CABOT, Ark. – A special education teacher in Cabot is the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Not only is Jessica Saum a special education teacher at Stagecoach Elementary in Cabot, but she’s also a mom, military spouse and advocate for children with special needs and military families. She had no idea today would be the day she’d win a teachers’ highest honor.

What started as a mock pep rally for reading was really just a ruse.

“The pep rally seemed a little bit suspicious, but I could not accept that that’s what really was gonna happen,” Saum said.

Saum calls winning Arkansas Teacher of the Year the honor of a lifetime.

“I’m filled with so much joy and so much appreciation for everyone who has helped me get to this point,” she said.

Saum’s list of accomplishments is long, but what sets her apart is her advocacy work on behalf of her students.

She knows special education is hard and the needs are great.

“And I knew that I was able to meet those needs and I wanted to meet those needs,” Saum said.

A teacher who’s also a military spouse, Saum is relentless in her work supporting military families because she gets it. While her mom, dad, son and daughter were at the ceremony to congratulate her, someone was missing.

Her husband, Lt. Col. Shane Saum is currently on a one-year deployment.

“We’re very fortunate that we can Facetime with him in the mornings and the evenings, and we try to stay connected that way, but it is difficult not to have my best friend here with me,” she said.

Her path to success wasn’t typical and it was hard-won. And during those hard times, she said she thought of the kids.

“I just remind myself, yes,” Saum said. “Every child. Every child deserves what’s best. Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed, and every child deserves for us to expect them to do great things.”

Jessica starts her term of service in July of this year. She said she wants to continue to partner with Little Rock Air Force Base to work on better serving military families and students. She said she also wants to connect with Dr. Jill Biden on the First Lady’s “Joining Forces Initiative,” which helps military spouses find quality employment opportunities.