Their school administrators describe what makes them the best in their class.
With over 130 principals and school superintendents taking the time to write essays to sing the praises of talented teachers of Orange County, this year our job was the toughest yet. From 3D-printed animal prosthetics to volunteering to tutor foster care kiddos to living all summer in a dorm to chaperone yearbook camp to teachers with a daily 3 a.m. wake up call to edit every single line of students’ class notes to creating solar powered flashlights with virtual lab partners 3,000 miles away to help those in developing countries— these educators went above and beyond using creativity to truly engage students in lessons they would remember long after walking through those school doors into the future. The sheer amount of hours these professionals put in to ensure our kids are sent out into the world to be the best humans they can be is incredible. Orange County is a better place for their efforts and we are thrilled to have a platform to celebrate such hard work and dedication.
Top Teacher of OC 2017
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano
David Beshk is an extraordinary fifth grade teacher at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano. He has demonstrated his innovation as a creative leader in 3D modeling and printing, independently developing cutting-edge STEM programs in rocketry, the physics of roller coasters, and animal prosthetics. He created the “Home Water Consumption Project”, a month-long STEM activity for students to track their personal water consumption, calculate gallons per minute for their faucets and create a personal water bill from their home data before charging them with designing solutions to conserve water. However, one of his most unique and inspiring undertakings has been to open the minds of students through a partnership with Level Up Village and his Global Inventors course. Video-based engineering brainstorm sessions connect St. Margaret’s fourth and fifth graders with students in Honduras, bursting any sort of “OC Bubble” with a shared mission to design and build a product that helps solve a global issue. To bring light to rural areas devoid of power, students created solar-powered flashlight designs through TinkerCAD, a web-based 3D design and 3D printing portal. PCMag recently hailed the course as a “fitting endorsement that the global classroom has arrived”. Beshk is giving students a foundation for academic achievement, with the vision that opens a world of possibilities for how they will find lifelong success.
Educator with Dedication Award
Oakridge Private School, Orange
When the 2015 “National Teachers of the Year” earned a summer trip to Space Camp, Ms. Blaine Dunsmore greeted them as lead instructor. At Oakridge, she has led the charge in STEM development, chairing the science committee and reorganizing the science curriculum to include a Google portfolio of grade level labs, curriculum-based model sequencing charts, and specialty labs with Bricks for Kids, a Lego engineering. She pushes for tech and science cross-curricular integration and how often do you find a teacher with NASA Mission Control on speed-dial? She and her students are often found “Skyping” with astronaut friends. Ms. Dunsmore is also a contributing writer/blogger for McGraw Hill Education, the on-site volleyball coach for Oakridge, and a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TESOL) for the before school and afterschool tutoring programs. She offers afterschool “homework help” at no cost to families. Her love and compassion for her students shows in every lesson.
Educator with Heart Award
El Modena High School, Orange
Engaging, inspiring, involved, inclusive, amazing. All of these words describe science teacher and department chair Lori Rivera. She is the first to volunteer and is a permanent fixture at sporting events, school plays, poetry nights. Anything on campus, Lori either helped organize, or will attend. Lori is a member of School Site Council, Class Advisor, Girls League Advisor, and Yearbook Advisor. Last year, the district began a mentor program for students in foster care or suffering homelessness. Lori was the first to sign up. She spent the majority of her summer break living in dorm rooms to chaperone ASB camp and Yearbook Camp. In her limited time off, she attended an Advanced Placement Institute and Project-Lead-the-Way training to bring biomedical science/criminal justice to El Modena. Her students follow the case of a fictional fatality throughout the year, with an end goal of determining a cause of death. She devotes endless extra hours to ensure students have the best possible high school experience.
Inspiring Educator of the Year
VanDamme Academy, Aliso Viejo
Mr. Lewis, an avid historian and philosopher, turned in his former Australian mascot costume for his signature daily suit and a tie. Dignity and vivaciousness, intellect and theatricality, gravity and joy – he is the sort of teacher students remember for a lifetime. His graduates feel like writing superheroes, due to devotion that includes his famous 3AM alarm clock, set to give him plenty of time to correct *every line* of his students’ history notes. His students strive for smiley face stickers (collected avidly with pride) and the coveted, elusive “wombat stamp of approval” reserved for only the most perfect of achievements. From energetic afterschool water fights, weekly theme days, allowing the students to pick his Halloween costume (this year: ELSA!), chaperoning the graduating students’ Disneyland excursion, “tackle to the teacher” and piggyback rides for the little ones. Mr. Lewis has put heart and soul into teaching for decades, and he is eminently deserving of recognition.
