Van Buren High School Spanish teacher Courtney Cochran is one of four state semi-finalists for the 2017 Arkansas teacher of the year.

Finalists were announced Wednesday in Little Rock.

“It is hard to find any other words to describe this feeling other than surreal,” Cochran said. “I would like everyone to know that this is all for my students.”

Cochran said she joined the teacher of the year process to open doors for her students.

“I want to have meaningful conversations with the right people who can change my students’ lives for the better,” she said. “I also want Van Buren to know that this award is for all of us, not just me. From day one, 11 years ago when I began teaching here, everyone I have met has taught me something of value, including my students. This community has loved and supported me and my family as one of their own. I am so proud to represent Van Buren, and to call it my home.”

Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat said the Van Buren School District is very proud of Cochran.

“Although very rewarding, in today’s world of high pressure and accountability, being a classroom teacher is a difficult job,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m happy anytime we can highlight our teachers. It’s nice to see one of our own being recognized on such a big stage. Courtney is an outstanding teacher and this is a well deserved honor.”

Since her arrival at Van Buren School District, Cochran has played a key role in shaping the district’s foreign language curriculum. She was hired in 2006 to pilot a ninth grade Spanish program at the two junior high campuses. In 2008, she moved to Van Buren High School, where she teaches a wide-range of Spanish courses. She has been instrumental in helping to bring in advanced training for the foreign language department and in the expansion of course offerings.

Others semi-finalists are Julia Crane, who teachers kindergarten-fifth grade English as a second language at Monitor Elementary School in Springdale; Brian Leonard, who teaches 11th-12th grade AP statistics and AP calculus at Lake Hamilton High School; and Emma Mateo, who was chosen for her work teaching kindergarten-fifth grade literacy and math at Otter Creek Elementary School but now teaches at Pinnacle View Middle School in Little Rock.

“I congratulate the four state semi-finalists for their dedication to their students, school and community,” state Education Commissioner Johnny Key said. “These four have demonstrated strong leadership, commitment and best practices in education. They serve as models of excellence in education.”

The semi-finalists were chosen from 14 regional finalists. The regional finalists were honored and the semi-finalists announced in a ceremony Wednesday at the state Capitol attended by Key and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The Arkansas teacher of the year selection committee will conduct site visits that will include classroom observation and interviews with the semi-finalists and school administrators before selecting the teacher of the year later this fall.

Each semi-finalist received a medallion, a certificate and a $1,000 award sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. The teacher of the year will receive an additional $14,000.