Fellow staff burst into Nikki Stark's classroom Monday morning, May 10, with cow bells, balloons and flowers to announce her as the 2021 Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year.

Stark was caught off guard as the honor was kept a secret. Her surprise was visible to her students and the staff gathered in her classroom at Pequot Lakes High School.

"I was completely shocked," Stark said. "I had absolutely no idea."


"Her infectious enthusiasm for learning makes her a favorite among the students at PLHS. She advocates on behalf of all of her students always wanting what is best for them."

— Teacher of the Year nomination letter for Nikki Stark


Stark, who teaches geometry for grades 9-12 and math credit recovery, was in the middle of class when the group unexpectedly came through the door. Her students watched in amusement as Stark covered her face in surprise.

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"It's so wonderful," Stark said. "I've been teaching 26 years here at Pequot. Teachers in general don't get recognized very often. It just felt like what I've been doing for 26 years is a good thing. The kids always make it rewarding, but to be recognized by your colleagues and staff is good."

Stark's nomination recommended her based on her ability to approach a challenging subject creatively. It reads:

"Nikki Stark is the epitome of what it means to be Teacher of the Year. Nikki is an excellent math teacher who challenges her students daily whether they are learning in-person or online. Her creative mind as it relates to math makes geometry enjoyable and applicable to her students.

"She was the first in the district to fully implement the flipped classroom and the first at the high school to offer flexible seating to her students. Her infectious enthusiasm for learning makes her a favorite among the students at PLHS. She advocates on behalf of all of her students always wanting what is best for them."

Joanna O'Neil congratulates teacher Nikki Stark as Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year for 2021. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal
Joanna O'Neil congratulates teacher Nikki Stark as Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year for 2021. Travis Grimler / Echo JournalTravis Grimler / Echo Journal (May 2021)

The nomination said Stark gives of her time by serving in the following capacities: Building Leadership Team, District Leadership Team, Interact adviser, Education Minnesota Pequot Lakes, Professional Learning communities leader, and former Skyward guru.

"Nikki Stark would make an excellent recipient of the Pequot Lakes School District Teacher of the Year. We are proud to teach alongside this excellent educator," the nomination reads.

Others nominated were:

  • Megan Johnson, high school English language arts teacher.
  • Todd Knutson, high school art teacher.
  • Sheri Levasseur, kindergarten-12th grade media specialist.
  • Andrea Lund, fifth through eighth grade music teacher.
  • Bill Magnuson, seventh grade science teacher.
  • Dan Moddes, high school government, history and economics teacher.
  • Andrea Neva, kindergarten teacher.
  • Haley Richards, high school academic interventionist.
  • Megan Zierden, elementary high reliability schools coach and kindergarten through 12th grade English language-learner teacher.

Each year, Education Minnesota Pequot Lakes chooses a Teacher of the Year, recognizing excellence in teaching and celebrating the work Pequot Lakes teachers do in area schools.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.