Roseville’s Teacher of the Year candidates make the semifinals

Cameron Radke

Maria Le

Roseville Area Schools District 623’s two candidates for 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year made the cut and were named as semifinalists Feb. 29.

Central Park Elementary School’s Maria Le and Emmet D. Williams Elementary School’s Cameron Radke are two of the 34 semifinalists who made it out of an initial field of 115 Minnesota teachers.

“I think it is a tremendous privilege and honor,” Radke said of being nominated and making the cut. “At the end of the day if my families are thinking I’m doing right by my kids — that’s really the most important thing for me.”

Le echoed Radke’s sentiments.

“It was a surprise for me to get nominated and I feel like I work with a bunch of amazing educators,” Le said. “Roseville is the best of the best.”

Candidate nominations for the award, which is underwritten by Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, were accepted in October and November last year. 

Nomination criteria included holding a bachelor’s degree and a Minnesota teaching license, at least three years experience teaching and the intention to keep teaching through the 2016-2017 school year.

Also, per an Education Minnesota release, nominees were expected to be “someone who motivates and inspires students for a lifetime.”


Priorities and hopes

The field of 115 teachers was winnowed by a selection panel of 23 community leaders, according to an Education Minnesota release.

Le, the first generation daughter of Vietnamese refugees, is a Bloomington native who lives in Roseville; she’s been a teacher for eight years and teaches first grade.

Radke is originally from the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Minnesota for the last decade and a half. She currently teaches a combined fifth- and sixth-grade class and has been a teacher for 12 years. She lives in Plymouth.

Radke said the Teacher of the Year candidacy process has made her reflect on what matters to her. She was also nominated as a candidate in 2012.

“This is the first time I’ve been a semifinalist,” she said. “As you grow and evolve as a teacher, I think that my educational issue is different than it was last time.”

For 2016, Radke said she is focusing on “relationships and how it can build a more equitable classroom for all students.”

“In the absence of relationships, true learning can’t happen,” she said. “Students need to know you have their back, no matter what.”

Le said 2016 is a good year for Education Minnesota to name a teacher of color as its Teacher of the Year.

“I’m not saying it should be me,” Le said, “but I think it’s something the committee should consider.”

The diversity of students in Roseville schools was a part of what drew her to the district, Le said. 

She also highlighted her many district roles outside the first-grade classroom. Le said she is a targeted services site supervisor, who works on summer school and before- and after-school programs in the Roseville district, typically with kids from low income families and those who need extra help with reading and math.

Beyond the classroom, Le said she is one of Minnesota Education’s building representatives and that she sits on three statewide union committees, as well.

“People have told me that I do too much — which I think I do,” Le said, “but I’m just passionate about the work.”


Speech, speech!

Radke said the next step in the candidate process — which to this point has included putting together a portfolio complete with an essay on the candidate’s philosophy of education, letters of recommendation and resumes — is creating and submitting a videotaped speech.

According to an Education Minnesota release, the selection panel will review the semifinalists near the end of the month and cut the field down to 10 finalists. 

The current Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Amy Hewett-Olatunde, an English as a second language teacher from St. Paul, will name the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year May 15 at the Radisson Blu hotel at the Mall of America.

State Teachers of the Year go on to compete for the national award; according to Education Minnesota, California is the only state with more national wins than Minnesota’s four.

Though it’s never produced a national winner, Roseville Area School District has done well in the 52 years that the state award has been presented. 

According to Education Minnesota’s website, teacher Theodore Molitor won for Roseville in 1969; Denneth Dvergsten did it in 1975; Judy McCleery in 1986, and Roseville’s most recent Minnesota Teacher of the Year was Maureen Sanger, named in 1988.


Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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