District 621 boasts two candidates for Teacher of the Year

Taylor Toellner

Heidi Funne Shah

Two Bulletin area teachers were announced as candidates for Education Minnesota’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award Jan. 26. 

While the field of teachers is large, with 132 candidates in all, including pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and adult basic education teachers, Taylor Toellner and Heidi Funne Shah, both of School District 621, have a chance at the award.


‘Passionate about student wellness’

Funne Shah, 47, is a health and physical education teacher at Irondale High School. 

She’s worked for Mounds View Public Schools since 1999. 

Before that, she worked as a fitness director at Texas Instruments in Lewisville, Texas; as an exercise physiologist at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky; and as the director of undergraduate activity programs at the University of Louisville. 

Funne Shah holds an undergraduate degree in physical education, with an emphasis in fitness, from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a master’s in exercise physiology from the University of Louisville. She also has a Health Education License from Bethel University in Arden Hills.

She and her husband Rajin live in New Brighton and have two teenage children, one in college and one still in high school.

“I’m really passionate about student wellness,” Funne Shah says, noting that schools “need to promote a culture of health.” She says she does her “best to advocate for our students’ health.”


‘The power of a relationship’

Toellner, 25, is a first-grade teacher at Pinewood Elementary School in Mounds View and is relatively new to the field of education, having started four years ago. 

She began working in District 621 after graduating from Winona State University, where she studied elementary education, with an emphasis in early childhood development. 

Toellner, who lives in St. Paul, is currently working on her master’s degree in education, with a literacy certificate, through the College of St. Scholastica.

Originally from De Pere, Wisconsin, Toellner said her favorite thing about teaching is building relationships with her students. 

“The power of a relationship is incredible,” she says, adding that she’s “honored” to interact with her students each day.

Toellner isn’t the only one in her family who’s a teacher. She said her sister, who’s a source of inspiration to her, is a teacher in Colorado. 

“Teachers have a superpower impact that cannot be erased in a child’s life,” Toellner says, adding, “I was honored to learn I was nominated for such an award.”


About the award

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, accepted nominations last fall. Nomination criteria included holding a bachelor’s degree and a Minnesota teaching license, at least three years experience teaching and the intention to keep teaching through the 2017-2018 school year.

Beyond those specific details, nominees for the award, per an Education Minnesota release, were expected to be “someone who motivates and inspires students for a lifetime.”

The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced May 7, at the Radisson Blu Mall of America hotel in Bloomington. 

Over the coming weeks, a 25-member panel of community leaders will name a group of semifinalists and finalists. The winner of Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year will become the state’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year.

Minnesota has fared well nationally — Education Minnesota says the state is second only to California in national wins, having done so four times. 


Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.


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