When Jonathan Juravich heard the news last week, he couldn't quite believe it.

"I kept saying, 'Are you serious? Is this real?' " he said. "I'm incredibly humbled and honored."

The Council of Chief State School Officers on Jan. 4 announced Juravich as one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award. Juravich, an art teacher at Liberty Tree Elementary School just north of Powell, was named the 2018 Ohio Teacher of the Year by the Ohio Department of Education last September.

Juravich, who also coaches cross country at Hyatts Middle School, helps lead art programs for students at the Columbus Arts Festival and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The three other finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award are:

* Amy Andersen, an American Sign Language teacher at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, New Jersey.

* Kara Ball, an elementary school teacher employed by the Department of Defense Education Activity's DeLalio Elementary School, which serves Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

* Mandy Manning, an English teacher and intervention specialist at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.

The finalists will fly to Washington, D.C., at the end of February for follow-up interviews and meetings.

Juravich said he has connected with his fellow finalists through social media and is excited to meet them in person next month. He said he feels honored to be part of such an impressive group.

"I feel inspired just by reading about the things they have done," he said.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, which has given out the award since 1952, will announce the winner in the spring.

Olentangy officials decided not to wait to praise the district's own finalist.

"I could not be more proud of Mr. Juravich," Superintendent Mark Raiff said in a statement. "His enthusiasm and passion for teaching and his commitment to his students exemplifies what we work at and strive for at Olentangy."

Juravich, who was traveling to Orlando, Florida, to take part in the Walt Disney World Marathon when the news of his status as a finalist broke, said he has been overwhelmed but not surprised by the feedback he has received from his colleagues.

"It has been incredible to see the level of support that I knew I had," he said.

On Jan. 8, Juravich said he was excited to get back to his home state and the classroom to share the news with his students.

"For me, that's who it's about," he said.