Salem teacher in running for NH Teacher of Year (2024)

SALEM, N.H. — Kristen Dacey, a first-grade teacher at Soule Elementary School, strives to create experience-based and enjoyable learning for her students every day they come to class in the same district she grew up in.

It’s no surprise to her students and associates that she is one of 15 semifinalists for 2025 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year.

Other semifinalists from Rockingham County include Hampstead Middle School teacher Brittney Hewett and Brian Gray, a teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston.

Dacey has taught in the Salem School District for 15 years in kindergarten through second grade. She’s spent the past eight years teaching first grade.

For her, it’s about helping build a foundation and establish an early love of learning for her students. She said those early experiences in school can make or break a student’s views on education and enthusiasm to learn.

“Her lessons are innovative and child-centered and the needs of her students are always her highest priority,” Salem Superintendent Maura Palmer said about Dacey in her recommendation letter to the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Dacey knows firsthand how those experiences in Salem mold a student. She grew up in Salem and attended Lancaster Elementary School.

Her life came full circle when she began to teach first grade. She had the chance eight years ago to work for a year alongside her own Lancaster School first-grade teacher, Sue Wilk.

Dacey said she’s looking forward to representing Salem as a semifinalist and shedding light on what the district does to support its students and move them forward through its public school system as critical thinkers.

“I want to be a part of the beginning where we set kids up for success so that they can just soar from there,” Dacey said.

Dacey has built her teaching model on making sure children enjoy learning. She builds relationships with her students that last past the school year.

Learning is fun for Dacey’s first-grade class. While she has high expectations for her students, she wants the children to enjoy the environment in which they learn.

“I try to find ways to stretch learning within thematic ideas to make learning fun,” Dacey said.

“Those are some of the things students remember aside from instruction.”

At Halloween, her classroom transforms into a dark bat cave. The room is lit by tea lights with the sounds of dripping water playing in the background all day. The students learn about bats and their habitats to demystify images of haunted houses.

She hosts a “Winter Zoom” for her class, when she reads her favorite childhood holiday books to the kids. The children listen from the comfort of home, dressed in their pajamas with popcorn and hot cocoa in hand.

“It’s a special activity they look forward to,” Dacey said. “It’s been a nice communal experience.”

But Dacey’s passion is building relationships with her students and their families, and being a support system for them outside the classroom. She regularly attends their sporting competitions on the weekends, middle school plays and special events.

“Relationship building is such a hallmark of my teaching philosophy,” Dacey said. “The more I get to know my students, the better I’m able to support them academically, socially and emotionally and plan for their success.”

“I want them to see me as an adult in their corner and be their champion, whether it’s academics or personal passions,” she added.

She’s now seen two classes graduate from Salem High that started with her in kindergarten, and has kept in touch with many of those students over the years.

Salem places a high value on early childhood education, according to Dacey, and she’s seen that commitment grow during her time in the district. She said her teaching and the semifinalist honor is a reflection of the opportunities she’s been given in the district and the people who surround her.

“I honored and humbled to be a semifinalist, but it really could be any of us in Salem,” Dacey said. “Salem is always at the forefront of being cutting edge and progressive.”

“Everyone here is in it for each other and for the kids to learn,” she added.

The New Hampshire Teacher of the Year will be announced in the fall.

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Salem teacher in running for NH Teacher of Year (2024)
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