Jennifer Sims picked as Austin’s top teacher; I.J. Holton educator wins Austin Teacher of the Year award

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jennifer Sims smiles after it was announced she was this year’s Teacher of the Year for Austin Public Schools at I.J. Holten Intermediate School Tuesday. -- Eric Johnson/

Jennifer Sims smiles after it was announced she was this year’s Teacher of the Year for Austin Public Schools at I.J. Holten Intermediate School Tuesday. — Eric Johnson/

Jennifer Sims did not expect to be on the receiving end of the Teacher of the Year award when she attended the Veteran’s Day ceremony on Tuesday morning.

But sixth-grade teacher David Brown called Sims’ name at the end of the ceremony at I.J. Holton Intermediate School, naming her the top teacher for the district for 2015.

“[I feel] overwhelmed and blessed, I guess,” Sims said. “I mean, it’s quite an honor to be recognized.”

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Sims has worked for the Austin Public Schools District for 13 years, working primarily as a sixth-grade teacher, as well as the head dance coach for many years. She continues to work as a teacher for more than a love of teaching.

“The kids, every day, that’s what gets me through each and every day, even when it’s difficult,” she said. “We have amazing kids in Austin so it’s an honor to teach in such a great district.”

She was grateful to her colleagues, who she said have been a pleasure to work with.

Brown was excited to present the award this year, as there were 28 teachers nominated. Nominations for the Austin teacher of the year were open to anyone residing in District 492.

Brown, along with a committee of 10 former teachers of the year, decided the winner for 2015.

“It actually took us two different meetings this time to [decide],” he said.

Nominations were open in the spring, where teachers, parents, students and community members had the opportunity to nominate teachers for the award. Although Brown said all the nominees were good this year, he said Sims was above par.

“She’s pretty awesome,” he said. “Her students love and respect her; her former dancers love and respect her,” Brown said. “It was pretty exciting.”

To be eligible for the award, nominees must teach a grade that is pre-kindergarten through 12th, hold at least a bachelor’s degree and a Minnesota teaching license, have completed at least three full years of teaching by nomination deadline, and intend to teach during the next school year. Minnesota Teachers of the Year serve a 12-month term.

Sims has big plans for the future of her teaching career, including continuing to advance her education. She recently got her gifted and talented certificate.

“It seems that there’s always a need to fill, and you want to be as versatile as possible for the kids,” she said.

Her husband, Brett Sims, attended the presentation to congratulate his wife. Although the award was a surprise to her, her husband knew a few weeks in advance.

Sims’ name has been submitted to the Minnesota Teacher of the Year committee for a chance to win the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award. Each year about 125 names are submitted to the state. Based on a portfolio and several writings that the contestants submit, the state will select a group of 25 semi-finalists in February. The requirements will then increase leading to a list of 10 finalists of which one winner will be selected. That will be announced in May of 2015.

Along with recognizing the teacher of the year, the ceremony was also to recognize veterans on Veteran’s Day, and about 30 to 35 veterans attended. Both the fifth and sixth-grade choirs performed at the ceremony.

The Hormel Military Veterans Engagement Team Essay Contest student-winners were also announced. The first-place winner was Alayna Tschann, the second place winner was Maria Morey, and the third place winner was Emma Rosheim. This is the first year Hormel has worked with the contest, and they worked specifically with I.J. Holton Intermediate School students because of their history with essay contests. The Hormel Military VET Co-chair Angelita Zynda said the main reason is to recognize students at a local level.

“We just want to be out there in appreciation for what they do [for Veteran’s Day],” she said.

The essay theme was Why I Appreciate America’s Veterans. All the essays go on to compete at a national level for the Patriot Pin.

Teachers of Excellence Nominated for 2014-2015 at Austin Public Schools

Margo Bissen

Jessica Brandt

Brandon Button

Deborah Cook

Brad Dahnert

Lisa Deyo

Andrea Hanson

Megan Higgins

Teresa Jette

Steve Knox

Janet Krinke

Jayme Laymers

Jim Leichtnam

Charlotte McKee

Cori McRae

Norma Olson

Tim Owen

Kathy Owens

Clint Phillips

Mark Poppe

Dorran Rickert

Carley Seifert

Jennifer Sims

Kristi Smith

Robyn Snow

Lindsay Sorenson

Sherrie Voigt

Marsha Wilson

Past winners

2014: Terry Carlson

2013: Aaron Stromlund

2012: Brian Johnson

2011: David Brown

2010: Tom Fritz