AUGUSTA — A Portland middle school teacher is among three finalists for 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Friday.

The finalists are Karen MacDonald, an English language arts teacher at King Middle School in Portland; Mary Graziano, a fourth-grade teacher at Hartland Consolidated School; and Suzen Polk-Hoffses, a kindergarten teacher at Milbridge Elementary School.

King Middle School Principal Mike McCarthy said MacDonald innately cares about students and has a desire to help every student succeed.

“I’ve been in education for 40 years and Karen MacDonald is the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” McCarthy said. “She’s always looking for ways to be a better teacher and help other teachers get better. She does whatever it takes to help kids learn, even making home visits.”

MacDonald lives in Portland and teaches grades 6 and 7. She has been a teacher for 35 years, including the last 23 at King.

A year after MacDonald arrived at King in 1989, the school adopted an Expeditionary Learning program that has drawn national attention. Her students have tackled multidisciplinary projects on such subjects as civil rights, leadership and the environment.

“I’m very honored to be a finalist and I feel grateful to represent King Middle School, Portland public schools and all of the great teachers in Maine,” MacDonald said.

The Maine Teacher of the Year program provides an opportunity for the state to celebrate classroom leaders who are helping to prepare children for success in college, careers and civic life, Bowen said.

“The Maine Teacher of the Year is a valuable resource and spokesperson for Maine’s talented, professional educators and an advocate for all Maine students,” Bowen said.

Six semifinalists went through rigorous screening by a selection committee, including school visits, professional portfolio reviews and oral presentations.

The three finalists will compete in final interviews before a winner is announced at a surprise school assembly in September.

The 2013 Maine Teacher of the Year is Shannon Shanning, a special education teacher at Whittier Middle School in Poland.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com