Local teacher takes home top prize

As a student in the Juneau public school system, Amy Jo Meiners had her first lesson in the art of teaching while watching a fourth-grade instructor inspire excellence. Now, almost 40 years later, Meiners is still earning gold stars.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development named Meiners Alaska’s 2016 teacher of the year at Saturday’s Association of Alaska School Boards meeting in Anchorage. The award comes after a series of nominations, letters of recommendations, and personal essays by Meiners, an extended learning teacher for Riverbend and Auke Bay elementary schools.

Meiners called the honor a humbling experience and said it is hard to express with words how she feels. Instead of describing what the honor means for her, Meiners spoke of the teacher whose love for teaching she now mirrors.

“When I think back on my past teachers, my favorite was Janie Cesar, who still lives here in town,” Meiners said of her fourth-grade Glacier Valley Elementary School instructor. “Mrs. Cesar brought in elders for storytelling, we beaded, we learned math through quilting. I remember we wanted to do well for her because we knew she loved us.”

A love felt then sparked a teaching career that spans 27 years and experiencee at each elementary grade.

Her commitment doesn’t stop at the schoolyard, either. Meiners, whose maiden name is Macaulay — as in the DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery — learned from her family the value of community outreach. She continues to serve as a DIPAC board member.

Lori Hoover, Auke Bay’s principal, said Meiners’ community reach and classroom dedication put her at the top of the list during the nomination process. So many great teachers lead classrooms at Auke Bay, Hoover said, but picking Meiners was in a sense a nomination for everyone because she exemplifies what is great in everyone.

“Every time I go into her classroom I learn something,” Hoover said. “As an adult, I forget what I’m doing because I’m listening and learning along with the kids. That speaks highly for her, that she can engage kids and adults in the learning process.”

Juneau School District Superintendent Mark Miller echoed Hoover’s sentiment, saying he was impressed by the extensive work Meiners put into personal essays he read before signing her application.

“It’s a real honor for her and speaks well both of her abilities and our district,” Miller said.

Meiners’ impact on the district is felt through generations of families. A father-daughter team contributed some of Meiners’ recommendation letters: Both were former students, Meiners said. Watching children go on to do great things, then bring their children to her classroom is an aspect of her job she said she continues to enjoy.

In her 27 years as an educator, Meiners has also seen a few negative turns in education, namely the increased rate of student assessment. Meiners said she wants to see the focus return to how students learn. As teacher of the year, Meiners will speak at engagements across the state and meet other state winners at various conferences. Creating a spotlight for the good work in the teaching profession, instead of focusing on shortfalls, will be one component of Meiners’ personal platform at those conferences.

In April, Meiners will join other teachers of the year to meet President Barack Obama, but she said the real highlight of her growing itinerary will be space camp. Forever a student, Meiners said she looks forward to learning something she can share with the young minds in her classroom.

“More learning,” Meiners said. “That’s what I’m excited about.”

After her win at the state level, Meiners name will be submitted as a candidate for the national teacher of the year award. Since Alaska’s involvement in the national program in 1963, five teachers from Juneau, including Meiners, have won at the state level. Only once has an Alaska teacher of the year gained the national title.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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