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Thill a finalist for national award

A Mitchell educator is now one of five contenders for the national LifeChanger of the Year award, officials announced Wednesday. Shane Thill was announced a top-five finalist for the LifeChanger of the Year award during a surprise presentation We...

Shane Thill, director of Second Chance Alternative High School, was named top-five finalist for the 2015-2016 LifeChanger of the Year award. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Shane Thill, director of Second Chance Alternative High School, was named top-five finalist for the 2015-2016 LifeChanger of the Year award. (Matt Gade/Republic)
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A Mitchell educator is now one of five contenders for the national LifeChanger of the Year award, officials announced Wednesday.

Shane Thill was announced a top-five finalist for the LifeChanger of the Year award during a surprise presentation Wednesday morning at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy.

"You probably don't know what's going on?" asked High School Principal Joe Childs.

"I really don't," Thill responded, which drew laughter from the crowd.

He soon found out, though, as students, colleagues, family and friends gathered to celebrate Thill's accomplishments. Thill is director Second Chance Alternative High School in Mitchell, which is part of the Mitchell School District, and he's also an assistant principal of Mitchell High School.

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As one of the top-five finalists, Thill won $5,000 to be split evenly between him and the school, and was presented with a plaque. In April, he also will join the other finalists in Los Cabos, Mexico, where the national grand prize winner-the LifeChanger of the Year-will be announced. The winner will receive another $5,000 to be split between them and their school district.

"I was just telling Mr. Childs I was looking for some 70-degree weather, so it looks like I'll be getting that in the near future," Thill said with a smile.

Though the presentation was lighthearted, Thill also fought off tears as he thanked his family, friends and staff members who he said have been instrumental in Second Chance High School's successes. He had family and colleagues join him at the front of the crowd, saying he is "just one of the helpers" at Second Chance.

"I couldn't ask for a greater staff than what I have," he said. "I'm so appreciative of everything that they do."

He also thanked his family members, including his parents, Larry and Janet Thill; children, Jordan and Bridget; and his wife, Deb, for their support through an often-demanding role and long hours.

"There are times that we have to sacrifice, but they never complain, because they know that in the big picture, that what we do as a family helps a lot kids and a lot of families out in Mitchell," Thill said of his children. "I just appreciate their support and everything they've done for me as a person."

Dan Beukelman, an agency specialist with Ron Beukelman Agency, presented Thill with his plaque, noting how Thill has influenced people throughout the Mitchell community. He goes above and beyond his roles as a teacher and administrator, Beukelman said, "to make sure that students have a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and explore who they are in order to achieve their full potential."

"You are a role model for the entire community," he said.

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LifeChanger of the Year is funded and run by the National Life Group Foundation and National Life Group. Tracy King, a senior marketing specialist with National Life Group, also spoke during the event. King said the award seeks to recognize and reward K-12 school district educators and employees "who make a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership."

King praised the Mitchell School District and Mitchell community for their support of Thill, which was evident through the awards process, and the comments section on Thill's online nomination profile at lifechangeroftheyearnominees.com/shane-thill/. Some stories are difficult for people to share publically, she said-but for Thill, they did it anyway.

"There were people who came out in droves in support of Shane, willing to share their stories to support him," she said. "I think that's a huge testament of his ability to touch people's hearts."

King said this round of awards will end the fifth year of the program; since 2012, the organization has recognized more than 1,300 nominees from more than 1,000 school districts nationwide. In September, Thill was announced as one of 621 nominees from across the United States and the District of Columbia. In December, Thill was chosen as one of 15 nominees to appear in a vignette. From there, the five finalists were selected.

Nominees must be full-time educators, teachers, principals or any member of the school district's staff who makes a positive difference in the lives of students. Thill was nominated for the award by two former students and his colleague, Julie Olson.

Olson said when she saw the call for nominations, she knew immediately who to nominate. A science teacher at Mitchell High School and Second Chance High School, Olson said Thill is always open to her "crazy ideas," and supportive of students and staff members. He is able to motivate people, she said, stems from trust.

"(Students) know they can trust him. When he says something, he backs it up 100 percent," she said. "We know as a staff that we can trust him, that he has our backs."

Childs also lauded Thill's abilities as an educator and administrator, praising his dedication and commitment to helping students.

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"The guy is incredible," Childs said. "The conversations that I have with people all the time are that he has built such a successful program, that people-kids, parents-they know that when they become part of it, there is no other option than success."

Thill gets to know each of his students personally, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to students in need.

"He epitomizes everything that we want to become in education, and quite honestly, just makes me feel bad, because he gets to know his kids so well, he knows everything about them," Childs said. "He is truly a lifechanger. His conversations resonate with young people, and those conversations will be shared to their children, and their children's children, and that's what we're here celebrating."

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