2020 Teacher of the Year

Kern County’s Teachers of the Year announced

3rd grade teacher Wajeha Chaudhry from Loudon Elementary School and 7th grade English teacher Nicole Negron from Sierra Middle School

have been named the 2019-20 Kern County Teachers of the Year. The finalists are now eligible to apply to move on to the California State Teachers of the Year program later in the year. An alternate, Joseph Andreotti, an 8th grade History/Social Science at Lakeside School, was also selected in the event that one of the finalists is unable to apply for the state competition.

Normally, Teachers of the Years are announced at an in-person celebration at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical event was cancelled. A committee of educators and community leaders reviewed all of the applications. In lieu of classroom visits to the top candidates’ schools, top candidates were interviewed via Zoom. The two Teachers of the Year received a cash award of $500, while the alternate received $250. All 54 district honorees will receive desktop awards and certificates.

As part of the celebration, all 54 Teacher of the Year district honorees were honored this week through a series of videos posted on kern.org, on KCSOS’s social media platforms, and on the Kern Educational Television Network (KETN), Spectrum Ch. 15 in Bakersfield.

“While we were unable to gather in one location to celebrate the district honorees this year, we felt strongly that it was important that we continued the celebration in this new format,” said Malaika Bryant, Director, Educator Development & Data Support at KCSOS. “The opportunity to honor and celebrate these teachers who represent Excellence in Teaching takes on additional significance in these unprecedented times.”

California Department of Education (CDE) sponsors the annual California Teacher of the Year program. The program is sponsored locally by Valley Strong Credit Union and Point Loma Nazarene University.

Following are the 54 Teacher of the Year district honorees:

Verna Alejo
Pond Union Elementary School District: Pond School
6th grade

Joseph Andreotti
Lakeside Union School District: Lakeside School
8th Grade History Social Science

Rebecca Baker
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District: Charles H. Castle
Music: Grades K-6

Marcy Billdt
Standard Elementary School District: Highland Elementary
3rd Grade

Patrice Bird
Rosedale Union School District: Freedom Middle School
7th Grade History

Lisa Borrecco
Taft Union High School District: Taft Union High School
English 9-12

Ellen Brockelsby
Tehachapi Unified School District: Jacobsen Middle School
7th grade English

Darren Buckey
Kern High School District: Golden Valley High School
Special Education: grades 9-12

Deanna Calley
Bakersfield City School District: Wayside Elementary
5th Grade

Summer Campbell
South Fork Union School District: South Fork School
6th Grade

Jennifer Castillo
Greenfield Union School District: Palla Elementary
1st grade

Wajeha Chaudhry
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District : Loudon Elementary School
3rd Grade

Jennifer Ciaccio
Mojave Unified School District: California City High School

Donna Cisneros
Southern Kern Unified School District: Rosamond Elementary School
3rd Grade

Yolanda “Lonnie”  Edgmon
Rio Bravo-Greeley Union School District: Rio Bravo-Greeley School
Social Studies & Physical Education: Grades 4-8

Suzie Ferralli
Kern High School District: Centennial High School
Math: Geometry, Geometry Gate, Advanced Algebra

Bobbie French
Kern County Superintendent of Schools: West Kern Community School
Independent Studies

Alex Gonzales
Delano Joint Union High School District: Cesar E. Chavez High School
9th – 12th grade English

Anthony Gonzales
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District: Castle Elementary School
K-6 Physical Education

Carolina Grant
Wasco Union Elementary School District: James A. Forrest Elementary
1st Grade

Kaley Hawkins
Kern High School District: Arvin High School
Health Careers Academy Teacher (Science)

Cynthia Inman
Kern High School District: Frontier High

Stephanie Juve
Muroc Joint Unified School District: Branch Elementary School

Valaree Kincaid
Kern High School District: Ridgeview High School

Albert Kumpel
Kern High School District: South High School
Social Studies and Criminal Justice Academy Coordinator

Sonia Martinez
Arvin Union School District: Bear Mountain Elementary
1st Grade

Victoria Martinez
Kern High School District: Highland High School
AP Calculus & Math Analysis

Amanda Mehciz
Bakersfield City School District: Casa Loma Elementary

Ines Mendoza
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District:  Thompson Jr. High School

Kimberly Minter
Bakersfield City School District: Mt. Vernon Elementary School
2nd grade     

Brent Mixon
Kern High School District: Kern Valley High School
Physical Education/ Activities

Dana Morataya
Edison Elementary School District: Edison Middle School
6th  grade

Maira  Munoz
Greenfield Union School District: Planz Elementary
2nd  grade     

Nicole Negron
Bakersfield City School District : Sierra Middle School
7th Grade English, Literacy Leadership and Video production

Jenna Odlin
Kern High School District: East Bakersfield High School

Cara Parker
Kern High School District: Bakersfield High School
Special Education (math)

