North suburbs boast 6 semifinalists for Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Kari Elontara

Pat Moriarty

Claudia Powers

Bill Sucha

Greg Truso

Greg Ueland

Earlier this year, Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, announced a field of 167 candidates for its 2018 Teacher of the Year award.

As of Feb. 26, that field had been narrowed down to 43 semifinalists, with a full one-seventh of those making the cut coming from school districts in the north suburban area.

All but one of the initial candidates out the Mounds View Public School District, Roseville Area School District and the St. Anthony-New Brighton Independent School District made the cut.

Mounds View’s semifinalists are Kari Eloranta, Claudia Powers and Bill Sucha. Roseville’s are Pat Moriarty and Greg Ueland and St. Anthony-New Brighton’s is Greg Truso.

A panel of community leaders will winnow down the 43 semifinalists to 10 finalists ahead of the state’s Teacher of the Year being named at a May 6 banquet. The award is open to pre-k through 12th-grade teachers and Adult Basic Education teachers, from both private and public schools.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813.



Kari Eloranta is an English language arts teacher at the Mounds View Area Learning Center. 

She grew up in Owen, Wisconsin, and says she always wanted to be a teacher. Both her parents have ties to education — her mother is a retired school counselor and her father is a substitute teacher and school board member — but only after high school is when she says she fully understood why she wanted to teach.

“It wasn’t until college that I realized the reason I wanted to teach, [it] wasn’t because I loved to read, but because I loved to work with students,” Eloranta says.

She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and completed her master’s of education there in 2013. This is her fourth year at the Mounds View ALC.

“A teacher’s job isn’t to provide the student with answers,” Eloranta says, “but to empower them to ask more questions!”


Pat Moriarty is the band director at Roseville Area High School.

He grew up in Blaine and worked as a freelance musician and studio instructor until he was 33. Around that time he says he realized how much he enjoyed what he could do as a teacher, so he decided to expand upon it by going back to school at Macalester College to finish his degree and get licensed to teach. He also has a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

“I started my public school teaching career at age 36 as the all-district elementary band director for ISD 197 [in West St. Paul],” Moriarty says.

He’s taught in the Roseville district since 1993, starting at Roseville Area Middle School as its band director before making the move to RAHS four years later. 

Moriarty says he’s still a professional performer and composer in the Twin Cities jazz community and that he believes in helping students succeed by setting them up to make real accomplishments.

“RAHS band students are able to achieve success through mastering their instruments, expressing music from their souls, creating new music through improvisation and composition,” among other things, he says.


Claudia Powers teaches special education classes and co-teaches 10th-grade English at Irondale High School.

Originally from Oceanside, New York, she works with students who qualify to receive special education services under the category of emotional behavioral disorders.

“I recognized my passion was to support children and families while providing them with the tools required to be happy and productive members of society,” Powers says. “When a student comes to me with a problem or just wants to check in, I know that I chose the right profession. I thrive on the organized chaos and energy of all students!”

Powers earned her undergraduate degree from SUNY Buffalo in New York and her master’s of education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

“My philosophy of teaching is to provide each student with an opportunity to learn regardless of their disabilities and background,” she says.


Bill Sucha is the band director at Irondale High School, where he’s taught for 22 years.

He’s from Schuyler, Nebraska, and says that he remembers wanting to teach music at a young age, and studied music at the University of Nebraska, but didn’t see a clear path to graduation.

Sucha ended up in the Twin Cities, working for Honeywell and then at the U of M, before taking a job running a computer lab at South St. Paul High School.

“While doing all these jobs I was also working with marching bands, teaching color guard and writing drill,” Sucha says. “I went back to finish up my instrumental and vocal music ed degree at University of Wisconsin-River Falls.”

Sucha says that every student should belong to something bigger than themselves and that he’s lucky to teach the arts.

“The arts are about making us human and creating beauty for ourselves and others,” he says, adding that as a teacher, he’s only one small part of each student’s journey.


Greg Truso is a second and third-grade teacher at Wilshire Park Elementary School.

From Mahtomedi, he says he was into sports as a child and loved being on teams, and found inspiration in his father, his coach and mentor.

“Before deciding to become a teacher, I would reflect on the experiences and impact my dad made on myself and my teammates. I knew I wanted to go into a profession where I could help others and make a positive impact,” he says, adding he wanted to bring the same elements of joy, excitement and working as a team that he felt in sports, to the classroom.

Truso earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. John’s University in Collegeville and a master’s of education from Concordia College in St. Paul.

This is his seventh year at Wilshire Park; prior to working in St. Anthony he taught first grade for two years in St. Paul.

“I firmly believe that all students are special and that all students have needs,” Truso says.


Greg Ueland is a social studies teacher at Roseville Area High School where he also coaches volleyball and girls track and field.

Originally from Newfolden, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, he says he always wanted to be a teacher and his father, a teacher and coach himself, was his first real inspiration, among other “excellent teachers and coaches that made such a positive difference in my life.”

He attended Bemidji State University and this is his eighth year at RAHS, having taught at Roseville Area Middle School for seven years before.

“Building a relationship [with students] is a long-term commitment that involves a lot of dedication, persistence and determination,” Ueland says. “This connects to my philosophy that our responsibility as educators is so much more than inside of our classroom walls.”

He says he tries to connect with as many students as he can.

“I want to know as many of the 2,300-plus students at Roseville Area High School by name and I want them to know who I am,” Ueland says.

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