Mary Hoffmann is recipient of 2021 Outstanding Educator Award, $15,000 prize

Deb Moldaschel
The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

Sleepy Eye High School agriculture instructor and FFA advisor, Mary Hoffmann, was called to the office one day last week. She said getting called to the office is always a bit unsettling. This time she was called there to be surprised with the news that she is a recipient of a 2021 WEM Outstanding Educator Award, an honor that is accompanied by a $15,000 award. 

Hoffmann said the award was presented by a Zoom call in the office, where school administrators could join in the surprise and offer their  congratulations.

Sleepy Eye High School teacher Mary Hoffmann is the recipient of the 2021 WEM Outstanding Educator Award.

According to a press release, Hoffmann is one of six educators being honored by the WEM Foundation and Synergy & Leadership Exchange for outstanding accomplishments and contributions to student learning. She is one of two recipients of the Teacher Achievement Award, which recognizes exemplary teachers who support, inspire and assist students to attain greater learning as evidenced by student achievement.

Hoffmann has received a number of awards in recognition of her work as an ag teacher and FFA advisor over the past several years. This award is unique in that it recognizes her work as an educator, not specifically related to her subject area.

Hoffmann’s credentials to be recognized with the WEM Outstanding Educator Award were included in the press release announcing the award:

Hoffmann has been teaching for 26 years and currently teaches high school agriculture. In addition, Hoffmann is the FFA advisor, an extracurricular student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership. She has developed a variety of new courses in her tenure and grown the program from herself being the only Agriculture Science teacher part-time to now three full-time positions. Securing grant money for the Sleepy Eye Ag. department, including FFA, is another priority for her, having applied for and received more than $88,000 for Ag. program expenses. In addition to the grants, she has helped to secure more than $200,000 through local donations. It is through these funding sources that her students can afford to attend FFA events, conferences, conventions, and Ag. career exploration activities throughout the years, as well as have the technology and resources needed in the Ag. classrooms and shops.

Hoffmann’s former student, Harley Braun, now an ag teacher in St. Paul, nominated Hoffmann for the award.

“Mrs. Hoffmann is the most influential teacher, mentor and friend I have had over the past 10 years,” said Braun, in her nomination. “She is an engaged, passionate teacher, and her impact has and will continue to be felt far beyond the boundaries of her classroom!”

Living to serve is the last line of the FFA motto, but it is what Hoffmann wants her students to think of first in their lives. Through her classes, students develop communication, teamwork, decision-making, and relationship building skills. With the numerous activities and programs that Sleepy Eye Agriculture students and FFA members take part in, Hoffmann instills in her students that they should take every opportunity to help others, teach others and to serve others. From helping with food redistribution lines, making inspirational signs, helping with the weekend food program, and packing school supplies for the United Way, these are only a few of the ways Hoffmann shows her students what they can do for others.

“Mrs. Hoffmann and her FFA group have been our secret weapon in helping us run a successful food program,” said community member Sandy Beito, in her letter of recommendation. “Mary does not wait to be asked. She calls and volunteers. Her ability to motivate students and her commitment to their overall development is apparent in the work she does and in the students’ participation in the community.”

Hoffmann said she was surprised to win this award but did know she’d been nominated. Nominees are asked to provide additional information for consideration by Synergy & Leadership Exchange and a blue ribbon selection panel, which reviews and ranks the nominees. 

Now, what to do with $15,000? This prize is for Hoffmann’s personal use, unlike the funds she raises for her programs at Sleepy Eye High School. When asked, she had a quick answer.

“A trip with my husband to celebrate our 25th Anniversary,” Hoffmann said. A trip where? “Alaska, I’ve always wanted to go there. Wait, no — maybe Costa Rica.” [Or, a few days later] “maybe it will be Alaska.”

That decision is still under consideration, but Hoffmann know for sure that she will share some of the prize money with Braun—for her to use as she builds her ag education program in St. Paul.

 Just two weeks ago Hoffmann’s selection to the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame was announced, an honor she was also nominated for by a former student—Elizabeth Johnson, ag educator at Tracy High School. 

Synergy & Leadership said in addition to the six statewide honorees, additional educators have been selected as regional honorees for 2021. 

Synergy & Leadership Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering collaboration to advance the development of ethical citizens, providing education resources and  celebrating achievement and best practices in Minnesota schools, businesses and communities. For more information on the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards and Synergy & Leadership Exchange, visit