Karen Pease
Kern County Superintendent of Schools: Division of Special Education
K-2 special education

Maria Pfeifle  
Fairfax School District: Virginia Avenue Elementary
3rd Grade

Carol Polston
Kernville Union School District: Kernville Elementary School
1st Grade

CJ Pope
Kern High School District: Stockdale High School
9-12 Drama

Teresa Rimmer
Bakersfield City School District: Voorhies Elementary
6th Grade

Sylvia Rios-Mendoza
Delano Union School District: Terrace Elementary

Shelly Robinson
Lamont Elementary School District: Lamont Elementary School
2nd Grade – Dual Immersion

Socorro Robles
McFarland Unified School District: Horizon Elementary School
3rd Grade

Nicole Rodriguez
Kern High School District: West High School
Science and AVID

Tyrel “Ty” Rose
Kern High School District: Foothill
10th – 12th / History Government

Dana Ross
Kern High School District: North High School
World History 

Kathy Rowland
Kern High School District: Mira Monte High School
English 9 GATE and English Language AP

Yesina Sabala
Semitropic School District: Semitropic School
4th grade

Lisa Smith
Norris School District: Norris Elementary School
2nd Grade

Heidi Sullivan
Elk Hills School District: Elk Hills Elementary School
1st Grade

Dana Thompson
Buttonwillow Union School District: Buttonwillow School
1st -2nd Grade Combination

James  Willey
Kern High School District: Shafter High
Spanish & CTE Biomedical Sciences

Bob Williams
Delano Union School District: Harvest Elementary
4th Grade       

Thank You, Kern County Teachers

By Mary C. Barlow
Kern County Superintendent of Schools

When I was a child, my family frequently moved from city to city, place to place. While I got to see and learn about many parts of our beautiful country, these moves were oftentimes disruptive. School always brought me comfort. I found that it offered one constant because I could always count on teachers to connect with me. My teachers made me feel cared for and truly special. Some of my fondest memories are playing school and practicing with my three sisters for the day when I might become a teacher myself.

Fast forward many years and teachers still hold a special place in my heart. While I miss my own days leading a classroom, I have the great fortune to hear about, and witness firsthand, phenomenal examples every day of ways in which our county’s 9,500 teachers make meaningful differences in our childrens’ lives.

Teachers have one of the most challenging jobs of all. With today’s many uncertainties and the unforeseen need to teach from afar, this challenge has been amplified exponentially in recent weeks. But, with new challenges, brings new opportunity. While we must stay apart physically right now, it has been wonderful to see so many Kern County teachers supporting their students and families in new and creative ways. For this, I express my sincere appreciation for their hard work, flexibility and ingenuity in making the transition to distance learning. Their commitment to providing students with learning opportunities and maintaining social connections is absolutely essential during these challenging times.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week and there couldn’t be a better time to say thank you! As part of the celebration, we will be honoring Kern County’s 54 Teacher of the Year nominees through a series of videos posted on kern.org, on our social media platforms, and on KETN, our education TV network. The campaign will culminate with a virtual ceremony on Friday, where I will name two Kern County Teachers of the Year. The pair will then be eligible to apply for the California Teacher of the Year honor later in the year.

As our teachers have been met with a new normal in recent weeks, the transition to distance learning is yielding many unforeseen benefits. COVID’s disruption to our traditional school practices is compelling teachers to reimagine the way they teach. It’s an experience that will serve as a roadmap for our educational future. New partnerships and relationships are being built, new skills are being learned on the fly, and organic problem solving is taking center stage. The progress in just a short timeframe has been nothing short of remarkable.

There is currently no substitute for teaching and learning in a physical school setting. The ability to effectively gauge individual student learning is extremely difficult from afar. And, unlike in a physical classroom, teachers cannot as easily check students’ answers to questions or provide one-on-one interventions. The digital divide is all too real as well, and our students and families — most of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged — often don’t have the resources needed to make online learning easy.

Nevertheless, we have been presented the opportunity to look at what online distance learning looks like for public schools, a modality that our partners in higher education have long offered and excelled at. It’s an exercise that would have happened naturally, but is being accelerated due to our current reality. The opportunities are wide.

Just imagine the possibilities once we have a robust and time-tested distance learning model in our toolkit. We could enhance summer school learning. We could better engage with students who are forced to stay home due to illness, so they no longer have to miss full instructional days. We could provide students and families with expanded educational options to meet their individual needs.

When our schools physically reopen, the traditional school experience as we have come to know it could look vastly different. Distance learning, to some degree, will likely be part of our new normal for some time. It will not be easy to be sure, but we will forge this new path together — educators, students, parents, and policymakers.

Thanks to the resiliency of our teachers and the patience and grace afforded by parents and students, I am certain that we will look back on this experience and be in a much better place than we have ever been before.