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Central Arkansas educators among finalists for 2023 Teacher of the Year

Daniel Breen
North Little Rock Middle School's Capri Salaam, one of four finalists for Arkansas Teacher of the Year, accepts a certificate from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Education Secretary Johnny Key at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion on Thursday.

Educators from Pine Bluff, Springdale and North Little Rock are among the finalists for 2023 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. The four were chosen out of 13 semifinalists in a ceremony at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Thursday.

Jessica Saum, the state’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, praised the nominees for their dedication.

“You are here because you deserve to be. You went above and beyond in a year that many classified as the most difficult year of teaching to date. You have shown to be innovative, enriching students, dedicated to their success and learning, and committed to improving education as well as the lives of those around you,” Saum said.

Saum, a special education teacher at Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, also outlined her goals for her term as Teacher of the Year, saying she hopes to put more emphasis on inclusion, military families and “joyful learning.”

The finalists for 2023 Arkansas Teacher of the Year are math teacher Elouise Shorter of Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff, social studies teacher Capri Salaam of North Little Rock Middle School, third grade teacher Stephanie Long of Walter Turnbow Elementary School in Springdale and Amber Leaton, a social studies teacher from Bryant High School.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson lauded teachers for making Arkansas second in the nation for the number days of in-class instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying there’s “no substitute” for in-person learning.

“We learned that, and we learned it quick enough that we put it into action. And I applaud all the teachers here who set the example, that took the risk and said ‘This is important, it’s worth sacrificing for,’” Hutchinson said.

All 13 regional semifinalists received $1,000 from the Walton Family Foundation. The 2023 Arkansas Teacher of the Year will be announced in a ceremony in the fall.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.