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South St. Paul educator named Minnesota Teacher of the Year

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Jessica Davis receives the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award
Jessica Davis, a math teacher from South St. Paul Secondary School, reacts after receiving the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award at a ceremony in St. Paul on Sunday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Updated: 7:25 p.m. | Posted: 3:20 p.m.

A teacher from South St. Paul Secondary School, who has been dedicated to helping all students see themselves as successful in the classroom, in professional fields and as community leaders, is the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Jessica Davis received the honor at a ceremony Sunday afternoon in St. Paul. The award is given each year by Education Minnesota, the state teachers' union.

"This means a new trajectory in my life," she said after receiving the award. "This means that we can keep going, that I can keep doing what I am doing with confidence and validation. I am so honored."

Davis teaches math — mostly advanced algebra — to juniors and seniors, and leads a computer science class that gives students hands-on experience. She also advises an African American student organization, and has been active in helping students of color to see their potential and to connect them with professionals of color.

"Representation matters. It's important to see yourself in who's at the front of the classroom, in your literature, in your writings. It's important to see yourself doing things that are important, that are giving back to the community," she said. "It is important for our students to see that they have a place in this community, and until they see those faces also doing it, it's hard for them to imagine themselves in that spot."

Jessica Davis receives the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award
Jessica Davis, right, receives the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"Jess is modeling for students that equity needs to be deliberate and intentional," the 2018 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Kelly Holstine, said Sunday in presenting the honor.

Davis said she sees her role moving forward, as teacher of the year, as advancing those conversations.

"I'm going to push people to have some tough conversations. I think that we're ready," she said. "So, I want to open up the conversations around equity and why we're in the positions that we are in our educational system and move forward from there."

She said she's happy that the state seems willing start those discussions.

Davis didn't originally set out to be a teacher. She got her undergraduate degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry. She thought about going on to be a doctor, but after some internships, she realized it wasn't a good fit. She got a job at William Mitchell School of Law, which helped her to see her future.

"That was really where I discovered that education is my thing — I'm good at navigating school, and I can help people," she said.

She decided to get her teaching license, and a short while later, she earned her masters in teaching. Davis started working at St. Paul's Harding High School in 2006, and has been at South St. Paul since 2009.

Davis is the 55th teacher to receive the award. She was picked from a field of nine finalists.

Jessica Davis will be a guest on MPR News with Angela Davis at 11 a.m. Monday.