When Yough School District officials told fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Klobucar they planned to nominate her for the state's Teacher of the Year award, her first reaction was surprise.
"I was a little taken aback by the idea when my principal said she wanted to put my name up for the award," Mrs. Klobucar said in a phone interview. "But after I thought about it, I said I definitely wanted to represent our district, so I decided to go for it."
She's done well so far. Out of several hundred teachers from around the state nominated to become Teacher of the Year for 2014, the Yough teacher has made the list of 12 finalists.
And there are two other Pittsburgh-area teachers who are still in the competition -- Nicole Hipkins, an English teacher at Bethel Park High School, and Carol Aten Frow, an English and reading teacher in the Belle Vernon Area School District.
The finalists were announced by the state Education Department, with the winner to be chosen in December. That person will go on to become Pennsylvania's candidate for National Teacher of the Year for 2014.
Gov. Tom Corbett praised the 12 teachers as "outstanding educators who represent the thousands of excellent teachers in classrooms across the state who are dedicated to educating children."
"These teachers and their colleagues are committed to encouraging their students to excel," said state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. "They play a pivotal role in preparing our children for academic and personal success."
Nicole Hipkins, Bethel Park
Ms. Hipkins, 39, earned her undergraduate degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from California University of Pennsylvania. She has taught in Bethel Park for 15 years and before that was a substitute at Fox Chapel Area High School and Canon McMillan High.
Besides English, she teaches a course at the high school called "Film as Literature" and a course in helping students prepare for the SAT exams.
"I learn things every day and can share my strengths and curiosities with the next generation to help them cultivate their own interests. I am also able to involve myself academically, artistically and athletically in all aspects of the school."
Her principal, Zeb Jansante, said Ms. Hipkins "provided students with many opportunities to master the content of courses and even if they failed, she picked them up and instilled the possibility of never giving up. For her own work, the hours were countless and her work ethic was second to none."
Carol Aten Frow, Belle Vernon
Ms. Frow, 46, teaches English and reading in grades six through eight in Bellmar Middle School in the Belle Vernon district. She has taught in the district for the past 17 years, and previously taught for eight years at a Catholic school in Monessen. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from California University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to teaching, she directs school plays and musicals, is adviser to the school's literary magazine and sponsors students in writing contests.
"The best part of teaching is watching a student learn something new," she said. "Seeing their faces as they discover something or connect ideas makes every day wonderful."
She was nominated for the award last year and again this year by her principal, John Grice. "I feel very humbled to be included in this elite group of educators," she said.
Mr. Grice said that some school employees, like workers in many places, punch in in the morning and punch out at dismissal, "but you will usually find Carol here long after dismissal time."
She runs the "English fest," a reading contest held each school year for students in grades six through eight. They get a set of books each September and are asked questions about characters and plots each spring.
Jennifer Klobucar, Yough
Mrs. Klobucar, 39, has been a teacher for 16 years, all in the Yough district. She teaches math, reading, social studies and, some years, science to fourth-graders at H.W. Good Elementary School in Herminie. She earned her undergraduate degree from IUP and a master's degree from Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
"Teaching is exciting and rewarding because you get lifelong learning. It's a constant challenge trying to fine-tune your skills," she said.
Her principal, Amy Larcinese, said that when she got a email regarding nominations for teacher of the year, "I immediately thought of Jen Klobucar. Each day she walks into the school, there is a smile on her face and she is glowing with excitement to begin her day. Her lessons are full of innovative ideas that immerse her students into the content."
Teachers were nominated by students, parents, school officials, teaching colleagues and members of their communities, for "their achievements both in and outside the classroom," state officials said in a news release.
The nine other finalists are from Jefferson, Centre, Cumberland, Lebanon, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The complete list is available in a news release on the department's website, http://www.education.state.pa.us/.neigh_east
Tom Barnes: firstname.lastname@example.org.