Their school administrators describe what makes them the best in their class.
Top Teacher of OC
El Modena High School, Orange – Business & Finance
This year’s Top Teacher of OC is Clay Stiles of El Modena High School. A teacher of business and finance, Stiles carries a seven-period class load sharing knowledge of entrepreneurship and crucial finance information to set students on a stable path for their future. Although his academic achievements with students are impressive, far more admirable are his contributions to their lives in a bigger picture sense.
“Clay truly believes in his students and they know it. We have put students into his classes that no one else on campus has been able to reach. Clay manages to immediately connect and turn them around,” says El Modena High Principal, Dustin Saxton. “He never says no to taking an at-risk student and working with them to help them graduate.”
Stiles is known for his relationship-building skills with his students, particularly those others might give up on. His unflagging positivity has touched the lives of thousands of students, inspiring at-risk kids to realize graduating is not only necessary, but more importantly, attainable.
“You can never give up on a kid. They’re kids, they’re going to mess up once in a while,” says Stiles. “Adolescence is a windy road, it has a lot of bumps and hills and ditches. And every kid, no matter who they are, is eventually going to hit those bumps or run off into a ditch. That’s when I try to be there to help. If I see a kid really struggling in life, I try to find some common interest, start the conversation, show interest in what they care about, in their lives. You have to be there for them when they get down, and pull them up. Because, sadly, a lot of kids don’t have anyone to pull them up.”
Stiles attends extracurricular events to support students and is known as a willing and indispensible resource for other teachers struggling with how to reach difficult students. His belief that all students are capable of greatness is proved through his dedication to help students with severe disabilities and his ability to modify his curriculum for not only the top academic achievers, but those reading below a third-grade level.
“I have mixed age classes; some with physical challenges, some with learning issues. It’s different with each kid, but the key is to figure out how to get them to buy-in, so they can start taking some advice. I do what I can. We pull off some miracles. I have some miracles I’ve witnessed, saved a few lives believe or it or not, but that’s the most rewarding part. To take a kid totally going the wrong direction and turn them around, get them through graduation, on to college and when they come back after college graduation to see you, that’s pretty powerful. It doesn’t get much better than that. I tell the kids, there’s no amount of money in the world that can buy that kind of satisfaction. It’s amazing.”
In fact, Stiles’ classroom is filled with notes, letters and thank you cards from former students. One of his most meaningful coming from a student who spent the majority of Freshman year in jail. Stiles worked his “student whisperer” magic and the teen not only went on to become Senior Class Vice President and an integral member of a school wide leadership board, but is now in nursing school pursuing a career and a purpose that might have never been realized if he had not crossed paths with Stiles.
“Anytime the administration has a student that is in academic, social, attendance, or any other kind of trouble, we go to Mr. Stiles. During his 11 years at the school, he has touched the lives of thousands of students,” says Principal Saxton. “The bottom line is that El Modena High School is a better place because of Mr. Stiles.’”
Oakridge Private School – Orange – Art
“Oh my gosh, I am completely blessed, honored and excited!!! Thank you Stefan for the nomination, I have tears of joy running down my cheeks!”
“Teaching with love, kindness, fairness, and above all, teaching children to reach higher, no matter what their level.” These are the words of a true teacher that walks on to our campus and glows with enthusiasm and love for the students. Mrs. Alu starting teaching in 1983, and began her service to Oakridge Private School in 1985. During her time with us, she taught grades 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. She retired in 2009, from classroom teaching, to pursue her passion for Art. But, we could not let such a talented and loving teacher retire that easy. She still teaches our art classes each week to preschool through 8th grade. During her time at Oakridge, she was involved or led many of the programs the students were involved in. She was the lead instructor to the Builders Club, that was sponsored through the Kiwanis Club, She ran the Pen and Quill Handwriting Competition, She helped design and build floats for the Orange parade, founded the 3rd grade Thanksgiving Feast for the Annual Pioneer Day, and developed a Gold Ticket program as a Character Education Program. Past students describe Mrs. Alu as one of those teachers that you will remember, and describe to your own children, as “one of those teachers that made a lasting positive impression on your life.” Outside of Oakridge Private School, She is the Vice President of the Orange Art Association, and chaired the 18th annual Orange Open at the Muse. She has been voted, “Artist of the Year,” two years, and in the Hall of Fame in the Orange Art Association. Last, she is the Education Chairman for the “Art for All” program for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. Mrs. Alu’s art has been displayed in John Wayne Airport, Buena Park City Hall, Orange City Hall, Orange Public Library, OCCCA, Muzeo, Guggenheim at Chapman University, F+ Gallery, Santora, and Tustin Senior Center. She is truly a life long educator, and we are proud to have her as a teacher at Oakridge Private School. “One must truly love children and get excited about what they accomplish, honestly, because kids are the best at reading what one really is feeling.” After over 30 years of teaching, Mrs. Alu shares what teaching is all about.
College Park Elementary School, Irvine – Kindergarten
“I am so blessed to do what I love every day. There is no better reward than seeing a child’s eyes light up when learning how to read! I am deeply humbled and I thank my family, students and colleagues.”
