Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Nanette Lehman named Oregon Teacher of the Year

By Chris Collins

Nanette Lehman, a second-grade teacher at Haines Elementary School, has been named Oregon's 2012-13 Teacher of the Year.

Lehman was honored at an all-school assembly Tuesday at Haines. The award was presented by Rob Saxton, the Oregon Department of Education's deputy superintendent of public instruction.

After receiving honors and recognition of their own, Haines students were all smiles when Lehman was called to the front of the gymnasium to receive her award.

"I'm truly honored," the 44-year-old Lehman told a full house of students, colleagues and community residents gathered for the assembly.

"I love my job and I'm overwhelmed and grateful to be recognized for something I do every day," she said.

The honor included a check for $5,000 sponsored by the American Institutes for Research. And while one of her students encouraged her to use the money to buy Legos for her classroom, Lehman said she'll probably use it to thank her family for their support of her efforts.

"My family sacrifices a lot of time so I can be committed to my profession, so I'll probably use it to do something with them," she said after the assembly.

The day was special for the Lehman family in another way. Michelle, a Baker High School sophomore, celebrated her 16th birthday. Michelle and her sister, Kourtney, 14, a Baker Middle School eighth-grader, attended the assembly along with their dad, Tracy.

"We're very proud of her," Tracy Lehman said. "She works very hard to be a good teacher."

The Lehmans have two other children, 24-year-old Brittney, who teaches PE and health in Boise, and Adam, 21, who operates Lehman Chopping, a custom hay and corn harvesting business.

In addition to the money, Lehman received a plaque and Smart Board technology for her classroom.

"I'm just truly honored to represent the Baker School District and the greatness of it," she said. "I am just one small piece of the bigger, broader professionalism of excellence."

Saxton told the audience that as one of 50 Teachers of the Year across the nation, Lehman will spend some time traveling the country to meet with other award-winning educators. Her travels also will take her to Washington, D.C., where she will meet with the U.S. Secretary of Education and newly re-elected President Barack Obama.

As a statewide winner, Lehman will vie for the National Teacher of the Year award.

After the assembly, Lynne Burroughs, Baker School Board chairman, expressed her delight with Lehman's honor.

"Isn't that fabulous," she said. "Talk about it takes a village to raise a child - this is a real example. Our teachers out here are just out of this world."

Director Mark Henderson added that his two children - 8-year-old Jake and 6-year-old Luke - have personally benefited from Lehman's teaching expertise.

"She's so committed to her work," he said.

In his letter nominating Lehman for the award, Superintendent Walt Wegener noted that the second-grade teacher's students enjoy the time they spend with her.

"Her routines are well established and build an environment of productivity and fun around expectations of high performance, both for herself and her children," he wrote.

"She has a powerful work ethic, is honest, forthright but has tact and is personally a very powerful educator," he added.

"Were my children now in school, I would move Heaven and Earth to get my daughters in her classroom."

Beth Bigelow, Haines principal, and Anthony Johnson, the district's curriculum director, added their praise in a joint nominating letter.

"Unquestionably, Ms. Lehman is the teacher students love, the teacher other teachers admire, respect and are inspired by, and the teacher every principal is privileged to have," they wrote. "With our combined career of 72 years in education, this is absolutely one of the finest educational practitioners we have worked with."

Lehman grew up in Eastern Washington and graduated from high school at Aberdeen. She attended Boise State University where she earned her undergraduate degree in early childhood education. About two years ago, she earned a master's degree in mathematics education.

She began her career in the Baker School District as a kindergarten teacher at the former North Baker Elementary School in 2007, according to district records. She moved to a second-grade classroom at North Baker the next year.

She transferred to the Haines School in 2009-10 where she taught a combined first- and second-grade classroom. This year she is teaching a second-grade classroom of 23 students.

In their letters of recommendation, district administrators noted that she is an active member of the Oregon Council of Teachers of Mathematics and provides trainings for other teachers.

In a brief statement about herself on the Haines School website, Lehman said that before moving to Baker City in 2006, she worked for Boise State University on a math/science grant where she was part of a team that offered professional development workshops for teachers in mathematics and "helped students develop deeper mathematical thinking skills."

Before announcing Lehman's award, Saxton also congratulated Haines School students, staff and community members on the school's designation as one of just 30 model schools out of the 1,500 schools in Oregon.

"I don't know if you know what a big deal it is," Saxton told the audience. "But it's a really big deal."

Saxton and Lauren Slyh, his executive assistant, also visited Baker High School and Brooklyn Primary School, the district's other model school, on Tuesday.

"I'm really impressed," Saxton said. "You all have a great deal to be proud of."

He said it is his hope that other Oregon schools will follow the example set by the Baker School District to achieve the same kind of success.

"Why are you a model school? Because all of you students and teachers are working really hard and you learn a lot," he said. "I wanted to come out here and see it for myself."