'A champion for students': South Middle School educator named Grand Forks teacher of the year

Colleagues praised Polum's versatility, generosity and ability to form lasting relationships with her students

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Nikki Polum, a sixth-grade teacher at South Middle School, accepts a plaque from Dr. Terry Brenner, superintendent of public schools for Grand Forks after being named the 2022-2023 Grand Forks Public Schools teacher of the year at a rally Thursday at South Middle School.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald<br/>

GRAND FORKS – For Nikki Polum, a sixth grade English language arts teacher at South Middle School, being named Grand Forks Public Schools’ teacher of the year is an honor nearly 30 years in the making, and a testament to her dedication to the profession, according to her colleagues.

Polum, who has taught in the district since 1994, also received a $1,000 award from the Grand Forks Foundation for Education in recognition of her accomplishment, during an assembly at the middle school on Thursday.

Polum said her love for teaching was instilled by her parents, who were both teachers.

“I have a love for kids,” Polum said. “The most rewarding aspect of winning this award is seeing all these people here who are part of my journey, and have been for 30 years, and that my family is here. I love them dearly.”

Polum’s colleagues praised her versatility as an educator.


“She has taught all the core subjects: science, social studies, math, reading, and English Language Arts (ELA),” said colleagues Angie McLean and Kelly Wilber via a district press release. “She has mastered the curriculum for all sixth grade core content areas and can seamlessly transition from one subject to another, often based on the needs and strengths of her team.”

Colleagues also praised Polum’s ability to form deep relationships with students, faculty and parents.

“Mrs. Polum builds genuine, caring, long-lasting relationships with students, families, and colleagues,” McLean and Wilber said. “Students know she loves and accepts them as they are while always keeping one eye on where they are headed and their potential for success. During conferences and meetings, families see her as an honest ally who will speak the truth lovingly but advocate for their child no matter how imperfect the child, family, or system may be. Colleagues ache with laughter after collaborating with her, but can also count on her to ask tough questions, pull her weight, and get the job done.”

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Nikki Polum, a sixth-grade teacher at South Middle School, is gifted a tiara and sash from her friends, Ann Herbeck, left, and Midge Thompson, following an event at South honoring Polum, the 2022-2023 Grand Forks Public Schools teacher of the year.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald<br/>

Speaking at the ceremony, Travis Neil, principal of South Middle, concurred with Polum’s colleagues regarding her ability to form deep relationships with students.

“Mrs. Polum is a champion for students,” Neil said. “Relationships are one of her top priorities. Mrs. Polum has a way about her that builds students’ confidence, yet holds all students to a very, very high standard.”

Terry Brenner, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools, spoke of Polum’s generosity.

“Tirelessly and consistently, she provides snacks, clothes and school resources — usually at her personal expense — to students and staff in need,” Brenner said. “During COVID, Mrs. Polum delivered materials to students who were quarantined, and couldn’t get to school for supplies.”

Polum is now a candidate for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction’s 2024 county teacher of the year award.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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