Roseville teacher Maria Le makes finals for state Teacher of the Year

Central Park Elementary School first-grade teacher Maria Le was named as a finalist on April 5 for 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Le, one of two Roseville Area Schools teachers who were in the running this year for the award, joins 10 other teachers as a finalist.

An initial field of 115 Teacher of the Year candidates was winnowed down to 34 semifinalists, who were announced Feb. 29. The award is presented by Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union. 

Even though Le is one of the 10-percenters who made the cut, she said she’s keeping it quiet in class.

“I actually haven’t really shared it with my parents — a few of them know,” she said, adding, “I haven’t really made it a big deal with my kids.”

Still, Le said she got a call from Roseville Superintendent Dr. Aldo Sicoli and Central Park Principal Becky Berkas, who both congratulated her on advancing to the next round.

To make it as far as she has, Le said she submitted a teacher’s portfolio that included essays, resumes and letters of recommendation. Once she was chosen as a semifinalist, Le said she then submitted a video in which she discussed an education issue to which she has a personal connection.

Le’s issue comes in two parts: She said she advocates to close the achievement gap between how African American and Latino students perform in school compared to white students, through race equity professional development. This means seeing what works at one school and implementing it elsewhere.

The other half of her issue is advocating for the “recruitment and retention of teachers of color.”

The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Le is a Bloomington native who currently lives in Roseville. She’s been a teacher for eight years and beyond her classroom duties, she works on before- and after-school district programs and is on three teachers union committees.

Le is also doing post-grad work at the University of Minnesota for a K-12 principal’s license; she already has a master’s of elementary education.

Even with her busy schedule, Le said her involvement in the Teacher of the Year competition has had a focusing effect.

“It really gets me back to my moral imperative; what I do day in and day out,” Le said. 


A month away

The Roseville school district’s other candidate, Emmet D. Williams teacher Cameron Radke, was also a semifinalist for 2016 and was also a candidate in 2012.

Radke said she backs Le as a finalist.

“I am so excited for Maria; she is an amazing teacher and we do a lot of the same work around the district, so I know firsthand how awesome she is,” Radke said the day the finalists were announced. 

“We spoke last night, and I wished her good luck and shared with her how proud I am of her and what a great representative she will be for not only Roseville, but for the teachers of Minnesota,” she said.

Radke added that making it as far as she did was affirming.

“I am not a teacher who will publicly tout my accomplishments but am appreciative when they are acknowledged by my students, families and colleagues,” she said.

The final decision for Teacher of the Year will be made May 14 when a 23-member panel conducts individual interviews with all the finalists.  

The award will be presented the next day by 2015’s Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Amy Hewett-Olatunde, an English as a second language teacher from St. Paul. 

Teachers from metro area schools dominate the list of finalists — Minnetonka and Northfield each have one finalist, while Elk River, Minneapolis and St. Paul have two finalists each. A middle school teacher from Hermantown, near Duluth, is the only out-state finalist.

To be eligible for the award, teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree and a Minnesota teaching license, have at least three years teaching experience and the intention to keep teaching through the 2016-2017 school year.

Minnesota’s winner will go on to compete to become national Teacher of the Year.

While Roseville has never produced a national winner, it’s done well in-state: A Roseville teacher has won a total of four times since teacher Theodore Molitor claimed the first award for the city in 1969, though a Roseville teacher hasn’t been named Minnesota Teacher of the Year since 1988.


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

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