Mrs. Bailly teaches a classroom full of Kindergartners who are just learning English. We entrust her to teach them not only the kindergarten Common Core Curriculum, but also the English Language skills necessary for them to survive and thrive in school. These students flourish under her supervision and all are able to be in a mainstream class (with fluent, native speakers) by their first grade year. In addition, she is a teacher leader at our school. She leads training for school and district teachers in the area of Common Core instruction, teaching English Learners, and Early Childhood Literacy. She is a Teaching Assistant Principal and takes on administrative tasks in my absence. She is a leader for the Irvine Unified School District.in that she acts as a mentor for other primary teachers. In the midst of all of these tasks and responsibilities, Mrs. Bailly is the ray of sunshine that brightens our school each day. Her smile, her positive attitude, her skill and expertise with instruction, and her love of children and her fellow staff members make her my pick as Orange County’s Parenting OC Teacher of the Year!
St. John’s Lutheran School, Orange – History
“To be singled out and recognized for what I enjoy doing every day is an honor. Striving to motivate and inspire students to be passionate about their learning is my ultimate goal.”
Mrs. Bender is an amazing history teacher for 7th and 8th grade students. She makes history come alive for the students. An example of this was when she talked about the Boston Tea Party and taxation without representation. The students came into class.She explained to them that from now on, they would have to pay ten cents per paper that the students received.This included copied materials that she would hand out, blank papers in the classroom that the students needed to write on or take notes on.The students were upset. This was not fair! This was not right! “Exactly,” said Mrs. Bender. “That is how the colonists felt when they were being taxed by England without having a say in the matter.” She has students do research on historical characters, taking on their characteristics, doing research on them and then doing presentations in front of their peers.They get to be the educator to their peers, teaching them what they learned.She also has them do current events, like take watch the State of the Union and take notes.She cares about the students, gets them excited about history and makes history come alive.
Tarbut V’Torah, Irvine – History
“I have never been concerned with “awards” when it comes to my teaching. As long as my students learn, grow and are successful, that is reward enough for me. My one passion as a teacher has been to see my students grow into mature young adults with the confidence to meet any challenge.”
Beloved by students and alumni alike, Paul Chaffey has been inspiring students at TVT since 2007. As Clint Davis, Director of Middle School notes, “Paul’s approach to education blends experiential and traditional teaching styles to great success. It’s not uncommon to see Paul dressed in civil war garb or other period dress as he lectures his class from a first person perspective—he brings history to life. Paul is authentic and the kids love this about him: he is clear in his expectations and he holds his students to a high bar.” In addition to a Bachelor’s degree from Occidental College, Mr. Chaffey holds a California Teaching Credential and has many years’ experience teaching Middle School through the California Public School system. At TVT, Mr. Chaffey teaches History, and is the Lead Teacher for the eighth grade. Mr. Chaffey is famous for informing eighth grade students and their families that his class is not “8th grade history, it is pre-high school history.” To this end Paul focusses on teaching the skills necessary for success in our rigorous high school program, on study skills, organization, and on fostering the ability to think strategically, creatively, deeply, clearly, and independently. In his class, students learn that they are capable of more than they realize. This self-knowledge – and the ability to think well and deeply – is Mr. Chaffey’s gift to each student, the solid foundation on which they can build successful futures.
Carl E. Gilbert Elementary School, Buena Park – K-3rd Grade – Special Education
“I was very surprised and humbled that my administrator nominated me for this award and that I was chosen as one of the top 25 teachers!”
The wonderful, precious, energetic, yet voiceless, sometimes immobile and incapacitated student is what faces Mrs. Margaret Garcia each and every day at Gilbert School. Mrs. Garcia teaches the Kindergarten – Third Grade Moderate/Severe students with pride and energy that rivals hero status. Students in her class need constant attention. Many of them are 4-6 years cognitively delayed and are just learning life skills; many of them need diapering support and daily living assistance; that does not stop Mrs. Garcia from creating a learning environment that enables students to benefit from her expertise and become functional members of society. Student growth is measured in smiles, learning how to write and say their name, and sitting in a group and gaining a sense of pride. Each student sits and works diligently with support from Mrs. Garcia on tasks and projects. All students look at her as more than a teacher, she is their guide to success. Parents have called Mrs. Garcia their “savior” and are amazed at her daily patience with their sons or daughters. Each day is a brand new learning experience for her students. The school bus buzzes with energy as Mrs. Garcia meets them at the curb because the students are so excited to see her. In the past, students with special needs were stuck in the corner of the school and hidden from site. On the contrary, Mrs. Garcia’s class is right in the middle of the school; she has created a culture of acceptance at the school where students and teachers can be readily found volunteering with her students and creating a true family environment. When you walk into Mrs. Garcia’s class students greet you with a smile and a hug, an environment that was created by the respect Mrs. Garcia pays to her students. This past week, Mrs. Garcia re-created the first “Thanksgiving.” Students that couldn’t use utensils in the past were wearing Indian and pilgrim hats enjoying Turkey and all of the fixings that Mrs. Garcia brought in for them. There is a special place in the heavens for Margaret Garcia; her dedication to students and the redefinition of what a special needs student can accomplish because of her support definitely qualifies her for the “Top Teacher” award.
Buena Park Junior High, Buena Park – History and Debate
“My main goal as a History and Debate teacher has always been to provide more opportunities for the students to learn and grow, and essentially be part of a community that spurs one another in building awareness of local and global issues.”
