Since its inception, MREA has made elevating the work of Greater Minnesota educators its mission. MREA leaders brought the voice of rural teachers to the Capitol immediately and has since continued to seek ways to recognize and reward the work of Greater Minnesota schools.


Shortly after its founding, MREA started an awards program to showcase the exceptional innovation and outcomes exemplified at schools in rural Minnesota. “Rural schools have done a fantastic job educating their kids,” said Jerry Jensen, an early board member of MREA. “The awards program is important to our ability to spread the knowledge, spread the innovative ideas that are working, that are successful and that are helping students, and getting those ideas into other schools in Minnesota.”

That awards program has continued to grow with the latest addition of the Educators of Excellence honors, recognizing inspiring teachers from all corners of the state.  Fred Nolan, who retired at MREA’s Executive Director in June, says it is one of the most important things that MREA does today. Former educator turn university professor Rhonda Bonnstetter agrees, seeing how it fuels a passion for teaching.

“It’s great to take a look at what the rural teachers are doing,” said Bonnstetter, former MREA board member who serves as director of Professional Education Services at Southwest Minnesota State University. “Many of them are juggling lots of different classes every day and they come up with some really unique and creative things that they do in their classroom.” She received MREA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018 for her work preparing and supporting teachers.

Hear from the founders and the leaders who followed on MREA’s history of honoring schools:

Beyond Awards

The Educators of Excellence program has grown from presenting honorees awards to traveling the state with a professional video crew to allow others to step inside their classrooms and see their work. This has been made possible with the support of associate members. Watch a few of their stories and see their work in these videos.

“These are some of my favorite days of the year,” MREA Communication Director Dawn Zimmerman said. “It is one thing to read their stories, but when you see it firsthand and hear from students whose lives have been changed, it’s unbelievable. It gives me so much pride in Greater Minnesota and I continue to hear how it is inspiring a new generation of teachers.”

What’s Next

Each year MREA recognizes leaders who are delivering results for schools in Greater Minnesota through its Educators of Excellence, Innovation, and Distinguished Service awards.

MREA will announce the 2020 honorees this fall and recognize them all at an awards ceremony on Nov. 15. Learn more about the awards program and view past recipients.