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Press Release

Monday, January 09, 2017

CCSSO Announces Four Finalists for 2017 National Teacher of the Year Award

Finalists for Nation’s Top Teaching Honor from CA, MD, MA and WI
Contact:Olympia Meolaolympia.meola@ccsso.org202-336-7071

Washington, D.C. (January 9, 2017) -- Four teachers with styles and passions as diverse as their students have been selected as finalists for the 2017 National Teacher of the Year Award.

One is a world-renowned artist, who brings her creativity to the classroom as a teacher and mentor for the Baltimore Teachers Union. Another - a special education teacher who facilitates social inclusion and extracurricular activities at her San Diego school's Best Buddies Club, has co-authored two books about inclusion and education for special education students. Also nominated, an instrumental music teacher and band director in Sun Prairie, WI, whose bands have performed statewide and who was a national semifinalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator Award. The final four is rounded out by a teacher whose student partnership with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company explores the themes of "justice and injustice" through collaborative projects.  

One of these finalists will be named the 2017 National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) later this spring, and will spend the next year traveling the country to represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers and students.  

The National Teacher of the Year program, run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and presented by Voya Financial, Inc., identifies exceptional teachers nationwide, celebrates their effective work in and outside of the classroom, amplifies their voices and empowers them to take part in policy discussions at the state and national levels.  

Every year, exemplary teachers from each state, the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity are selected as State Teachers of the Year. From that group, a national selection committee representing 18 renowned education and community organizations, which collectively represent millions of educators, selects four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. The National Teacher of the Year is then selected from the four finalists after rigorous in-person interviews with the selection committee.

Upon selecting the four finalists, the NTOY selection committee released the following statement:  

"The four finalists embody the character, knowledge, skills and passion of exemplary teaching. Each of the finalists empower students to own their own learning inside and outside of the classroom. The skills of these teachers transcend the classroom, as they also demonstrate the ability to engage with their peers, parents, community members, and policy makers."  

Each year, since 1952, the President of the United States has recognized the National Teacher of the Year in a White House ceremony in the spring.  

The 2017 National Teacher of the Year finalists are (in alphabetical order):  

Sydney Chaffee, 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Sydney Chaffee is a National Board Certified Teacher passionate about helping diverse learners grow through authentic, relevant, interdisciplinary curricula. As the ninth grade Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School, an EL Education school, Sydney strives to infuse the hard work of learning with joy. She believes that all students can learn with appropriate supports and challenges, and that education is a transformative tool for social justice. "It can empower students to stand up for themselves and create change," says Sydney. "It can only do this, however, if teachers like me hold ourselves and each other accountable for confronting the system's historical inequity."  

Sydney melds this passion for social justice with literacy instruction through a unique partnership with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, where students internalize and apply what they have learned through collaborative projects centered on the theme of "justice and injustice." Sydney also serves as Humanities Department Chair, co-coordinator of a weekly all-school Community Circle, and a member of the Instructional Leadership Team. Since 2010, she has mentored pre-service teachers from Tufts University and Boston University. In 2013, Sydney worked as a consultant on EL Education's curriculum design project, collaborating with educators from across the country to write 8th grade ELA curricula. Since their publication, these curricula have been downloaded more than 3 million times and implemented by over 1,000 schools nationwide. During the 2016-17 school year, Sydney was a member of Massachusetts' Teacher Advisory Cabinet and a Teach Plus Policy Fellow. As Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Sydney has appreciated opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from across Massachusetts, advocate for the profession to be elevated and respected, and continue to learn from her students. Sydney earned a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.Ed. from Lesley University.  

Read Sydney's entire National Teacher of the Year Application here

Chris Gleason, 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

Chris Gleason is an instrumental music teacher and band director at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI. He earned his bachelor's degree in Music Education at UW-Eau Claire in 1997 and his master's degree in Professional Development from UW-LaCrosse in 2002. Serving in his nineteenth year as an educator, Chris is a talented performer, director, and educational leader.  

