Kristi Borge, a K-8 teacher from Polaris, was named the 2021 Montana Teacher of the Year on Thursday by the Office of Public Instruction.
Borge, who teaches all grade levels and subjects to 11 students in a one-room, schoolhouse in the Beaverhead County town, was selected from among three other finalists.
She said that the award was a great honor for her but emphasized that it was reflection of the work done not just by her but by countless educators in rural communities throughout the state.
“I view this award less as an individual but as a collective achievement,” Borge said. “It’s an honor for all of the rural schoolteachers like me who are teaching multiple school levels and wearing so many hats.”
For all of the effort that Borge puts into her in-class instruction, it is perhaps her dedication to her students outside of school that is most noteworthy. After school ends, Borge can often be found attending her students' extracurricular activities from ski races to 4H events and basketball games.
This commitment to her students beyond the school day reflects her philosophy that it is strong relationships that ultimately foster the best academic growth for students.
“My number one goal is to build positive relationships with the students first,” Borge said. “Then, once you have mutual respect and understanding, then you can make a lot of progress in academics.”
Elsie Arntzen, state superintendent of Public Instruction, visited the schoolhouse Thursday morning to surprise Borge with the announcement and present her with the award. Borge will go on to represent Montana in the national Teacher of the Year competition.
“Kristi will serve as a teacher-leader in Montana and as a strong voice for our most rural students on the national stage,” said Arntzen in a press release. “Her colleagues have consistently praised Kristi for her passion, creativity, and focus on individualized learning, especially through the COVID-19 outbreak.”
The winner is selected by a committee made up of representatives from the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education, the Montana University System, the Governor’s Office, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Legislature, the Montana Teacher of the Year Alumni Association, as well as local school administrators and teachers.
Linda Marsh, Beaverhead County superintendent of schools, said that she has “seen firsthand (Borge’s) ability to create an environment with a positive culture for learning in which all students are free to make choices, ask and find answers to their questions and develop a love of learning.”
“During the school closures this spring due to COVID-19, she displayed great flexibility incorporating technology to ensure her students didn’t miss a beat,” Marsh said. “She even kept the year-end awards tradition alive virtually and provided summer school instruction to her students.”
Marsh herself was an award-winner this year, being chosen as Montana's County Superintendent of the Year.
Russell Harrison, a school board member for the Polaris school, said that Borge is not only an asset to her school but a natural leader.
“There just an aura about her that everybody follows,” Harrison said. “She makes time for everybody.”
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