STEM Educator of the Year
Brea Junior High School, Brea
Mary Koga has a full understanding of Google Education, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and has transitioned to Common Core Standards seamlessly. She actively reaches out into the community to fund projects for the entire science department, such as iPads, a 3D printer, and lab equipment. She has raised $7,000 with the Brea Education Foundation to fund and build an Outdoor Learning Terrace and Native Plant Garden between the math and science wings to provide an alternative setting to expand opportunities for student learning and engagement in math, science, and art. Mary is the Science Department Chair, district STEM Coordinator, on the district’s STEM Ecosystem Team, is an Orange County Lead STEM Practitioner, and is a national presenter. For the past four years, has presented at the National Science Teachers Association (NTSA) conference in Chicago. Mary Koga’s enthusiasm, passion, intelligence and leadership make her both an outstanding teacher and teacher leader.
GATE Educator of the Year
Stoddard Elementary School, Anaheim
Matt Holland is a 3rd Grade GATE teacher with a full range of students from Autistic to the extremely bright to the struggling reader. The National Board Certified teacher uses the Engineering Design Process and has trained the staff to use tech in their classroom, how to implement Project Lead the Way curriculum, and modeled classroom dialogues with his 3rd graders for district training. In his Science of Flight program, students study the principles of flight: lift, drag, gravity, thrust, design. The students then design, build, test, and redesign an aircraft. Students test their airplanes as great community within the class meets high competition, a testament to his high teacher IQ. His students use Hopscotch to design and program an aesthetically beautiful, as well as, functional video game. His Simple and Compound Machines units has students design machines using pulleys and levers with a final task to rescue an animal from a ditch.
Project-Based Learning Educator of the Year
St. John’s Episcopal School, Rancho Santa Margarita
Always smiling, Vedha Muthu’s passion for teaching is infectious. Writing and performing songs to help students remember difficult concepts. Mrs. Muthu combines artistic expression, philosophical reflections, technology, and engineering with traditional science concepts to empower students to take risks and be creative. Recognized by the National Association of Independent Schools, one of Vedha’s featured project uses only rubber bands, PVC pipe, cardboard tubes, hair claws, lanyards, and popsicle sticks to build a prosthetic hand. Applying knowledge of how the muscular/skeletal systems work, the hand performed functions like picking up a grape without crushing it; lifting a ten-pound weight; catching and throwing a ball. Another; build a structure that can hold two textbooks at least eight inches off the table using only four pieces of printer paper and tape — a vehicle to understand and appreciate our legs’ bone structure and how they hold us up. She is a strong student advocate, and they often go to her for advice and wise counsel.
Special Needs Educator of the Year
J.H. McGaugh Elementary School, Seal Beach
Cheryl Smith’s heart is as much a part of her work as anything else. Cheryl serves as a second grade teacher in a special education/general education “Co-Lab” where students with exceptional needs are educated in an environment where they have access to not only grade level curriculum and instruction, but also great role models in their grade level peers. They occupy the same space; share the same materials; share instructional strategies, celebrations, and teachers — the students often aren’t even aware of who might be getting special education help due to the seamless nature of the teaching. Mrs. Smith believes that high expectations for ALL students yield wonderful results. After a colleague suffered a sudden serious health issue, Cheryl Smith stepped up without reservation to facilitate the assessments and parent meetings for a classroom of students that were not her own. Dignified, respected, and child-centered are high on the list of qualities describing Mrs. Cheryl Smith, along with an unmatched level of commitment.
History-to-Life Educator of the Year
Orange Lutheran High School, Orange
A 6’8” man stands in front of a class. He begins to bend at the waist, getting low to the ground. Arms and hands extend, gesturing furiously. His eyes widen, pace and volume of speech increase. At this moment, every student is glued to this man, which means every student is engaged in learning. Each class begins with a “joke of the day”. Once the kids have stopped groaning, he shares a “this date in history” fact. He relates historical fact to a real life story so the students get a different perspective and better understand the material. Pete seems like a unique recipe, mixing the spontaneous humor of Robin Williams, the brilliant mind of Sheldon Cooper, the voice of James Earl Jones, the storytelling of Charles Dickens, the captivating delivery of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the warmth of Mr. Rogers. A journey in Pete’s classroom is like an epic tale. Story after story pour out, filled with laughter and joy.
