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Grand Forks educator named North Dakota Teacher of the Year

Todorovic is a 27-year veteran of Grand Forks Schools

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From left to right: Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of North Dakota schools, Ivona Todorovic, a Red River High School teacher who was recently named Teacher of the Year, and Gov. Doug Burgum stand in the state capital building after the Teacher of Year ceremony. (Submitted photo)
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BISMARCK — A Grand Forks educator has been named North Dakota's top teacher.

Following a lengthy nomination process, Ivona Todorovic, English Language instructor at Red River High School, was named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in Bismarck on Monday, Sept. 19.

“Congratulations, Mrs. Todorovic, for being a champion for your students, and for being the 2023 North Dakota Teacher of the Year,” North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said during the ceremony. “Thank you for the work that you do for our young people.”

Todorovic’s road to state teacher of the year began when she was named Grand Forks County Teacher of the Year last spring. Forty-eight of North Dakota’s 53 counties awarded their own teacher of the year.

Four finalists for state teacher of the year were then drawn from the pool of 48 county teacher of the year recipients.

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Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1992, ethnic and sectarian conflict broke out, prompting Todorovic and her husband Alex to emigrate to the U.S. The couple arrived in Grand Forks in June 1995. Todorovic began working for the school district two months later as a paraprofessional at Lake Agassiz Elementary.

In 2005, Todorovic transitioned to her current role as English Language instructor at Red River High School. Todorovic assists immigrant and new American students with improving their English proficiency.

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Ivona Todorovic, center, an English language instructor at Red River High School, one of four finalists for the 2023 North Dakota Teacher of the Year , reacts during a celebration at Red River High School Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. ND State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, left, and Grand Forks Public Schools Supt. Dr. Terry Brenner join Todorovic on stage at the Red River High School theater.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

At a Sept. 1 ceremony commemorating Todorovic being named Grand Forks County teacher of the year, Superintendent Terry Brenner praised Todorovic’s dedication toward her students.

Brenner called her “an example of the American dream” and said her own life experience helped her relate to her students, some of whom are refugees themselves.

“In many ways, she has lived their lives,” Brenner said. “You won’t find a bigger heart or champion of students.”

During the ceremony, many of Todorovic's students spoke about the impact she has had on their lives. After the ceremony earlier this month, she remarked how amazing her students are and felt "humbled by the words of the students."

“It shows that when we think we (as teachers) don’t make a difference, we really do make a difference – you have to see that on the difficult days, the happy days," Todorovic said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum was also effusive in his praise of Todorovic.

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Burgum said Todorovic “has made an enormous impact on her students, on the Grand Forks community and the entire state through her passion for teaching students the English language and the skills they need to succeed in life, while giving them the opportunity to embrace and share their cultures with the community.”

Nick Archuleta, a member of the state teacher of the year selection committee, thanked the finalists for their devotion to excellent teaching. He said the four finalists understand that “as public school teachers, they know we have the incredible responsibility to educate every child.”

“Teachers like our finalists embrace that responsibility every day, because they know that as a society, we don’t do anything more important than educating our future,” Archuleta said. “I hope your great example will inspire your colleagues across the state to reclaim the promise of great public schools and great public education, and serve, then, to attract the very best and brightest into this most important profession.”

In addition to her role as English Language instructor at Red River High, Todorovic serves as a part-time instructor in UND’s teaching and leadership department. She earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from UND, and a degree in elementary education from the University of Sarajevo.

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A selection committee of eight North Dakota education stakeholders judged each of the four finalists’ applications. The North Dakota Century Code stipulates the committee must include a former teacher of the year recipient, as well as representatives from the private, public and career technical education sectors. All four finalists are interviewed by the committee as part of their application, and the winner must be announced by Sept. 30.

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