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Vol. 45, No. 68

Aug. 23, 2011

Lee’s Summit Teacher Named 2011-12 Missouri Teacher of the Year

Kristen Merrell grew up with dreams of becoming a teacher.  From setting up classrooms full of teddy bears, alligators and other stuffed animals as a young child, and later tutoring classmates during her high school years, her career path was destined from an early age.

Kristen Merrell

Kristen Merrell


Currently a third-grade teacher at Lee’s Summit Elementary School known for the

enthusiasm and care she shows her students, Merrell has been selected as the Missouri Teacher of the Year for 2011-12, state education officials announced today.  The school celebrated the announcement with a surprise assembly this morning.

A selection committee appointed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education chose Merrell for the award on Monday.  She automatically becomes Missouri’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year program.

Merrell has taught at Lee’s Summit Elementary since 2004 and has served in a variety of leadership roles.  She has been a literacy lead teacher, a professional learning communities coach, and a member of the math essential skills and curriculum assessment teams.

In her written application, Merrell told stories of numerous students who have inspired her during her years as a professional educator.

“Although the details of their stories are unique, my goal is to have the outcome always be the same – a young life transformed and influenced by a teacher who took the time to care,” she said.  “I believe in kids. When I smile at them, they know I mean it. I don’t give up on them, and they don’t give up on themselves.”

Patricia Buie, a member of the Lee’s Summit School District’s board of education, has spent time volunteering in Merrell’s classroom.  In a letter of recommendation, Buie said that Merrell has “boundless energy, matched only by her incredible passion for teaching and learning.”

“She used differentiated instruction before it became a buzz word, and seemed to always intuitively understand that her students come to her with a multitude of learning styles and needs,” Buie said.

Merrell said that caring about her students’ personal lives enables her to maximize their potential.  She employs nonstop reflection and planning on a daily basis to help her see the “big picture” of her classroom.

“While making data-driven decisions about curriculum is critical to ensuring student progress, so is knowing each of my students and what individual motivational strategies might best combine with the data to propel that student to his or her highest potential,” she said.

Katie Collier, Merrell’s former principal at Lee’s Summit Elementary, said in a letter of recommendation that Merrell is a prime example of why educators should be celebrated because “she educates our youth with a perfect balance of art, science and heart.”

“Consistently, year after year Mrs. Merrell’s students achieve at high levels based on building, district and state standards,” Collier said.  “These results of student learning serve as (evidence) of the standard of excellence she sets for students.”

Merrell said she believes in celebrating her students’ learning both inside the school and out in the community.  She recently worked with a local newspaper to have her students’ letters to the editor published. 

“The students were jazzed to have this real world experience in writing, and they felt like stars!” she said.  “The parents were pleased and requested extra copies of the paper to mail to aunts, uncles and grandparents.  The community was impressed to read such varied and interesting works by eight- and nine-year-olds.”

Merrell received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a master’s degree in teaching from Webster University.  She is currently working on an education specialist degree in school administration at the University of Central Missouri. 

She and the five Teacher of the Year finalists will be honored at a banquet Oct. 26 in Jefferson City. Each teacher will receive cash awards and other prizes.

The Department conducts the Missouri Teacher of the Year program with financial support provided by the Boeing Company of St. Louis.