Performing Arts Educator of the Year
Portola High School, Irvine
Desmond Stevens was well-loved at his former school, directing a popular student Mariachi group. A product of Irvine schools and excellent musician in his own right, Desmond teaches guitar, choir, orchestra, band, and marching band while also serving as advisor for Mock Trial and member of the school’s leadership team. Managing a high number of diverse preps and his other duties is accompanied by the tremendous pressure and workload starting a new high school and building a performing arts program brings. He works with each department in a cross-curricular integration of performing arts, choosing pieces of music that express themes of nationalism, immigration and war in order to capitalize on the instruction taking place in our Modern World History courses. To support the school’s book fair, Mr. Stevens’ orchestra students performed at Barnes and Noble. His positivity and energy as a director resonates with his student population, offering the kids outlets to explore and express their own ethnic backgrounds and pursue their passions and dreams.
Athletic Educator of the Year
Heritage Oak Private School, Yorba Linda
As Athletic Director, Ryan Leimkuhler remembers all of his 500 students’ names, their favorite sports teams, their interests, and all of the little things that make them unique. He uses this to connect and let students know he cares. He regularly guides student-athletes who are struggling academically or socially through their challenges. Mutual respect between Mr. Leimkuhler and his students allows for honest, constructive feedback and facilitates personal growth. Mr. Leimkuhler contributes beyond the field and gym, regularly participating as a volunteer in the theatre department, playing Genie in Aladdin and Captain Hook in Peter Pan. He leads campus sing-alongs with his guitar and accompanies students during assemblies and the annual Variety Show. He chaperones overnight trips to Idyllwild, Catalina Island, Washington D.C. and New York and teaches summer camp courses like music history and sports conditioning. By the time students graduate, they mark guidance from Mr. Leimkuhler as one of the defining factors in their growth throughout elementary and middle school.
International School of Los Angeles, Orange
Madame Bauer teaches a full range of traditional and STEM classes in a French immersion setting. Entering her classroom, you feel you are in a special, almost magical place, surrounded by walls filled with students’ pictures of frogs. Madame Bauer refers to the frog throughout the day to promote self-control and relaxation with her students. Mimicking the respiration and body control of the frog is a daily technique used to prepare students for their academic challenges for the day. She creates physical education lessons using Razor scooters, bilingual writing exercises, the 100th day of school project and her famous campus-wide mathematics Treasure Hunt. Last year, Madame Bauer even took her students to space! Using NASA’s OSIRIS-REX program, first and second graders submitted videos of their artwork answering the question: What does it mean to be an explorer? The hard drive containing their work is currently flying aboard a spacecraft that will meet the asteroid Bennu in August 2018.
Adelphia Classical Christian Academy, Orange
Ms. Brough is one of a kind. What makes her stand above others is her heart for her students. When a student in our school lost her parents, and the grandmother who was taking care of her fell very ill, the student began falling behind her work. Ms. Brough offered to tutor her for free, gave the student her personal computer because the family couldn’t afford their own and gave her wise counsel when the student felt lonely and alienated. Now, we see a different child, more confident, more secure in her abilities. Another student suffered from depression when he was in high school. His grades dropped, he had no close friends in school. The parents changed three schools before finding Ms. Brough. She patiently worked with him on his academic work, and helped him appreciate his love for the arts and encouraged him to keep going. Now, he is a creative writing major in college. She is a teacher that changes lives.
North Youth Services Center, Anaheim
As an alternative education teacher, Allison facilitates learning in her classroom by having students take ownership and interest in their learning. Her students are with her for only a short period of time before they transition back to their district school. Allison takes an active role in the Instructional Leadership Corps, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, and the National Board Resource Center. Allison equips other teachers with an increased capacity to enrich instruction and assessment practices in the classroom and improve student learning. The impact seen in Allison’s class is due to a deliberate focus on having students understand what they are learning, why it is important, and how they can apply it to their life, career, and learning. Allison is having a lasting impact on students who have not had much success in school and are at risk of not graduating. Her training, passion for learning, and dedication is making a difference in the lives of students every day.
