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Top teachers recognized in USD 428
Dara Touslee
Joseph Bliven

Two well-deserving educators from Great Bend USD 428 have been named the 2022 USD 428 Teachers of the Year. Honorees, Dara Touslee, kindergarten teacher at Park Elementary School, and Joseph Bliven, science teacher at Great Bend Middle School, will advance to the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year competition.   

“The Kansas Teacher of the Year program is a great way to celebrate our outstanding teachers as well as elevate their work for recognition among colleagues and peers across the state,” said Khris Thexton, USD 428 Superintendent.   

“Mr. Bliven and Mrs. Touslee were chosen from a strong pool of candidates,” said Thexton. “I congratulate them on the work they do every day. Beyond the classroom, these teachers are leaders in their departments, buildings, and in our school community.”  

Questions about the local Kansas Teacher of the contest can be directed to the USD 428 District Education Center, 620-793-1500. 

Dara Touslee, 2022 USD 428 Elementary Teacher of the Year 

“Mrs. Touslee’s knowledge of primary instruction is second to none,” said Adam Cline, principal at Park Elementary School. “When you walk into her room you will notice a very welcoming, nurturing, and warm climate. She actively volunteers her time, experience, and great sense of humor to our educational stakeholders. Park Elementary is proud of you and your accomplishments.”

Touslee earned her Elementary Education Degree from Panhandle State University and later pursued a Master’s Degree in Education from Kansas State University. She has taught 4th-6th grades, worked at the district level in staff development and technology instruction, followed by the last 11 years teaching kindergarten at Park Elementary School.  

Sharing her experience in education, Touslee serves as a mentor for students at Fort Hays University and Barton Community College and mentors a GBHS student who is interested in Early Childhood Education. Touslee is active in the community, serving on numerous boards and committees that all have a common interest of support the academic, emotional, and social development of youth.  

While Touslee has 32 years of teaching experience, 28 of which have been served in Great Bend, she doesn’t shy away from implementing new technology into her classroom.  

“I think technology is a ‘must’ in education,” Touslee said, “it is an active part of student learning.”  

In recent years, she has received several grants from the USD 428 Education Foundation to implement Touchtronics, a hands-on alphabet and phonics development tool, as well as embraced iPads with a strategy to have her students record video as a way to learn and develop speaking skills.  

When asked to explain her teaching philosophy, Touslee referenced a quote on her wall that came from a former kindergarten student, “Sometimes you have to get off the sidewalk.” To Touslee, it reminds her of the importance to teach the curriculum, but also of the importance, “to make it fun, and make it real.” 

“I try to expand my students’ knowledge and help them explore, create and discover the joy of learning,” said Touslee. “‘Fun’ is the most used word in my classroom.” 

Joseph Bliven, 2022 USD 428 Secondary Teacher of the Year 

“When you combine relationship building with engaging teaching, you end up with an exceptional teacher like Mr. Bliven,” said David Reiser, principal at Great Bend Middle School. “Students naturally gravitate to him because of how he goes about establishing positive relationships. He also does a great job of making science interesting and relevant to his students.” 

Bliven received his M.A. in Education Studies in 2016 from Michigan University before moving to Great Bend to be a Science Teacher at Great Bend Middle School. Within his first year of teaching, Bliven received the Panther Technology Star Award for his implementation of Google Classroom and was selected as USD 428’s nominee for the Kansas Horizon Award, a recognition program for outstanding first-year teachers.  

Bliven has given back to area youth and community through coaching and tutoring in the classroom as well as on the tennis court. In 2018, Bliven was awarded the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in Men’s Tennis.  

“I feel my greatest contribution to education is my willingness to meet students where they are,” said Bliven, “to make science something that every student can see in their own lives. 

“I believe that through carefully constructed lessons and striving to make science a relevant and applicable tool, I can change the stigma that science is only for the ‘smart kids’ and bring a sense of wonder and excitement to my students that they may not even know they are missing.”