Anchorage teacher one of 4 finalists for National Teacher of the Year

An Anchorage teacher is one of four finalists for this year’s prestigious National Teacher of the Year award.

Danielle Riha, 51, teaches seventh- and eighth-grade students at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in the Anchorage School District. She was named the 2019 Alaska Teacher of the Year in October. That put her in the running for this year’s National Teacher of the Year award as Alaska’s official nominee.

Riha was named one of four finalists in the national competition on Wednesday. A committee selected her from a nationwide group of 57 nominated teachers. It’s the first time an Alaska teacher was picked as a finalist for National Teacher of the Year since 1995, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

“I feel really excited,” Riha said. “Not just for me, but for my school.”

This year’s other finalists are Donna Gradel from Oklahoma, Kelly Harper from Washington, D.C., and Rodney Robinson from Virginia, said a statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Washington,D.C.-based nonprofit that runs the award program.

“Ms. Riha is a powerful advocate for both her students and her community, and an inspiring example of an educator making a positive difference in the lives of students,” Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in a statement.

Riha started teaching in rural Alaska. She worked as substitute teacher in Unalaska before enrolling at the University of Alaska Anchorage to earn her teaching degree, she said. Riha spent the next seven years teaching in the Bristol Bay communities of Togiak and New Stuyahok. She moved to Anchorage in 2008 to help open the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, which enrolls about 300 students in pre-K through eighth grade.


The 2019 National Teacher of the Year will be named this spring after in-person interviews. If Riha wins, she’ll spend the next year traveling the country to represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers and students, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The National Teacher of the Year award program started in 1952. Since then, Alaska has had seven finalists for the national award, and one winner. Elaine Griffin, an elementary school teacher on Kodiak Island, was the 1995 National Teacher of the Year.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.