Vanessa Gomez is an 8th grade United States History Teacher. She also teaches sections of US History in our Honors Academy as well as a section of Speech and Debate. She serves on the leadership team at the school representing the History department. Vanessa holds high standards for her students in history regardless of whether or not it is an honors section. She holds a deep belief that all students can learn at high levels and the standards in US history are critical to becoming successful citizens. Her Speech and Debate students also achieve at high levels and have won numerous awards as part of the Orange County Debate league. She is proud to be the only public junior high school in the debate league and sends the message that regardless of whether or not you are in a private or public school you can achieve great results. In the last tournament her students won 1st place in total wins and percentage of wins and had student teams finish 1st place, 3rd place, and 4th place overall. She is a dedicated professional that fulfills our mission to educate, motive, and inspire our students to achieve academic success and become productive global citizens. Thank you for your consideration of one our great teachers.
Pillars Academy, Mission Viejo – Preschool
“Oh my God, really? My students will be so happy!”
Parents at Pillars Academy are amazed at how quickly their children adjust to this teacher’s classroom and how much they learn in their first year, in both English and Arabic. Through musical fun play and hands on learning, Ms. Faieza Hadi, engages her little ones throughout the day. At dismissal, many of them ask to stay and all of them rush to give her a big hug the next morning. Her love for children and dedication to their learning is tireless. Back in year 2000, she was one of the passionate educators that started the school. In 2015, she is still that passionate educator who is creating the precious firsts of learning experiences that play a significant role in our children’s educational foundation. Ms. Faieza is visited often by high school and college students who remember her fondly as their first teacher and praise her for the love of learning that she instilled in them for both English and Arabic. The families of Pillars Academy have certainly been fortunate to have such a dedicated and loving preschool teacher for the past fifteen years. Ms. Faieza is that type of teacher that parents and administration alike can count on to ensure that children are safe, loved, and being provided the opportunities to inquire, explore, and experience learning. Throughout the last fifteen years, Pillars Academy has had numerous teachers dedicate years of their career to the community. Yet Ms. Faieza sets herself apart in how she transfers a love for learning through effective routines and strategies that engage students. Through hands on learning and multi-sensory activities, she is able to engage English Language Learners as well as highly energized students who are not yet familiar with procedures. She readily shares with colleagues and even more readily seeks new approaches for further differentiation. Conclusively, the families of Orange County whose children have been taught by Ms. Faeiza have had a memorable advantage. The anecdotes they refer to when they seek her out to tell her of their success reflect the lasting love and curiosity for learning she was able to instill so long ago. To colleagues and parents, Ms. Faieza is that passionate educator all wants their child to be with. Ms. Faieza’s nomination as a top teacher in Orange County is supported by her sustained dedication and students’ literacy development over a 15 year-period.
St. John’s Episcopal School, Rancho Santa Margarita – Math and Technology
“During the last year we implemented an innovative STEAM curriculum. It is a joy to see students’ smiling faces as they are applying quadratic equations to the flight of rockets or creating a windmill.”
Suzy Hardy has been an employee at St. John’s School for 20 years. She began her work as a 7th and 8th grade classroom teacher for the math and technology program and continues to teach the School’s math and digital media classes today. After attending a week long training at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the Summer of 2014, she is now a trained Project Lead the Way Automation and Robotics Teacher and teaches 8th Grade Robotics. Suzy serves as the School’s Math Department Chair and is instrumental in helping St. John’s research and establish a math program that differentiates instruction by reducing class size for individualized education. Suzy consults with local high schools to ensure that the School is delivering a program that will prepare students for any secondary school math program. For the past 15 years, Suzy has also been the School’s Director of Technology where she single-handedly maintains all of the School’s computers, attends School functions and fundraisers to ensure the technology is running smoothly, and oversees faculty / staff technology training. Suzy has been instrumental in partnering with Crean Lutheran High School, which gives students the opportunity to attend engineering classes with the high school students on a regular basis, preparing them for future engineering classes. Suzy also founded and coaches the St. John’s Advanced Robotics competition team and Octothorpes, the School’s math competition team, taking the students to local competitions including the UCI Math Counts Competitions and Sage Hill Invitational. Suzy fills in and volunteers to help anytime, anywhere. She walks student council students to sing at retirement homes, participates in Operation Rack Pack, takes kids to Camp Pendleton to clean barracks for returning Marines, and attends field trips, including the annual Washington DC trip. St. John’s is so lucky to have her!
Saddleback High School, Santa Ana – Music
“I am extremely honored. Thank you to the teachers and students at Saddleback High who work hard everyday to inspire and make me a better teacher. Thank you all for this special recognition.”
I have the distinct honor and pleasure to introduce to you, Mr. Dylan Harlan, who is an outstanding band director, music teacher, and the November 2014 SAUSD Certificated Employee of the Month. This exemplary teacher demonstrates all the great attributes of a great teacher, musician, and motivator. With a clear vision of his program, Mr. Harlan has set forth to motivate and teach his students to become quality musicians and performers. He has engaged in the difficult task of preparing students for public performances, and in the course of doing so, built confidence and stamina in his students. Many of Mr. Harlan’s students are playing a musical instrument and performing for the first time. Although some might see this as a barrier, he firmly believes that they can be successful in their efforts. His parents actively support the band program, reflecting Mr. Harlan’s commitment to Arts Education and its positive impact on society. It is inspiring to see our parents enjoying the high quality performances given by the performing groups under Mr. Harlan’s direction. Our staff is also enthusiastic supporters of the band program; they love to see and hear the band perform at school events, such as pep assemblies and football games. The Performance Ensemble recently won the SCSBOA Division 1A Band Field Show Competition at Warren High School in Downey. They came in First Place among fourteen bands. Mr. Harlan is a consummate musician and an outstanding saxophonist. He has performed classical, jazz, and popular music on world stages. Mr. Harlan truly understands the role of mentoring aspiring young musicians. Every year, he presents school concerts that feature guest musicians. Our students gain invaluable growth experience by collaborating with these guest artists. The “guest artist” concerts have been acclaimed as some of the best concerts given at Saddleback. This fall, the band has earned outstanding ratings and individual awards at field competitions and parades. Mr. Harlan and the Saddleback High School Performance Ensemble have definitely brought a winning spirit to our campus. In closing, I can state that Mr. Harlan is “one of the best” and an honor to have at Saddleback High School.
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano – Engineering
“I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news. I am surrounded by incredible teachers at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School and am in awe of how they teach and what they accomplish. I am lucky to be teaching in a community that creates wonderful opportunities for student growth.”
Engineering teacher Steve Harless led an eight-member team of Upper School students to launch a handcrafted high-altitude balloon into space as for the Global Space Balloon Challenge in a remote spot near Bakersfield, Calif. Under Mr. Harless’ leadership, St. Margaret’s is one of only a few high schools in the world invited to participate in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, an international education outreach and collaboration project to encourage people from around the world to build and launch their own high-altitude balloon science experiments. Over a single weekend last year, teams from around the world launched balloons to the edge of space, recovered them, and shared the photos and data that they collected. Colleges including Stanford University, University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and others from Europe and Australia also launched balloons. Teams launched high-altitude weather balloons attached to a box that houses sensors and instruments. The St. Margaret’s team designed the instrument compartment, balloon arrangement, researched launch sites, predicted landing spots based on historic meteorological data and contacted the Federal Aviation Administration and local airport authorities regarding launch information. The balloon’s instrument container is a Styrofoam box designed to preserve heat at high altitudes with enough rigidity to resist pressure and temperature changes while remaining lightweight. The balloon has a metal radar detector so airports can track the balloon and aircraft can avoid it. Additionally, there is a parachute that brings the instrument back to earth, and the latex balloon filled with helium. According to Mr. Harless, “The GPS device in the Styrofoam stops sending information at 60,000 feet as per FAA and government requirements. The fun part is wondering where the balloon goes between 60,000 feet and about 100,000 feet when the balloon bursts and the parachute begins lowering the package. At 60,000 feet, on the way down, the GPS begins working again and off we go to find the package. Our computer and even cell phones can track the balloon GPS once it starts sending again,” The team recovered the balloon in a field approximately 23 miles south of the launch site. Their videos and photos show unbelievable shots of the curve of the Earth, and the blue shell of the atmosphere at 100,000 feet. The team also launched the balloon in the International Balloon Race. St. Margaret’s is one of only a few high schools invited to compete in this university-level competition.
St. John’s Episcopal School, Rancho Santa Margarita – Science
“Growing up, my dream was to be a school teacher, and I am thankful to St. John’s Episcopal for affording me the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues and students. I am grateful to be able to provide a hands-on innovative curriculum that challenges students and prepares them for success.”
Erin Kolk is St. John’s Episcopal School’s Elementary Science teacher who most recently spearheaded the introduction of Project Lead the Way Launch Program to the School’s Elementary Science program. Erin motivates her students by allowing them to explore and discover in innovative ways. She consistently goes above and beyond in the preparation of her dynamic lessons, creating a love of learning in her students. For instance, to teach her 4th grade students about landforms, erosion, and deposition, Erin helped them create the Colorado Plateau in stream tables. By running three tests on their stream tables, students then watched how the earth is changed due to the power of water and were able to see firsthand what causes a river to meander, how a delta is formed, and how canyons are carved out due to water. To teach the 3rd Grade how airplanes fly, students created and launched gliders to see four forces at work: lift, drag, thrust, and gravity. Students videotaped their launches and then watched the videos in slow motion to discover what makes an object fly further with added weight. The students then made necessary changes to their design and kept notes of their findings. In 5th grade, Erin teaches her students how robotics affects their lives. To encourage hands-on learning, students follow wordless direction on an iPad app to build a test bed where they test five components to gain an understanding of each one’s functionality. With all of Erin’s exciting lessons in the classroom, there is always an enthusiastic energy as students conduct experiments or engage in different builds!
Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Rancho Santa Margarita – Theatre Arts
“I am surprised, humbled, and grateful for this recognition. I have been extremely fortunate in my 27-year career to have been able to follow my passion for educational theatre and arts advocacy and am blessed to work at a wonderful school like Santa Margarita Catholic High School.”
In the world of educational theatre, you simply cannot find a more dedicated, respected, talented, and visionary teacher than Mrs. Amy Luskey-Barth, Director of Theatre Arts at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. She is a titan of creativity with purpose. A veteran theatre director and teacher whose career spans over twenty-five years in educational theatre, Amy founded Tri-School Theatre for Servite, Connelly and Rosary High Schools and served as Producing Artistic Director from 1989 – 2004 where she directed over 100 productions before moving over to SMCHS in 2010. Amy also served three years as the California State Advocate for the Arts for the Educational Theatre Association and four years on the California State Board of the International Thespian Society. She also developed the Playworks Program for emerging young playwrights for the California State Thespians and is passionate about encouraging young writers. To date, her high school musical productions have garnered six “Best Musical” MACY Awards; most recently in 2014 for Santa Margarita’s production of PIPPIN. Amy’s educational philosophy, Theatre on Purpose, sets her apart from her peers because it means that she combines the artistic production of her field with the broader sense of human connection, compassion, philanthropy, and meaning. Developed and practiced by Amy for over twenty years, this approach to Theatre Education has been adopted by several Catholic High Schools in the Diocese of Orange and has been highlighted by the Western Catholic Education Association (WCEA) as an example of Catholic Identity in arts education. This approach encourages and facilitates the growth and skill development of students through a process that emphasizes integrity, mutual respect, support, and a spirit of gratitude and generosity. Not only does Amy lift students to achieve theatrical greatness, but each and every one of her students is a better person for having been taught by her. Students are more culturally sensitive and become better global citizens. Her students have gone on to some of the best college theatre programs in the country including NYU, USC, UCLA, DePaul, Chapman, Mary Mount Manhattan and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano – Library
“St. Margaret’s is brimming with outstanding teachers and to be nominated and chosen is a true privilege! What I must note is the collaborative nature of my role as School Librarian; I alone am not a deserving recipient of this honor, but rather stand on the shoulders of the entire school community.”
Director of Learning Commons and Library Darla Magana led a year-long initiative to reinvent the school’s library curriculum, resources and physical space for the 21st century. Mrs. Magana envisioned a modern communal learning hub that would serve students of every age, preschool to high school. Mrs. Magana extensively researched and developed the plan for the new program and space, overseeing with painstaking detail every aspect of the reimagining, redesign and construction project. The resulting new Library and Learning Commons provides heightened flexibility in dedicated spaces to support student learning, research and study needs by allowing them to interact with rich media content and leading technology tools, work independently or collaboratively, and seek guidance from expert researchers and information specialists. Students have access to information and literature resources through a deep collection of books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and dvds, and a gateway to a vast catalog of web-based resources. Mrs. Magana realized and conceptualized specific dynamic and introspective learning and studying places for students. From collaborative, flexible, technological work areas to “cave” spaces that provide learners with solitude and quiet where they can work independently, the Library Commons is configured to meet the diverse learning styles of the 21st-century student. Reading lounges provide comfortable places for readers of all ages. In the Storymaking and Storytelling spaces, students access leading technology and tools to create digital stories and presentations, from storyboarding and drafting. Mrs. Magana’s expertise and vision saw the future of libraries in a technologically advancing world. She built the school community understanding and support for this project and led the development of the new Library Learning Commons a vital, essential learning space, the heartbeat of our learning community. Mrs. Magana holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a Master of Library Science from San Jose State University, and a Professional Clear Teaching Credential in English and a Library Media Teacher Credential. She is an integral member of the St. Margaret’s administrative team and the school’s Curriculum Steering Committee. Her professional affiliations include the California School Library Association, in which she has held varied leadership roles. She is also a member of the American Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration and the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Oakridge Private School, Orange – 1st Grade
“I believe helping students develop an enthusiasm for knowledge is the greatest gift I can give them, and as much as I strive to inspire my students, my students are the ones who inspire me!”
Ms. Melissa Maughan “Celebrating the student’s individuality and cultural diversity plays an important part in ensuring each student has a sense of belonging within the classroom, yet remains proud of who they are.” Even though Ms. Maughan has been a teacher for only five years, she has a distinguished depth and understanding for educating children, as if she has been teaching for twenty years. Her passion for teaching and love for the children shows in her glowing smile every day. Being a first grade teacher, she strives to keep a well-rounded classroom focused on smart brains, healthy bodies, and kind hearts. Keeping it simple for our little one’s to understand. She loves the first grade classroom and the excitement for the exploration and education the students show. Ms. Maughan earned her degree in Child and Family Development, and has a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, both from San Diego State University. She has also completed a graduate program through U.C. San Diego last year. During her time studying in San Diego, she volunteered for Champions Are Readers, an organization bringing literacy to children in unfortunate circumstances. In addition to teaching first grade, she is also the cheerleading coach at Oakridge. In the past four years of being their coach, she has built this program into much more than cheerleading. With a cheer squad of twenty two girls, from Kindergarten to third grade, they are consistently helping their our own peers by volunteering for our school fundraising events, they successfully raised and donated over $1,000 for Dental Care for Children, a non-profit organization that brings dental care to children in impoverished counties. The cheerleaders trained for, and ran, the Kids Run the OC Marathon, in order to raise money for such a wonderful cause. They even wrote letters and drew pictures for the children they were helping in Haiti, and received pictures and bracelets in return! This year the cheer program is teaming up with The Infinite Smile Project, with founder Kim Esmond, to help lead by example and create a campus in which philanthropic values and confidence are instilled. By creating a squad with giving hearts, and high amounts of energy, Ms. Maughan has grown this cheerleading program into the largest program on campus! ‘Most of all, I believe that helping students develop an appreciation and enthusiasm for knowledge, is the greatest gift I can give.’
Loara High School, Anaheim – Geometry
“What I love most about teaching is when I connect with my students and see them succeed.”
Very few educators are more dedicated, passionate, skilled, and caring than Eileen McDaid. She is an outstanding teacher, a wonderful leader, and a selfless servant of our students, parents, and her colleagues. She is never too tired or busy to lend an ear or a hand, and there is no question that her influence extends far beyond her classroom. Eileen is a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, reflective, and highly effective teacher, one who positively enhances countless lives each year through a very simple formula for success. First, she begins by building a rock-solid foundation composed of kindness, respect and the sincere belief that all students can learn. Then she creates a learning environment in which students feel safe, valued, and encouraged. Next, Eileen engages her students with humor, wisdom, and impressive pedagogy—she plans extensively to meet students’ respective needs, schema, interests and backgrounds and thereby consistently brings out the best in them. As if all of this were not enough, she constantly re-evaluates her lessons and continually strives to make her teaching more relevant, more engaging, and more empowering. Finally, Eileen tirelessly continues to push, pull, and encourage until her students succeed. You’ll find her doing exactly that nearly every afternoon, as she provides after school tutoring sessions, teaches credit recovery classes, and serves as a mentor for our PBIS program. It really is no surprise that her students perform very well and that she is much beloved. As our Mathematics Department chair, Eileen’s colleagues naturally look to her for guidance; however, much more than her position encourages them to do so. They seek her advice because she always makes time to provide guidance and support, and her wealth of experience, extensive knowledge, and compassion for others make her an ideal mentor. She is a wonderful listener and a truly collaborative leader who is open to new ideas that will push the instructional envelope. She is regarded as one of our finest teachers, one whom many others wish to emulate. There is no question that her leadership has empowered many of our teachers, and her efforts continue to make us a much stronger academic institution. Eileen McDaid is truly deserving of your notice; in fact, it is probably a bit overdue. Frankly, the students, parents, teachers, and support staff of Loara High School have long known that she is an A+ teacher.
Brethren Christian High School, Huntington Beach – Music
“I am grateful to be at a school where the administration fully supports the arts and allows for creative ideas in scheduling so that students can develop academically, athletically and artistically.”
Mr. Montgomery has been the Band Program Director at Brethren Christian for 26 years. A passionate musician himself (trumpet), he is able to inspire his students, year after year, to work hard and attain levels of excellence only imagined. Mr. M (as he is known) is loved by students, parents and concert goers alike. A grandparent was overheard at a concert, telling his wife, “I don’t need to go to the Performing Arts Center, when I can enjoy fantastic music right here at Brethren!” Mr. M’s program includes Beginning Band, for students who have never played an instrument before, all the way to Advanced Jazz Band, for those who share his passion to play music. Students perform a wide variety of concerts throughout the school year. The highlight is the Big Night O’ Jazz concert held in February. This event pairs the student musicians with a professional musician. Student are able to learn about music careers in an instructive session prior to the concert. Together, they play several collaborative pieces, in the concert. Helen Borgers, of KJazz88. 1FM, once said that, “this jazz program is one of the best kept secrets of the Southern California jazz scene”. The ArtsOC organization must agree, as they awarded Brethren Christian “The Outstanding Arts Educator” award in 2011. Mr. Montgomery’s Eight O’clock Jazz Band played for the cocktail reception of the OC Performing Arts Annual Gala later that year. Recent graduate, Marc Harris (2013), had never benefitted from any music instruction prior to attending Brethren Christian. He learned not only to play the tenor saxophone, but developed a love for composition. At the 2013 Big Night O’ Jazz concert, Grammy Award winner Willie Murillo, brought to the attention of the audience, that the complex piece the students had just played had been composed by Harris. Mr. Murillo subsequently became a mentor to him. Marc also won the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award that year. Len Montgomery, says he saw the spark in the talented teenager as soon as he met him. “He has a composer’s personality and temperament,” he says. “He never stops until he gets the sound he is after.” “I have been given incredible opportunities at Brethren Christian,” Harris said. “I am grateful to Mr. Montgomery for expecting excellence of his students.” Generations of students, and their parents, echo that sentiment!
Heritage Oak Private School, Yorba Linda – 2nd Grade
“I love what I do and enjoy each day with my students. Each student is a blessing and I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in their lives, as they make a huge difference in my life.”
Since 2005, Julie Mullings has had a major impact on students hearts and minds as an elementary school teacher at Heritage Oak. She has taught in Kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 4th grade and is currently teaching 2nd grade. Students love Mrs. Mullings because of her nurturing and encouraging demeanor which allows them to enhance their curiosity and their knowledge, as they grow in compassion, respect, and kindness for others. Mrs. Mullings always ensures that each child has the chance to contribute to classroom lessons with confidence and her students regularly visit her outside of class time to show her what they have been reading or to identify one of the vocabulary words that they have come across during their day that they learned in her class. Character Education is so important to Mrs. Mullings that she spends much of her free time managing the school’s character education program. She organizes the character lessons for grades k-6 and also brings new character recognition ideas and initiatives to the school on a regular basis. She was also one of Heritage Oak’s representatives in the Meritas Lead Teachers Conference which allowed her to collaborate with teachers worldwide and set up an amazing pen pal program between her class and a school in Mexico. Mrs. Mullings was also one of the Heritage Oak teachers that led the way when the school transitioned to utilizing electronic white boards (Promethean Boards) in the classrooms. She took the initiative to research and implement the technology in her classroom as a pilot prior to full implementation. She then trained other teachers on how to utilize the technology to its potential. We are very grateful for Mrs. Mullings and her willingness to go above and beyond for our school.
St. Angela Merici Parish School, Brea – Science
“I truly enjoy teaching Science. I think it is such a big part of our lives. I’m on a constant mission to find new ways to engage my students and create meaningful experiences. It is absolutely electric when you see your students excited about learning, when they get it and the ideas click for them!”
Mrs. Stephanie Petris – St. Angela Merici Parish School’s “Science Diva” In the parking lot of St. Angela Merici Parish School, the car with the license plate reading “SCIDIVA” belongs to someone truly remarkable. Mrs. Stephanie Petris, 4th-8th grade science teacher, embodies the title of ‘top teacher.” Mrs. Petris makes learning science exciting, by allowing her students to create, explore, present and experience concepts through interactive labs, S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) projects and fieldtrips. For the last 25 years as a teacher, Mrs. Petris has been employed in various teaching positions, including teaching kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade and 5th grade. This is her 12th year teaching science at St. Angelas. Mrs. Petris’ ability to make her subject relevant to the lives of her students and motivate a love of science while incorporating our religious values is incredible. Mrs. Petris graduated from California State University Fullerton with a Bachelors in Science and a teaching credential in General Foundational Science. She continues her education through a three-year grant program awarded by the California Department of Education. As part of the Ca/MSP “SYSTEMS” STEM grant, Mrs. Petris, along with Mrs. Robin McConnell, a math teacher at St. Angelas, will complete this intensive training. They will incorporate what they learn into their classrooms, and share their knowledge with their colleagues. At the end of 2014, Mrs. Petris dealt with a serious health issue and underwent surgery. With the love of her family, friends and staff, and a determination to teach which has inspired all those who know her, she is back in the classroom doing what she loves. Mrs. Petris teaches her students that the more you learn about science, the more fascinating the world around you becomes. I highly recommend Mrs. Stephanie Petris as a superior candidate for Parenting OC’s Top Teachers issue. Please refer to the emailed flier to see her curriculum and fieldtrip breakdown by grade level.
The Pegasus School, Huntington Beach – Art
“My advice to my students has often been, ‘find what you love to do then surround yourself with people who do it better, because that environment will make you better.’ This is how I feel at The Pegasus School, continuously surrounded by folks who make me strive to improve.”
Last year at eighth-grade graduation, Mrs. Schmitz presented an award to one of her students. With her trademark smile and sense of humor, she reminded this student, who was highly respected by all his teachers, that, having worked with him since he was in elementary school, she was “his fan first.” In reality, though, she could have been speaking about any of her students. Mrs. Schmitz is not only a fan of all of her pupils, but she often is one of those “first fans.” She instinctively recognizes her students’ talents, whether those talents be in the arts (her subject area) or in another area. She inspires her students to push themselves to levels they initially don’t think they can reach by providing continuous support and encouragement. She goes out of her way to create opportunities both in and out of her classroom for students to express themselves and to be their best selves. She designs creative lessons in which students design works of art that are true reflections of themselves. These works of art cover our campus – and just not on the walls. Whether organizing a “yarnstorming” of our campus or strategically placing life-sized sculptures of people made of packing tape around the school, Mrs. Schmitz creates an excitement for art that permeates our campus. In fact, her seventh- and eighth-grade electives (which include ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, painting, drawing, and Dream Lab: Art Edition) are consistently among the most popular selections of the students. As a lead advisor and a co-founder of our school’s character education program, Mrs. Schmitz serves not only as a teacher but also a counselor, a shoulder to cry on, a mentor, and a friend. She often takes her lunch breaks to meet with students to listen to their problems, hear about their successes, or to just check in. She consistently inspires not only her students but also her colleagues. She is a true fan of her students, and all of us at Pegasus – students, teachers, and parents alike – are fans of hers.
James A. Whitaker Elementary School, Buena Park – 3rd and 4th Grade
“I feel blessed to be able to make a difference in the lives of my students. Instilling a love of learning is why I teach, because if they love learning, they will stay in school and ultimately have a better chance at success in the future. Thanks for honoring my investment in my students’ lives.”
Dedicated, conscience, compassionate, highly-qualified, and valued are all words to describe this outstanding teacher at Whitaker Elementary School. Jeanette Solomon has worked at Whitaker Elementary for 16 years. Year after year she has demonstrated her extreme dedication and passion for the students she works with making her a vital piece in their positive development. In pursuit of developing students that are well-rounded individuals, Mrs. Solomon articulates her student’s needs with parents, other teachers, and administration to establish a strong support system for the children. As a highly qualified educator, she strives to grow professionally which makes her such a great asset. Jeanette Solomon not only wants the best for her students, she generously extends her expertise to those around her as well. She is a positive teacher leader who engages and supports her colleagues. Any of Mrs. Solomon’s co-workers will say that she is a great asset to the school community, tackling all assignments with diligence and extreme dedication and skill. Mrs. Solomon works with students of all levels and strives to meet their varying needs. During her tenure, Mrs. Solomon has implemented many educational, cross-cultural teaching techniques to help reach her students. Without hesitation, she willingly differentiates teaching strategies to make maximum learning available to all children in her class. She is passionate about working with students and makes strong connections with all those she teaches. Her ability to listen compassionately to their needs and concerns, and provide appropriate support makes her students feel valued and cared for. Mrs. Solomon is also active within the school community. She attends and supports all school events whenever possible. Mrs. Solomon has willingly served as a mentor to students who are part of the school GRIP (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership) program. Respected and esteemed by her school community, Mrs. Solomon gracefully demonstrates patience and caring for all those she works with. She uses her skills and passion for helping her students grow, not just academically but also as productive members of society.