"My teaching isn't about playing notes or learning a new skill on an instrument; rather, it is about looking at life through the lens of another human or artist and considering a new thought or different point of view," said Chris.  

Chris' bands have performed at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda, the "New Wisconsin Promise Conference," and the 2006 and 2009 Wisconsin State Music Conferences. Under Chris's leadership in Sun Prairie, the Patrick Marsh Middle School Band has partnered with eight nationally renowned composers to develop six pieces for band through the "ComMission Possible" project. A member of the National Band Association (NBA), the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA), and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), Chris is a frequent state and national conference presenter and leader of professional development. His honors include being named the 2016-2017 Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year and, most recently, being recognized as a national semifinalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator Award.  

Chris is also the recent recipient of the Melvin F. Pontious Creative Sparks in Music Education Award (2016), the Michael G. George Distinguished Service Award (2016), and the Vi Miller Award for Excellence (2013) by Dane Arts, and had a feature interview in the March 2015 Instrumentalist magazine. Chris is the founder and organizer of the Band Festival at the Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells.  

Read Chris' entire National Teacher of the Year Application here

Megan Gross, 2017 California Teacher of the Year

Megan Gross is a special education teacher at Del Norte High School, in the Poway Unified School District and California Teacher of the Year 2017.  She has taught and facilitated inclusive education for students with disabilities at both the elementary and secondary level for nine years.  As an educator, Megan has advocated and supported students' transitions from segregated Special Day Classes, to an instructional day including general education academic and elective classes.  In addition, she facilitates social inclusion and extracurricular activities as a Special Education Co-Advisor of the Del Norte High School Best Buddies Club.  "Best Buddies has given my students confidence, a valued role on campus and friendships," says Megan. "It has also provided them an opportunity to expand their world into a role of leadership and self-advocacy."  

Megan is passionate about supporting individuals with disabilities through the lifespan.  As a college student, she provided in-home care to children with developmental disabilities through the respite program of Summer House, Inc.  After graduating from college, Megan advocated for adults with developmental disabilities who lived in a residential group home.  As an educator, Megan has presented at regional and national education conferences. Her professional interests include: supporting the transition of students with severe disabilities from segregated classrooms to general education classrooms, developing curricular modifications to increase student access to general education, and facilitating professional development for paraprofessionals and classroom teachers.  Megan is the co-author of The Inclusion Toolbox and ParaEducate.  She resides in San Diego with her husband and two children.  

Read Megan's entire National Teacher of the Year Application here

Athanasia Kyriakakos, 2017 Maryland Teacher of the Year

Passion, resilience, and perseverance are the end result of the relationships Athanasia Kyriakakos builds with her students. "By proving to parents that their children can achieve, we break down the wall of mistrust urban families often have with the education system," she says.  

Athanasia earned her MFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000, her teaching certification from Central Connecticut State University in 1995 and her BFA degree from The Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1991. While teaching in Baltimore and as an advocate for her colleagues, she has been a member of the Instructional Leadership Team, a Student Learning Objectives District Ambassador, a Baltimore Teachers Union mentor and Union Learning Representative, and in 2015, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Teacher Leaders program. She serves on the State of Maryland's External Stakeholder Committee for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Athanasia is currently the 2016/17 Baltimore City Teacher of the Year and the 2017 Maryland State Teacher of the Year.  Additionally, she is on the programming committee of Arts Everyday, The State of Maryland's Arts School Portfolio Committee, and the Baltimore City Public School's High School Curriculum Writing Committee. As a world-renowned artist, Athanasia represented Greece in the 50th Venice Biennale; created artwork for the XXVIII Olympic Games in Athens, Greece; received a Fulbright Fellowship; and received awards from the Deste Foundation in Greece and from the UNESCO Foundation.  

Read Athanasia's entire National Teacher of the Year Application here


The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.