The 2011 Art Educator of the Year Award was presented to Nancy Sojka of Decorah. Sojka taught at North Winneshiek School for 31 years, then retired in 2008. In her retirement she continues as a part time technology and curriculum leader, garden manager, substitute teacher, and she fills any other role that is needed by the district, including painting the walls in a classroom. Tim Dugger, the Superintendent/Principal of North Winneshiek Community Schools, says of Nancy, “She dedicated her life to providing quality art experiences for her students.”

The quality of art education across the state of Iowa and beyond has been positively impacted by Mrs. Sojka’s work. She developed web sites for both the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education and AEI. Her AEI website was awarded the National Art Education Association’s (NAEA) Honorable Mention in 2010. She has been instrumental in keeping arts educators informed of the latest information and opportunities by maintaining the web sites and by sending frequent notifications electronically.

Other ways Mrs. Sojka has influenced quality art education include co-organizing the Northeast Iowa Secondary Art Show at three area colleges for 27 years, presenting at both AEI and the NAEA conferences, and serving as a co-planner of the 2002 AEI conference in Decorah. She also represented her area of the state on the AEI board, along with her husband Ted Sojka, across the span of three decades.

This is not the first award Mrs. Sojka has received. AEI has also honored Mrs. Sojka as the Outstanding Middle School Art Educator in 2003 and for Distinguished Service within the Profession in 2009. She was a Northeast Iowa Quilters’ Guild Quilt Show ribbon winner in 2006, 2008, and 2010. She has also had artwork displayed in the Decorah Public Library Mezzanine Exhibit, the Decorah Chamber of Commerce Exhibit, the Art Educators Fall Conference Exhibits and Blue Heron Knittery in Decorah.

Mrs. Sojka designed and initiated Mustang Gardens at North Winneshiek in 2003 to honor Brady Stortz, a third grade student who died in an accident. What began as the commemorative planting of a tree with a bench has grown with Mrs. Sojka’s hard work, guidance, and prodding into a 30’ X 125’ garden. It includes trees, perennials, a goldfish pond, a butterfly garden, and most recently, a vegetable garden. Hundreds of students have participated in helping with this garden that actually provides vegetables, berries, and herbs for students and staff to consume in the school lunch program.

In her retirement Sojka has continued to connect with education. She commented, “I love keeping in touch with art and the teaching of art through these endeavors. It is exciting to be involved with young teachers, as they share their experiences and grow as professionals. I learn new things every year!” Sojka is a true professional, and very deserving of this award