NORDONIA HILLS — Fourth-grade teacher Kristen Finley says she always wanted to be a teacher and focuses on making the classroom a place where children can succeed.
She started as a part-time substitute and became full time at Nordonia in 2012. Five years later, she has been named Educator of the Year by the Nordonia Hills District PTA Council.
She was nominated by Jolynn McFerrin, a parent of one of Finley’s students.
“I have seen Mrs. Finley as a day-to-day sub, a long-term sub, and now as my daughter’s educator,” wrote McFerrin in her nomination. “I have never seen her without a smile on her face in the years I’ve known her. She is calm, relaxed, and welcoming to the children in her classroom, to all students, and to the parents who rely on her for the day-to-day care of our kids.
“Kristen has renewed in me the ability to see my daughter for exactly who she is and that is quite a gift,” McFerrin continued. “I help with her reading groups and I have never heard her raise her voice with her students nor does she have the need for it.
“Her classroom reflects her calm attitude and it is a joy to witness it. Mrs. Finley attends events to support her students outside of the school building, taking valuable time away from her two small boys, and I hope she knows how much her students (and parents) appreciate her efforts.”
Finley is a 2003 Nordonia Hills graduate who says she is happy to return home to teach.
“I always wanted to do something with kids,” she said. “I loved school growing up ... so some of the teachers I work with, I went to school with. I had such a hard time calling them by their first names.”
An early childhood education major, she is also certified to teach fourth- and fifth-graders.
“I always thought I would be a kindergarten teacher,” she said, but explains the older children “know how to learn — you can go farther with them.
“When you go to fourth and fifth, it’s more content based,” she says, adding fourth-graders are getting letter grades for the first time. “There’s more testing, and they get letter grades. They’re totally excited. They learn that they really have to study to get the grades — grades for them are really motivating and really rewarding.”
She says her teaching philosophy is to approach each classroom as its own “unique community.”
“I aim to create a calm, inviting atmosphere where students feel confident and strive to meet their full potential,” she wrote to the PTA selection committee. “As a teacher, it is my desire to create an environment that encourages curiosity and sheer determination. Students are invited to share their ideas and take risks.
“I hold high expectations for all students and ensure that respect is maintained within the classroom at all times ... Together, we celebrate each other’s success and inspire each other to be the best, academically and socially,” she continued. “The educational process is a true partnership between the teacher, student, and parent. Building supportive and trusting relationships with my students and their families is a priority. Cooperatively, we work as a team to provide a motivational framework for learning.”
Finley said all children can learn and “all children have something special that they can bring to their own education ... Learning should be stimulating and rewarding.”
Other nominees were: Rushwood Kindergarten teacher Dawn Soukup, nominated by Krystal Canzoni; Ledgeview third-grade teacher Melissa Digennaro, nominated by Staci and Melanie Szugye; Lee Eaton aide Gabrielle Redovian, nominated by Cheryl Hughson; Nordonia Middle School eighth-grade English teacher Shawn Bally, nominated by Valerie Rice; and Nordonia High School Spanish teacher Pamela Conte, nominated by Sarah Bon.
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433