Fairmont Private Schools – Historic Anaheim, Anaheim
From live-action drama performances to literary gift-exchanges, the instruction in Mrs. Debreczeni’s class is a master-course in what it means to be student-centered, dynamic, and engaging. At first glance, Mrs. Debreczeni’s teaching appears to be effortless, but underneath her soft smile is an approach to learning that is strategic and deliberate. Mrs. Debreczeni intimately knows the strengths and growth targets for each of her students and expertly designs lessons to complement their unique needs. Mrs. Debreczeni leads students to not only understand difficult concepts, but to foster a lifetime love of literature and learning. She has helped coach our pentathlon team to a national championship, founded Poetry Cafe, a lunchtime showcase for teachers and students, and served as an advisor to our National Junior Honor Society. Through her patience, kindness, and direction, Mrs. Debreczeni fosters a classroom of hopes and dreams where students are invited to explore their talents and share their stories. Each student is valued and celebrated, and everyone can achieve.
Charles G. Emery Elementary, Buena Park
Much like the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Life was meant to be lived,” Miss Ferrara does indeed live life. She comes at it with the intensity of a laser beam, the speed of a locomotive, the gentleness of a well-loved teddy bear, and the passion of a conductor orchestrating his favorite piece of music. It is also how she embraces teaching. Few can match her energy, drive, or creativity. She is demanding yet fair. Her standards are high, yet when her students first think, “I can’t” they soon discover they can. Her students embrace the joy of learning, become life long learners, and move on with confidence in their own ability. As a result, they become better people. Miss Ferrara doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no.” From organizing massive district retirement parties, putting together our yearbook over her holiday break, her multitude of committees — she is the complete package. We are so blessed to call her not only our colleague, but also our friend.
New Horizon School, Irvine
For nearly 20 years, Mrs. Hijazi has used art as a conduit for students to connect with their culture and community. “Dream out loud, express your dreams, and dare to make a difference” lines her studio walls. Every lesson connects students with a deeper sense of themselves and for humanity. While teaching Picasso’s “Blue Period,” she shared how it coincided with the death of Picasso’s close friend. Students learned about a master artist, how a color can evoke a feeling, and how expression through art can create a sense of compassion and empathy. For eight years, she has documented the students’ school experiences in the yearbook with the same love and beauty she brings to her art class. She often finds notes and drawings from students, tokens of love and appreciation. Our Parents’ Association unanimously and enthusiastically selected Mrs. Mona Hijazi as Top Teacher for the beauty she brings to our school and for the way she has touched every student’s heart.
Fullerton Union High School, Fullerton
Mr. Indelicato, English teacher extraordinaire, teaches all students, no matter their ability, to the highest of expectations. “Mr. I” as his students fondly call him, is one of the most caring and compassionate teachers ever to grace education. It is because of how much he cares and the time he spends with students that he is able to help them achieve beyond even their own expectations. His dedication and commitment led him to take on challenging Advanced Placement and Advanced Reading, and Lower Reading. His classroom is abuzz with students participating in Socratic Seminars, giving peer feedback on writing, learning vocabulary through context, and giving oral presentations. He is the yearbook advisor and attends professional development to hone his skills, becoming a teacher leader on campus in the use of tech in the classroom. Students took Honors English just to have Mr. I, whether they were honors students or not. Mr. I ensured that they all believed in their ability to do the work, and they excelled.
La Habra High School, La Habra
Ray Lopez is first and foremost an advocate for students. He has an almost magical rapport that encourages not only their trust, but their effort. Students want to work for “Ray-Lo” because he understands them. His classroom is energetic, filled with laughter, innovation, technology, and learning. He regularly engages his colleagues in conversations about individual kids and their specific needs. It is this focus on meeting students’ diverse needs that drives Mr. Lopez’s advocacy of National History Day. He introduced the program and immediately jumped into judging. Most of the actual work is done at home, so Ray’s classroom at lunch and after school is regularly teeming with students looking for tips and techniques, last minute adjustments and tweaks. He holds workshops for both staff and students, develops and shares lesson plans, and encourages everyone to dream big. With Ray’s direction and support, students have twice gone on to national competition. In one recent competition, 21 Heritage students qualified for state!
GOALS Academy, Anaheim
Parents love Michele’s strength-based approach to teaching in which each scholar’s interests and talents are acknowledged and supported. Her knowledge of early reading skills is highly refined, and her skills as a storyteller inspire each scholar to learn how to read. Her students beam under the spotlight of Michele’s authentic enthusiasm. Michele mentors new teachers through the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program and the entire staff in the area of English-language arts instruction, particularly Reading Workshop. No milestones in life (baby showers, weddings, birthdays) go unnoticed by Michele, which has enhanced the camaraderie we feel as a school team. She arrives each morning with a beaming smile and an abundance of energy. While short in stature, she takes long strides with a sense of purpose that there are thing to do and places to go as she shepherds her scholars through their first years of school. Michele infuses each day with a level of joy that is highly contagious among the scholars, staff, and parents.
