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Norman educator wins Oklahoma Teacher of the Year


NORMAN — A Norman North High School educator described as a “leader of teachers” has been named the 2021 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.

Jessica Eschbach, an innovative learning coach, won the award in a virtual ceremony Thursday morning.

Eschbach, 31, said she is “shocked beyond belief” to be named the winner.

“I’m truly humbled by the fact that I get to represent my district, Norman Public Schools, and all the teachers who have gone above and beyond during these crazy times to do everything that they can for their students to keep them safe and to keep them learning,” Eschbach said.

“The work is not done. This pandemic and this year have shown us that there are some inequities that we can face head-on and make sure that every student in the state of Oklahoma is getting access to the best educational opportunities that we have to offer.”

Eschbach is the third winner from Norman Public Schools. She is the second in five years to earn the award, following Shawn Sheehan, the 2016 state Teacher of the Year.

As an innovative learning coach, Eschbach works with teachers one-on-one at Norman North and three elementary schools to provide professional development and create strategies for classroom teaching. She is a former school librarian and classroom teacher.

“I am excited to take the skills that I’ve learned in this job and expand on them to a statewide level,” Eschbach said. “What I would love to do is encourage those professional learning communities, come together as a state to share those resources and share the practices that are working, especially when we’re teaching students in so many different ways.”

Eschbach said her greatest passion is educational equity. As Teacher of the Year, she said she is eager to examine the inequities exposed by the pandemic between students of different backgrounds, with a resolve to achieve high-quality education for all Oklahoma children.

A panel of educators, legislators, and members of business and nonprofit organizations selected 12 finalists. All finalists were teachers of the year for their respective districts. A 22-person selection committee then chose the winner.

Eschbach will assume full-time Teacher of the Year duties on July 1. The award winner traditionally takes a sabbatical from the classroom to serve as Oklahoma’s ambassador for teachers, encouraging others to enter and remain in the profession, and participating in speaking engagements throughout the year.

Norman Superintendent Nick Migliorino said Eschbach is a “leader of teachers.”

“Her work over the last eight years has proven to be incredible, not matter what position she has served students in,” Migliorino said. “We’re going to hate to lose her for a year, but we understand and she’ll be back. She’s laid a great foundation.”

Eschbach, daughter-in-law of sports radio legend Al Eschbach, graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in education and earned a master’s degree in library and information sciences from Rutgers University. She is working on another master’s degree in educational leadership from East Central University.

Along with the top teacher award, Eschbach won a litany of prizes, including $10,000 worth of Girl Scout cookies, a gift of $5,000, a $1,000 gift card and $500 classroom makeover, and use of a vehicle from Fowler Honda during her tenure as Teacher of the Year.

Oklahoma educators have been given the annual title since 1955.

Jena Nelson, of Deer Creek Public Schools, was the 2020 winner.

“I have watched teachers in Oklahoma face insurmountable odds and do so with fervent tenacity,” Nelson said during Thursday’s ceremony. “I have been asked if I regret being named the Teacher of the Year during a global pandemic, and while I know that my year is so different than any other state Teacher of the Year before me, I have to learn to educate and reach audiences across the state in a variety of new ways.”

Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel joined The Oklahoman in 2019. She found a home at the newspaper while interning in summer 2016 and 2017. Nuria returned to The Oklahoman for a third time after working a year and a half at the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia,... Read more ›