Carolyn Wieringa of West Glacier Elementary School has been named the Montana Rural Teacher of the Year.
The annual award, given by the Montana Association of County Superintendents of Schools, honors a rural educator who has demonstrated excellence in the areas of collaboration, leadership, continuous learning and made an impact on student achievement,
Wieringa, who is in her 28th year at West Glacier, teaches fifth and sixth grade.
“It’s a profession where you can continue to learn something new every day,” Wieringa said.
What makes teaching in a rural school such as West Glacier unique is it is teacher-led. West Glacier has an enrollment of 61 students and seven full-time teachers.
“I love the flexibility and the ability, if there’s a new program we’re excited about — it’s easy to implement,” she said.
She said a smaller enrollment makes it easy to do multi-grade activities and allows older students to step into mentoring roles with the younger students.
“Another reason I love working in a rural school is you get to know the kids really well and work with them throughout the years,” she said.
“I feel very grateful to work where I do, to work with incredible people,” Wieringa said. “I love what I do.”
Wieringa was nominated by colleague Krista Booher and the Flathead County Superintendent of Schools.
Booher, who teaches kindergarten and is a lead teacher, said Wieringa makes it a priority to build relationships with students and staff.
“She has been a mentor to me ever since I started in 2010. I don’t think I would have become the teacher I am without her,” Booher said.
“She is always thinking about what is best for kids and that is her decision driver,” she added.
Booher said Wieringa is a positive influence in the school and noted “she’s always looking for the solution instead of being stuck in the problem.”
One of Wieringa’s noteworthy leadership efforts was in the early 2000s when enrollment declined enough to consider closing the school. She stepped into a lead teacher role (taking on administrator responsibilities) in addition to teaching third through sixth grades for two school years. During that time there was only one other teacher on the staff.
Wieringa said she felt it was important to keep the school open so that more students wouldn’t have to spend time on the bus to go to another school.
“There were already very young students spending half an hour on the bus,” she said, adding, “The school is a hub of the community.”
Whether there are 30 students or 60, she said it was a challenge to cover all school activities, but everyone chipped in and during that time there was enough funding in the budget to hire a part-time principal.
That teamwork continues today, where everyone chips in inside and outside the classroom, whether it’s shoveling the sidewalk or vacuuming the floors.
“Four or five years ago we incorporated a lead-teacher team,” she said. “We separated out the duties that the administrator did. There are four of us on the lead teacher team and we work really closely together. We have a really strong staff.”
“I think one thing we’ve worked really hard here to do is to have a rigorous curriculum. A great curriculum — plus great teaching,” Wieringa said. “We really feel that’s an important combination to create lifelong learners who are passionate about coming to school and want to learn more.”
“I am grateful for the wonderful, talented team I work with. I am grateful for the support and resources that our local school board, the county superintendent, parents, the Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative, the OPI [Office of Public Instruction], the educators I have had the privilege of working with and those who work endlessly to further the knowledge of how best to educate our future citizens,” she said.
Wieringa will be recognized at the Montana Association of County Superintendents of Schools conference in Helena Feb. 25-28.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.