Robert M. Pyles STEM Academy, Stanton
Doreen Santin made a huge impact on the culture of our school by sharing her wealth of Class Dojo knowledge. She is our school mentor and holds afterschool classes and private tutorials to help get Dojo running almost school-wide. Doreen is a tech leader and has received grants for classroom instruments. She also offers teacher tech classes called “Appy Hour” after school. Mrs. Santin has also presented at our district conference and has been a guest speaker at Cerritos College, speaking to future teachers about the power of parent communication. She has become a great resource for teachers as we begin our Growth Mindset journey. Students in her class understand that learning is a process and that the focus is on growth, not the end result. Students are trained not to see failure as a negative, but as an opportunity for growth. She leads by example with an irrefutable positive outlook in life. She taught Summer STEM Academy and acts as Emergency Coordinator.
The Pegasus School, Huntington Beach
Mr. Swiger’s lessons are dynamic and exciting explorations of ancient history and civilizations. He delivers challenging content with vigor and enthusiasm. He pushes students outside their comfort zones while being there every step of the way to offer study strategies and extra help. His classes go well beyond facts and dates; he makes sure students understand how events in the past have shaped the world of today. Mr. Swiger is more than willing to give up his own time, including his lunch period, to discuss anything that’s on his students’ minds, providing a friendly ear and support when needed. In addition to being a stellar role model, He partners with his colleagues in leading the interdisciplinary Greek Day and serves as coach and mentor for the National History Day (NHD) program. The popularity of the most vied for elective, Chess, has far more to do with the teacher than game. It was no surprise that students recently chose to dedicate our school’s yearbook to Mr. Swiger.
West Orange Elementary School, Orange
Carri Wagner is a highly qualified teacher who works tirelessly to provide Tuesday Library Nights, is Technology Teacher Lead, School Site Council President and after school running coach. One must visit her classroom to truly appreciate the effectiveness of her unassuming nature married with her creativity and dedication. She refuses to conform to the status quo and demands a high level of performance from her students. If her kids need her, she takes action. This year she noticed that she had a particularly squirmy group of students. Her response was to write a grant which awarded her a class set of bike pedals, medicine balls and other kinesthetic tools that allow students to maintain their movement while learning. It is her “out of the box” instruction and enthusiasm the reason her students love her. They feel safe in the trust that they have placed in her because she inspires them to dream beyond the four walls that at times can confine student creativity.
Sunny Hills High School, Fullerton
Mr. Wall’s ability to connect with kids and teach his content is second to none. Under Mr. Wall’s inspirational leadership, our IB program is thriving and his students are accepted into elite universities around the country each year. Through masterful and innovative use of technology, Mr. Wall makes it look easy. He is also the creator and director of our Conservatory of the Fine Arts (COFA). COFA provides a four-year arts pathway, which challenges students to branch out and experience a multitude of artistic mediums. COFA has enticed art students from around the county to choose SHHS as their school. Mr. Wall is also our Honors Testing Coordinator, creating an organized, seamless, and effective process. Under Mr. Wall’s direction, a record number of students took the SHHS honors exam. Mr. Wall is an inspirational educator whose positive outlook on life, love for his school, and passion for helping students, influences nearly every aspect of life at SHHS.
Ladera Ranch Middle School, Ladera Ranch
Over the course of her career, Mrs. Whetzel has positively impacted and shared a passion for science to approximately 5,000 children. Julie is the consummate educator. She is an active learner herself and she strives to bring that wonder of the natural world into the classroom with activities and projects that inspire kids to do great and be great. Mrs. Whetzel raises chickens that lay the most beautiful colored eggs! (When the chickens no longer lay eggs, Julie keeps the chickens on as pets.) Science is a big part of Mrs. Whetzel’s life. She is a responsible environmentalist and conservationist, hand-knits scarves for presents and loves to flyfish the clean streams of Oregon. She works very hard to limit her footprint on the planet and shares that same valuable lesson with her students, promoting responsible stewardship. Her dedication to her students is evident, as even after all these years she still is constantly evolving her lessons to provide evermore engaging and authentic learning opportunities.