Hyatt, Hodgson are state Teacher of the Year nominees

Apr. 22—Two teachers who live in Meadville are among the 12 finalists for the Pennsylvania Department of Education's 2025 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.

Jill Hyatt, who teaches the gifted support program with Meadville Area Middle School and Meadville Area Senior High School, and Rob Hodgson, who teaches chemistry and advanced placement research at Millcreek School District in suburban Erie, are finalists.

Hyatt and Hodgson were nominated for the honor back in the fall. Since then, they each have gone through preliminary rounds which included written essay responses as well as 25-minute video interviews.

Each year, the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Program recognizes excellence in teaching by honoring kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in public education who have made outstanding academic contributions to Pennsylvania's school-aged children.

"I'm excited to be one of the 12 — it's really a big honor," Hyatt said.

"It really is an honor and I'm grateful to have been nominated," Hodgson said. "I think it's neat that two are coming from Meadville."

Hyatt and Hodgson know of each other but haven't met. Hyatt does know Hodgson's wife, Shanna Kirschner Hodgson, a political science professor at Allegheny College, as the two women were on a Crawford Central School District education committee last year.

A Clairton native, Hyatt is a 1999 graduate of Allegheny.

"My dad was a teacher and I've always really liked kids," Hyatt said why she got into education.

She's been a gifted support program teacher in Meadville for 21 years, teaching advanced students in grades seven through 12.

"At the middle school level, we design projects for them with what their class is studying, but it's a more in-depth level for them," Hyatt said.

At the high school level, it's still basic education, but again with more depth to it.

"We do a mock trial program — so there's a lot of analytical reading, public speaking and critical thinking involved," she said. "An innovation class we do problem solving for social good. It's interviewing people and figuring out what problems they're facing and what the needs are then using technology to develop products to meet those needs."

Hyatt has about 60 core students on her caseload, but she has about 100 students in total involved in the gifted student program in some way including some from Cochranton.

On Fridays, students get involved in an enrichment program at Allegheny which can include creative arts like storytelling and plays, technology topics, social studies and history. Students also get to interact with other gifted students from neighboring PENNCREST and Conneaut school districts, too.

"It's great to have a lot of freedom to meet students needs and interests," Hyatt said of being a teacher in the program. "I like having the students for the six years. It's great to watch them grow, change and develop."

Hodgson has been teaching at McDowell High School for the past 14 years. Before getting into teaching, he previously was a patent attorney at a law firm in Iowa for seven years.

"I wanted to make a real world impact on students," Hodgson said of why he got into teaching. "I believe in the value and importance of public education."

Hodgson enjoys working with high school age students as they are looking toward their future as adults.

"It's helping them figure out, 'What kind of person do I want to become? What kind of job do I want? What career do I want to explore? What are my interests?'" Hodgson said.

"It's the type of job that you really fill good about the work you do at the end of every day," he said of teaching.

Both Hyatt and Hodgson plan to work with Barbara Kurtz, a Spanish teacher at MASH who was a finalist for 2018 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year honors.

"Barbara Kurtz has been a mentor to me," Hyatt said. "She's phenomenal. She told me it was one of the best things for her professional development."

"This puts you in contact with a network of the state teachers of the year finalists," Hyatt continued. "I'm iInterested in continued development and being around other teachers that are excited about what they're doing."

Both Hyatt and Hodgson will be submitting three additional videos to the Department of Education by June. One video is of them teaching in the classroom; one on their respective schools and communities; and one on their vision of the future of education.

Final selection will be made by the state Department of Education in late 2024. The winner will represent Pennsylvania at various national, regional and local functions, culminating in the National Teacher of the Year ceremony at the White House.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at