When Jeff Baxter was selected as a top educator for the Leavenworth public schools last spring, he never thought he would eventually compete for the title of National Teacher of the Year.
But Baxter is now in the running for the national award after being named Kansas Teacher of the Year for 2014.
He was presented the state award during a ceremony Saturday in Wichita.
"It was quite a surprise," he said.
Baxter, 65, is a language arts teacher at Leavenworth High School. He's in his 25th year of teaching.
Having been a teacher for that long, Baxter said he has views on education but never has had a platform to elaborate on them. Now, he will have an opportunity to talk with people at the state level.
Baxter said he's looking forward to advocating for students and teachers.
He's also proud to be representing LHS and the community.
"I'm going to let people know about Leavenworth," he said.
Leavenworth Assistant Superintendent Bret Church said Baxter is an outstanding ambassador for the school district.
"We couldn't be more excited," Church said.
Baxter currently serves as chairman of the Language Arts Department at LHS and teaches advanced placement language and composition and junior-level honors English.
In the spring, he was one of two teachers chosen to represent the Leavenworth school district in the Kansas State Department of Education's Teacher of the Year Program.
Baxter was the district's representative for the secondary level.
Ashley Baker, a kindergarten teacher at Henry Leavenworth Elementary School, represented the district at the elementary level.
In September, Baxter was picked as a regional Teacher of the Year and became one of eight finalists for the statewide honor.
Baxter said he didn't know ahead of Saturday's banquet that he had been chosen as Kansas Teacher of the Year.
“It is truly a pleasure to present this award to Jeff Baxter,” Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said. "Jeff’s love of literature is surpassed only by his love of teaching and his ability to really connect with and mentor his students. He clearly delights in their accomplishments and that’s a wonderful quality in a teacher.”
KSDE spokeswoman Denise Kahler said many people reviewed Kansas Teacher of the Year candidates, including business owners and people in education.
"It went through a big vetting process," she said.
Baxter said he has no thoughts of retirement.
"This is what I love doing," he said.
Baxter said he can tell when a light goes on in students' eyes and they understand concepts he's trying to convey.
Page 2 of 2 - "And that's exciting," he said.
Baxter credits his grandmother for his teaching style, which embraces the belief that “no answer is ever wrong, just a starting point for deeper inquiry.” As a teacher, he is a firm believer in modeling reading and writing practices with his students.
His memoir, "More Than One Way Home," which he hopes to complete this summer, began as a writing exercise with students.
“I believe that teachers who model reading and writing practices with their students develop unique and powerful relationships for dynamic learning,” he said. LHS Principal Tom Barry said Baxter has high expectations for his students and himself. The principal also said Baxter is a caring and compassionate teacher.
"He truly cares about this school and the Leavenworth community," Barry said.
As Kansas Teacher of the Year, Baxter receives a $4,000 check and other prizes, including an educational technology package valued at $7,250.
The Kansas Board of Regents will allow him to take nine hours of college classes per year for the rest of his teaching career.
On Sunday, he will be throwing out the first pass for the Kansas City Chiefs home game against the Denver Broncos.
In January, he will be provided a rental car to use for his travels as Kansas Teacher of the Year.
Baxter said he and the Kansas Teacher of the Year finalists will be visiting colleges and universities in Kansas with education degree programs to help students with making the transition into the field.
He said the state will help the district in providing what he referred to as a co-teacher for his classes during the spring semester "because I'm going to be gone a lot."
He said a packet of information already has been submitted for the National Teacher of the Year program.
In January, he will attend a four-day leadership conference in Arizona with teachers of the year from other states and territories.
He said the National Teacher of the Year will be named in late April or early May in Washington, D.C.