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A Baraboo teacher is one of six finalists in the state being considered for national recognition.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction named Baraboo High School instructional coach Karen Olson among the finalists Wednesday for the 2019 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“I’m really thankful that I was even nominated last year, and I’m pretty humbled that I’m a finalist,” Olson said Thursday.

She found out last fall that former BHS literacy coach Jackie Amant nominated her for the award. After that, she put together an application, including a video of her classroom and students engaged in science education, which she submitted in the spring.

Since then, she transitioned from science teacher — a role she held for 20 years, six of which were in Baraboo — to instructional coach, where she now helps other teachers in their classrooms.

Olson emphasized the role that community plays in education, from other teachers and school staff to community organizations. Her application video highlighted partnerships between Baraboo schools and local environmental groups, which bring scientists into classrooms to work with students, she said.

“I’m just very thankful for the fantastic colleagues that I have in the science department and in the high school and in the district, because I rely on them and learn from them every day,” Olson said. “Our team in this district is really passionate about doing what’s best for kids, and I’m really appreciative of that.”

BHS Principal Glenn Bildsten said he’s proud of Olson.

“The work that she does is distinguished in every way, shape and form, and she’s just such an inspiration for not only students but for all the rest of us as professional educators here at Baraboo High School,” Bildsten said. “She’s incredibly well deserving of this honor and we all … just benefit so much by having a teacher of her caliber here working at Baraboo High School.”

Of the six Wisconsin finalists, three teach science and three teach math. Two of them — one in each subject — will be chosen at the national level by a National Science Foundation selection committee, which sends its recommendations to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Up to 108 teachers are recognized each year.

Established by Congress in 1983, the awards are “the highest recognition” a STEM teacher can receive from the U.S. government, according to the awards website. The 2019 awards focused on sixth through 12th grade educators.

States establish their own selection committees to choose from the nominated educators — who may be nominated by anyone — based on the national award criteria, according to a DPI news release.

“Wisconsin’s finalists for these awards help students every day to engage and excel,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford-Taylor said in the release. “This requires not only expertise in their content area, but also an understanding of best instructional practices based on education research. To reach this level as an educator takes true dedication and commitment.”

The other Wisconsin finalists are:

  • Stephanie Ballard, high school science teacher, Campbellsport Middle-High School
  • Katie Haas, middle school mathematics teacher, Edgar Middle School
  • Jennifer Koziar, middle school mathematics teacher, Edgewood Campus School, Madison
  • Constance Rauterkus, high school science teacher, Oconto Falls High School
  • Maighread McHugh, middle school STEM and mathematics teacher, La Crosse Design Institute

Winners will get $10,000 from the NSF, a trip to Washington, D.C., to be recognized and professional development opportunities.

Olson is not the first Baraboo teacher to be named a finalist. In 1997, Karen Mesmer, then a teacher at Jack Young Middle School in Baraboo, was a finalist and went on to win the national distinction.

Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers can be nominated for the 2020 awards starting in late November.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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