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Meet Colorado’s 2023 Teacher of the Year finalists

head shots of seven teachers

Top row: Jimmy Day, Whitney Gaskill, Scott Wheeler, Rocio Meli. Bottom Row: Paulina Lerma, Theresa James, Tobias DeHerrera.

Photos courtesy of Colorado Department of Education and visual 7 / Getty Images

Colorado’s seven 2023 Teacher of the Year finalists include three teachers from metro Denver districts, one from Colorado Springs, one from Fort Collins, and two from rural districts.

The state education department announced the finalists Thursday and will pick a winner by the end of October. The Teacher of the Year represents Colorado in the national Teacher of the Year competition, becomes a member of a state advisory panel called the Commissioner’s Teachers Cabinet, and serves as an advocate for the profession over the course of the year. 

Last year’s state winner was Autumn Rivera, a sixth grade science teacher in the Roaring Fork district. She was one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award. A middle school math teacher from Ohio was named the winner in April. 

This year’s crop of finalists include a mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers, and men and women. One finalist, Paulina Lerma, isn’t eligible to win because she recently moved from a full-time teaching role to an assistant principal position.

This year’s finalists are: 

  • Jimmy Lee Day II, band director and instrumental music teacher, East Middle School in the Aurora district.  
  • Tobias DeHerrera, first grade teacher, Mountain View Core Knowledge School in the Fremont RE-1 district. 
  • Whitney Gaskill, fourth and fifth grade teacher, Silverton School in Silverton Public Schools. 
  • Theresa James, social studies teacher, Vista Ridge High School in District 49.
  • Paulina Lerma, English language acquisition-Spanish teacher, Green Valley Elementary School, Denver district. (She’s now an assistant principal at South High School in Denver.)
  • Rocio Meli, seventh and eighth grade Spanish and eighth grade English language development teacher, Castle Rock Middle School in the Douglas County district. 
  • Scott Wheeler, choir and drama teacher, Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in the Poudre district.

The Council of Chief State School Officers runs the National Teacher of the Year competition and names a winner each spring. Winners are usually honored by the president at a White House ceremony.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

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