Two area educators are finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year Award, an honor recognizing excellence in teaching.

Nicole Corn, a kindergarten teacher at Sunset Hill Elementary School in Lawrence, and Sharon Kuchinski, a social studies teacher at Leavenworth Senior High School, were named Region 2 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year finalists during a ceremony Sept. 9 in Topeka.

As finalists, Corn and Kuchinski each received $2,000 cash and are eligible to be named as the state’s top educator during a November ceremony in Wichita. The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year will advance to the national level for a chance to be named as the nation’s top educator.

Corn, who lives in Ottawa with her family, and Kuchinski were among six semifinalists from Region 2, an area covering the state’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District. This year, 114 educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.

Nicole Corn

For Corn, it was her grandmother who inspired her to teach.

“She was actually a kindergarten teacher as well, and I have always looked up to her,” she said. “She always shared very funny, endearing stories about her students.”

Corn has spent 13 years teaching kindergarten, and her sixth year at Sunset Hill Elementary. Prior to teaching in Lawrence, she taught kindergarten at the Scott Dual Language Magnet School in her hometown of Topeka.

It’s the light-bulb moments, Corn said, she finds most enjoyable as an educator.

“I love seeing my students’ eyes light up when they learn something new for the first time, or when they have been struggling with a concept and get better at that skill,” she said. “This happens on a daily basis in kindergarten. I feel blessed to get to come to school every day to a job that I love. I also like how each day is different, and I am presented with unique challenges each day. My job is what keeps me motivated.”

Corn said she was surprised to learn she was a finalist, and regards the nomination as an honor.

“I work among a group of amazing teachers, and we build each other up to become better educators,” she said. “I feel very honored to be recognized. I am use to cheering on my students, but I am not use to getting accolades myself.”

Sharon L. Kuchinski

Inspired by her teachers and a love for helping others were the reasons behind Kuchinski’s decision to become an educator.

“My path to becoming a teacher came late in my career,” she said. “I graduated from college with a legal studies degree and intended to become a lawyer one day. Marrying a professional soldier and moving to a variety of locations in the United States and Europe put those intentions on hold. Time progressed, we had two children, and I began to volunteer in my sons’ classrooms. It was there that I learned from, and was inspired by, dedicated professionals who gave me the opportunity to share in their love of teaching. I discovered the exhilaration of helping young people and sharing life experiences to help provide a context for learning.”

Kuchinski is entering her 14th year of teaching, including 13 years in the Leavenworth School District. This is her third year teaching at the high school.

“My goal is for students to demonstrate growth in knowledge of the subject and develop personal and meaningful connections as humans,” she said. “I combine these elements to develop lessons which are based on knowledge of the subject and desired outcomes, are infused with my passion for teaching, stimulate an interest in learning, and are socially enriching. Knowing that I connect with my students and serve as a caring, respectful and positive role model makes teaching an essential and highly rewarding part of my life.”

“I strive to help students develop life-long learning skills that are necessary not only for academic success, but for success as a productive citizens. In addition to teaching essential learning targets and standards, I teach character development in order for students to understand how commitment to personal ideals will positively impact others. My emphasis on decision-making and critical thinking helps students understand how choices have consequences, how choices have affected those in the past and how choices students make today may impact their future. Each day, I promote personal responsibility in order for students to be in control of their actions and to make positive contributions in and out of the classroom. I also feel that teaching social skills, with an emphasis on polite interaction and acceptable social behavior, is essential for students to understand their importance in future academic study, careers and relationships.

Learning of her nomination, Kuchinski said she was honored and humbled to be selected as a secondary regional finalist and to represent her school district.

“The Kansas Teacher of the Year program is an outstanding forum for recognizing dedicated professionals across the state,” she said. “…I am excited to have the opportunity to get to know, visit and share best practices with exceptional teachers in the coming year.”

Other semifinalists were Rebecca F. Hill, a third-grade teacher at Basehor Intermediate School, Linda Dishman, a fifth-grade teacher at Berryton Elementary School (Shawnee Heights USD 450), Cari A. Davis, an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School (Lawrence USD 497), and Molly K. Bovos, a science teacher at Basehor-Linwood High School (Basehor-Linwood USD 458).

Nominations are made in each of four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education, sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators and higher education representatives to select semifinalists and finalists from each region.

Each panel selects six semifinalists — three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serve as ambassadors for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession.