Meet the teachers of the year

Next week: Classified (non-teaching) employees

Submitted photo.

The San Benito County Office of Education celebrated its 2017-18 Certificated and Classified Employees of the Year at an April 26 banquet at Veterans Memorial Building in Hollister.

The purpose of the annual event is to recognize outstanding certificated employees who challenge, motivate and inspire their students as well as create an environment in which students can realize the vast extent of their own abilities and, with hard work and dedication, accomplish great things, according to county staff.

Along with the teaching staff, the event also serves to recognize the non-teaching professionals who provide valuable services to the schools and students and who strive for excellence in all areas relative to the educational community, district staff said.

Since there are too many to fit in one edition of the Free Lance, we will highlight the certificated staff this week and the classified staff the following week. Here are excerpts from the complimentary remarks made for each:

Alli Mahler, Aromas School, Aromas-San Juan Unified SD

Mahler, a first-grade teacher in her third year with district and second at school, works very hard to create a classroom in which her students care for one another as they all share their ideas and develop their leadership skills.

This year she accepted the opportunity to fully include a special needs student who has many challenges. While she worked collaboratively with County staff to create an inclusive environment for this student, she also did her own research and developed her own curriculum and behavior tools to assist all staff in the transition for her student. This student now feels confident to engage in more of the mainstream curriculum as well as helping to lead the class in morning activities.

Amanda McCraw, Jefferson School, Jefferson School District

McGraw, teacher/principal in her second year, greets every day with enthusiasm. When a student is struggling with a concept, Amanda “sprinkles some cheese on it” (her way of telling the students she’s going to make the ideas ‘taste’ better.) She focuses on each student’s individual learning style and tailors lessons to make them effective and enjoyable for each type of learner.

On top of her duties as a K-8 teacher, she also works tirelessly to complete all Principal duties at Jefferson, never missing a deadline.

The results of Amanda’s hard work speak for themselves, last year Jefferson’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test scores rose an incredible 30% in both English language arts and math.

Dr. Anne Marie Faria, Pinnacles Community School, San Andreas Continuation High Schools

Faria, who is in her 21st year of teaching fifth through 12th grade in history, world history, math, English and science, is one of San Benito County Office of Education’s most dedicated and influential teacher. Whether she is working with a wide range of students from fifth to 12th grade, scheduling meetings with parents and probation, or instructing her class on how to write an essay, Dr. Faria never wavers from her student focus and creative lesson design that aims to engage all students in active learning and never falters in rigor.

Faria’s work as a lead teacher, an active union member, and a school site member add to her invaluable presence on the Pinnacles and San Andreas Continuation High School staff.

Carole Lewis, Willow Grove Elementary School, Willow Grove School District

In her third year at Willow Grove, Lewis has demonstrated a passion for helping students learn and reach their highest potential. She brings years of experience that are extremely valuable to our students and staff at Willow Grove. Even though she is most comfortable teaching the younger students, this year she stretched herself and is working with students in the upper grades as well. She has made very important relationships with these students that will benefit them through their emotional development as well as academic learning. Carole has always dedicated and committed herself to the success of every student with whom she works and this challenge has highlighted her dedication.

Deb Armstrong, Rancho San Justo Middle School, Hollister School District

Armstrong’s high energy invigorates the students and staff. In her eighth year, she is a strong, dependable team member and she is always willing to share successful strategies and instructional tips with her colleagues. Her use of new strategies and willingness to try new things has improved the instruction and motivation of students in seventh grade math classes. She always has a positive attitude and growth mindset that encourages her students to achieve and she works hard to let students know that she cares about them and their success.

Denise McNett, Accelerated Achievement Academy, Hollister School District

Denise, in her first year at AAA, has shown to be a gifted teacher and seasoned leader. She came to AAA in November and fit in like she has always been on our team. This year Denise has dedicated and committed herself to the success of every student and all her colleagues. Our students and staff feel very fortunate to have her at AAA.

Donna Johnson Spring Grove School, North County Joint Union School District

Johnson, a beloved seventh year teacher with the district, is dedicated to her students and her seventh grade team. She spends countless hours working on lessons that will help her students grasp the math concepts and fill in the math gaps they have. She knows what each student needs. At lunch recess, her room is full of students getting help, reworking problems, or retaking tests and quizzes. In addition to the love and support she gives to her students, she and her team spend every possible moment in a Professional Learning Community meeting. Everywhere they go, they are talking about their students’ social, emotional and academic needs.

Frank Perez, San Benito High School, San Benito High School District

In his 19th year as a teacher and football coach, Frank has touched the lives of thousands of students and players. His dedication to, and compassion for, the school and its students is without match. He is highly effective in the classroom and deeply conscientious. Frank has inspired staff to explore current events and critically think about historical ones, and inspires his students in a like manner. He has been recognized for his writing about the American Genocide as well as the Holocaust and has been a leader in teaching acceptance through genocide curriculum. Frank frequently writes articles on school events to bridge the gap between our school and community. He has also written numerous articles for both local news outlets as well as the New York Times.

Jan Grist, Marguerite Maze Middle School, Hollister School District

Grist, who has been with the district for more than 30 years and at Maze since it opened in 1994, Jan has always shown her dedication to students by getting them to believe in themselves and taking ownership of their education.

This year, Jan had a challenging young man that wouldn’t do any work. He would defy her when possible. Instead of sending the student out to a partner room or to the office, she would meet with the student after class. She tried to make a connection. She asked about his home life. She found out that the student was staying with his grandmother as his mother is ill fighting cancer.

What did Jan do? She made an even stronger commitment to connect with him on a personal level. She brought the young man a backpack with binder, paper, pencil, pens, and some snacks for him to have. She would continue to connect with the young man.

Julie Castaneda-Hicks, San Juan School, Aromas-San Juan Unified School District

Hicks, a third grade teacher with 22 years with the district, has been instrumental in building connections between the school and the community. She organized our Halloween parade; is working to form a San Juan School Alumni Association, for networking, social support and fundraising to support our after-school sports program; and has been the primary organizer for the Fiesta Fun Run.

Through well established routines and expectations, Julie meets her students at their academic levels and guides them toward a successful school year, academically, socially and emotionally.

Mandee Corea, Ladd Lane School, Hollister School District

Mandee Corea, a fourth grade teacher who has been with district for 20 years, is without a doubt a teacher leader. She consistently supports, cares for and pushes her students. Mandee is regularly asked to mentor new teachers. She is a tireless worker who sets the highest expectations for her students and it shows on the bottom line—student achievement.

Mark Lange, Sunnyslope School, Hollister School District

Lange consistently demonstrates his love and dedication to his job every day he is at work. He has an intrinsic desire to help all students succeed. He works diligently with his grade level team to continuously create new ways to assess data and help students succeed academically. But what makes him great is that although academics are a priority, he works to help the whole child develop so that they can reach their maximum potential in an engaging, inspiring and challenging learning environment. Mark Lange makes Sunnyslope School an extraordinary learning environment.

Mary Villegas, R.O. Hardin Elementary School, Hollister School District

Mary Villegas is an invaluable asset at R.O. Hardin. Her hard work, dedication and passion for student achievement is evident when we see our students shine and work hard to meet expectations.

Mary is an advocate for all students, from making plans for safe evacuation during drills for handicap students to making sure all accommodations and supports are in place for each and every student during CAASPP, she doesn’t miss a beat.

Robert Huneywell, Anzar High School, Aromas-San Juan School District

Robert Huneywell, a history teacher in his fourth year with the district, is an amazing instructor, and whether he is shaping freshmen into thinking about history with a new approach or getting ready to launch seniors into the post-high school world, he never wavers from crazy creative lesson design that aims to engage all students in active learning and never falters in rigor. He is a treasure trove of knowledge, a content master, a good-humored jokester, a giving colleague and has an impeccable work ethic. The depth and breadth of meaningful curriculum that he creates is staggering and accounts for the rapport and respect that are evident in all his classes. Robert’s work as a lead advisor to his cohort, an active union member, and a participating district committee member only add to his invaluable presence on the Anzar staff.

Stephanie (Loyd) Sobeslavsky, Gabilan Elementary School, Hollister School District

Stephanie handles the responsibility of two jobs, one as 5th grade English language A\arts teacher and the second as intervention teacher. In both of these roles she is an exemplary teacher. She has a commitment to technology and has created a paperless Google classroom where all student work is assigned, completed and graded. Her goal is to have all her students level 1 Google certified by years end.

Stephanie’s role as intervention teacher goes beyond the call of duty. She uses the part-time assignment to support teachers who have combo classes and she reaches dozens more students every day with her powerful small group instruction.

Lizsette Jimenez, Hollister Dual Language Academy, Hollister School District

Lizsette Jimenez is extremely professional, personable, organized and, most important of all, dedicated to making a difference in the lives of her students.

As a teacher, Lizsette has been a strong middle school team leader. In our small team of 7 teachers, she has identified various needs and come with solutions to improve schedules, elective options, interventions with students, developing an ASB program comparable to the larger schools and more. The success of her eighth graders’ experience as measured by CAASPP and Interim Assessments is a direct result of her strong, standards-based teaching and her focus on the impact of her instruction. Leadership comes naturally to Lizsette. This year she is our Instructional Leadership Team Leader, actively participating in our process and presenting professional development at least once a month to the entire staff.

Ken Johnson, Cerra Vista School, Hollister School District

Johnson, in his 12th year at Cerra Vista, was chosen because of his drive to push forward our vision as a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) school. He has dedicated countless hours and passion to create a vision of innovation and scientific approach to the risk taking and academic achievement. He has been the driver of the set-up and use of our upper grade-level STEAM lab, our new microscopes, and our curriculum organization and output to teachers of Next Generation Science Standards.

Year after year he has organized and promoted our science fair and is part of our site STEAM committee. He has attended state-wide NGSS training and exposes 5th grade students to scientific adventures in Silicon Valley.

Hilda Baldovinos, Calaveras School, Hollister School District

In her 10th year with district, Hilda has always been helpful in any situation to students, staff and administration. She always shows up with a positive, can-do attitude. She communicates well with students, parents, staff and administration. She works hard to create lessons that will engage students and give them the skills they need to be successful. We appreciate everything she does to make Calaveras a great place to work and go to school.


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