Mabel L. Pendleton Elementary School, Buena Park – 3rd Grade
“I really felt honored that my principal had nominated me for this award! Now I better live up to it!”
Mrs. Thompson is dedicated to ensuring that students have a well-rounded education. She knows that when students are curious about the world around them, they will become enthusiastic and want to learn beyond what is taught in the classroom during the school day. She educates her students beyond the four walls of her classroom. Mrs. Thompson works to provide learning opportunities that are beyond the books and supplies provided in a school. She has written grants to plant a school-wide Native California Garden where students can study and experience science firsthand. Students enjoy learning about plant life, sustainability, and interaction of animals and plants in a natural habitat. She knows that our students have limited access to many cultural and learning opportunities throughout the community. That does not deter Mrs. Thompson. She has written many grants to provide fieldtrips to the arboretum, museum and planetarium. She is a prime example of not allowing boundaries and constraints to get in the way of providing students multiple opportunities to learn about the world. Mrs. Thompson also wrote a grant to provide iPads to students. Through the use of iPads, her students have limitless access to the wonders of the world. They easily research topics and create multi-media projects that are in alignment with the 21st century skills necessary to be successful in the future. Mrs. Thompson’s students are encouraged to be creative and collaborate as they learn from firsthand experiences and create top notch presentations. She inspires her students to become lifelong learners. Mrs. Thompson knows no boundaries when it comes to providing quality education for all her students.
Glenview Elementary School, Anaheim – 4th Grade
“It is an honor to be recognized for doing what I love. I thank God for guiding me and giving me the opportunity to teach. My students mean the world to me, and it’s a privilege to be entrusted with their learning!”
Mrs. Mari Vega is a highly skilled educator who believes that the education of a child extends well beyond the classroom. She involves parents, the wider community, and her colleagues in providing learning experiences that both challenges and interests her students. Her spirit is driven by an immense ethic of care (she is also a mentor for teen mothers in Orange County, an English Language Advisory Committee Teacher Lead, Coordinator of School Site Council and Single Plan for Student Achievement, a Bilingually Credentialed Educator, and a fabulous mother!). Please do more than simply consider this candidate… select her!!!!!
Clarence Lobo Elementary School, San Clemente – 5th Grade
“What a delight to facilitate the development of so many unique and creative minds! Not a single day of teaching has ever gone by where at least one of my students hasn’t made my heart sing. I am very fortunate indeed!”
When you ask a fifth grade student who is in Michelle Vierra’s class, what do you think of your teacher, you will receive some awesome answers! Most would say that she is fair and expects the very best of her students. When you ask the parents of her students, they will say that she makes sure her students are well prepared for middle school and life beyond. When you ask her peers, they will tell you that she is a hard worker and gives 100% of her time and energy to her students. Ms. Vierra pours her heart and soul into her craft of teaching. She is highly sensitive to each student’s needs. She meets children where they are at and expects them to grow to their full potential. Every year her students make substantial gains on state assessments and her students have some of the highest test scores in the school. More importantly, her students show the greatest growth from the previous year. Her classroom management skills are, bar none, the best. Her students know what is expected of them and are engaged in the lessons at all times. Michelle has stepped up to be a lead teacher for the last two years. Last year, she led our school in transitioning to the California Common Core Standards. This year, she is taking the lead on Thinking Maps. She is thoughtful and takes on new material with a passion. It has been astounding to watch her students take on the rigor of the new curriculum and thrive. She shares her ideas and is a great mentor to others, while being open to new ideas. Ms. Vierra is a life-long learner. As an administrator, who has been in education for close to 30 years, I rarely have seen the kind of dedication shown by Michelle Vierra. To watch her students take on the challenges and rigor that is offered in her classroom is truly amazing to watch. Her students are very fortunate to have her and will take on their learning for a lifetime.
Hui-Chun (Michelle) Wu
Frontiers Academy – Mandarin Immersion School, Anaheim – Trans K; P.E.; Art; Music
“I am so excited and honored! I am so passionate about watching my students learn and become fluent in Chinese, and I truly love teaching and allowing my students to be creative individuals!”
Wu Laoshi (Mrs. Wu in Chinese!) is the most AMAZING Mandarin Immersion teacher! She teaches our Transitional Kindergarten class, as well as our P.E., Art, and Music classes to the entire school! And what is most amazing… her students learn the academics while learning Mandarin! Wu Laoshi teaches the subjects, but solely in Mandarin to her Native English speaking students. She is passionate about teaching children Chinese through immersion. Her students consistently rank about 1 year above grade level in all subject areas, they love coming to school and always have smiles on their faces. Wu Laoshi brought over P.E., Art, and Music curriculums from Asia, and has incorporated into them into our immersion program. The parents at our school LOVE Wu Laoshi, not only is she very patient and loving towards all students, she can always be counted on and consistently exceeds our expectations.