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Talley, Biley-Olatunji among 12 regional finalists for Arkansas Teacher of the Year

by Staff Report | July 19, 2021 at 7:36 a.m.
(From Left) Jessica Talley and Bridget Biley-Olatunji.

The Arkansas Department of Education recently announced the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Regional Finalists, and two educators with Magnolia connection are among the group. The 12 regional finalists will be recognized at an event Aug. 5 at the Governor’s Mansion, where the four state semi-finalists will be announced.

Magnolia East Side Elementary School kindergarten through second grade technology teacher Jessica Talley is one of the. regional finalist. Another is Brigette Biley-Olatunji, a SAU alumnus who teachers high school math at Arkansas High School in Texarkana.

“After such a challenging school year, it is my honor to recognize some of the best teachers around the state,” ADE Secretary Johnny Key said. “The 2020-2021 school year was unprecedented; however, Arkansas’ teachers rose to the occasion. Unlike many other states, schools in Arkansas were open throughout the entire school year. It is because of dedicated teachers, like those recognized today, that our students didn’t miss a day of learning. Congratulations to the regional finalists, and thank you for leading by example both in and out of the classroom.”

The regional finalists each will receive a certificate and a $1,000 prize provided by the Walton Family Foundation.

Talley is a 2003 graduate of Magnolia High School and a 2007 graduate of Southern Arkansas University with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Talley has taught in the Magnolia School District for 14 years. She began her career teaching first grade, taught 10 years in second, and has been the technology lab teacher for the past three years.

Talley also represents East Side as an ambassador for many educational technology platforms and early coding robots. She has also transformed her old second grade classroom into a Makerspace using East Side’s technology. Her students have learned how to make green screen videos, do stop motion animation, and create posters and cards using educational photo collage apps. She loves helping her K-2 students find new ways to use technology besides just gaming and hopes that some of the projects she has done with them will spark further curiosity as they grow up in this digital age.

Biley-Olatunji was named the Texarkana Arkansas School District Teacher of the Year.

“Mrs. Biley-Olatunji is a dedicated teacher who strives to bring new methods of learning to her students,” commented Superintendent Kesler. “Not only does she work to help students, she serves as a leader to her colleagues in the mathematics department.”

Biley-Olatunji is a 2001 graduate of Magnolia High School, completed her Bachelor of Science degree at Southern Arkansas University, and earned her Master of Science degree at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She recently completed the required coursework for her doctoral degree at Texas A&M University – Texarkana and is writing a qualitative dissertation to determine if there is a relation between college students’ adverse childhood experience (ACE) scores and academic attainment.

In May 2013, Biley-Olatunji was hired as an Academic Manager/Disability Coordinator at Little Rock Job Corps Center where she was responsible for ensuring all academic curricula, procedures, and processes complied with the United States Department of Labor’s standards. After seven years of employment with the Army National Guard’s GEDPlus Program at Camp Robinson as a math teacher and training analyst, Biley-Olatunji had the unique opportunity to gain international experience where she taught mathematics in Folkestone, England, and tutored students for preparation for their mathematics A-Level examinations.

She joined the Texarkana Arkansas School District in 2017.

“Winning district teacher of the year is the culmination of lifelong learning and a dream fulfilled. It is an honor to represent TASD,” said Biley-Olatunji.”

The Arkansas Teacher of the Year program is part of the National Teacher of the Year program, which recognizes teachers for their teaching and leadership skills.

The four state semi-finalists that will be announced on Aug. 5 will be selected from among the 12 regional finalists. One of the four state semi-finalists will be named the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year this fall and will apply to become the 2022 National Teacher of the Year.

Update (July 21, 2021): Included "Biley-Olatunji is a 2001 graduate of Magnolia High School."

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