Press Release

September 14, 2020

GOVERNOR STITT CONGRATULATES OKLAHOMA TEACHER SELECTED FOR NATIONAL TEACHERS HALL OF FAME

Donna Gradel

OKLAHOMA CITY (September 14, 2020) – Governor Kevin Stitt congratulates 2018 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and 2019 National Teacher of the Year Finalist Donna Gradel for her selection to The National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Gradel taught environmental science at Broken Arrow High School from 1996 to 2020 before joining Summit Christian Academy as dean of academic development and innovation this summer.

“Donna Gradel moved beyond the textbook by taking her classroom outside to partner with the city of Broken Arrow to clean public water and by taking the classroom to the world by developing a system to provide sustainable food sources for orphans in Kenya,” said Gov. Stitt. “She is a perfect candidate to be enshrined in The National Teachers Hall of Fame and show the country how Oklahoma can be Top Ten in education.”

The National Teachers Hall of Fame announced its five-member class of 2020 during a YouTube Live broadcast Monday night. Gradel will be officially inducted on June 18, 2021 at a ceremony in Emporia, Kansas. 

Secretary of Education Ryan Walters also praised Gradel’s selection. 

“Donna Gradel exemplifies all of the characteristics of an excellent teacher,” said Walters. “Her knowledge of her subject area, passion for learning, and love for her students has had a tremendous impact on our state. She has moved the needle on what is possible for students in Oklahoma.”

Teachers selected for the Hall of Fame each year must have a minimum of 20 years of full-time teaching in preK-12 classrooms and have submitted a rigorous nomination packet and video. A national selection committee, with representatives from education organizations and corporate partners, met to select the inductees in late February.

Gradel and her students have provided a sustainable source of food for an orphanage in Tharaka, Kenya. Through creative problem-solving and utilizing scientific inquiry, her students developed a low-cost, sustainable fish food sourced from indigenous materials. This fish food is used to maintain the tilapia pond which provides food for the orphanage. This classroom project has also provided safe clean water for use by the entire village as well as a nearby elementary school and medical clinic.

Many of Gradel’s students have been able to travel with her to Africa during the summer so they can continue to study the project and devise ways of improving the life-sustaining assistant that their hard work provided.   

She was nominated for consideration by Richard Knoeppel, a 2019 NTHF inductee, who wrote: “Donna Gradel is committed to unlocking the potential of her students by empowering them to solve real-world problems for the benefit of their global community.  Her students are exposed to environmental issues and challenged to create solutions.  Always asking her students ‘what problem do you want to solve?’ gives them a sense of purpose and has shown them that their teacher has a genuine concern for them and is willing to be their champion.”

Prior to teaching at Broken Arrow High School, Gradel taught biological sciences at Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa and special education at Central Preston Junior High. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from West Virginia University. She was named CCSSO Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year in 2018 and was a 2019 finalist for National Teacher of the Year. In 2017, she was named Broken Arrow District Teacher of the Year and won the Broken Arrow Community Impact Award by the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce. 

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