the 2022 position not only for her excellence in the classroom, but for her community work and support for military families. As part of her duties this year, she will spend the next ten months on paid administrative leave serving as an ambassador for teachers, making public appearances throughout the state, and meeting regularly with the State Board of Education as a non-voting member.
As part of the National Teacher of the Year program, the mission of the Arkansas Teacher of the Year program is to promote the profession and recognize quality teachers who implement “best practices” in Arkansas public school classrooms. The ATOY program is led by the Arkansas Department of Education in partnership with the State Board of Education. More information about the program can be found here.