Parenting OC’s annual Top Teacher & Employee awards honors the top 25 teachers and employees selected by school administrators, teachers and students.
Top Teacher of OC 2020
Brea Olinda Unified School District
Kasia Givenrod holds a very unique job title for the Brea Olinda Unified School District.
As the only Adapted Physical Education Specialist for the district, she provides preschoolers through high school seniors with gross motor skill delays specialized services adapted to their needs.
“I have a senior in high school this year that I had as a 3-year-old when I did my student teaching, and I’ve literally been able to watch him grow up,” she says. “It’s such a unique and special opportunity I have to be involved in their education for so many years and watch them grow and progress.”
Givenrod was named Parenting OC’s 2020 Top Teacher of the Year at the Feb. 5 awards event — to her surprise.
“Honestly, I think most people in education don’t really know what Adapted PE is because it only applies to such a small population of students,” she says. “When you consider that along with the fact that APE teachers are typically itinerant, driving from school to school, only spending a small amount of time at each place, it is pretty common for Adapted PE teachers to feel like an island — not fully connected to one place or another. I was so amazed by the nomination because I really thought that people just didn’t know what I did!”
But that was clearly far from the case.
“I nominated Kasia because she is one of the most dedicated student advocates that I have ever worked with during my career,” says Brea Junior High School Principal Kelly Kennedy. “Her passion for educating and supporting all students to be inclusive and positive, and showing kindness is contagious! She is a change agent throughout our district, creating Unified PE and peer mentoring programs. She is one-of-a-kind.”
Her students have a wide variety of disabilities, the most common being autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. For students to qualify for Adapted PE services, they either have a significant gross motor delay or can’t safely or successfully participate in a general PE class.
“All of my activities work on what the students are working on for their goals, ranging from sports skills, fitness skills, safety skills, etc.,” says Givenrod.
Just over the past few weeks, Givenrod’s students learned about the heart for Valentine’s Day, participated in shadow yoga for Groundhog Day and fine-tuned some soccer skills like kicking, passing and shooting.
“We work each day to improve their skills so that they can eventually be more successful in a general PE class,” she says.
She also does several things outside of her “job description,” including planning an annual field trip to the Goodwill of Orange County Faley Special Games at Cal State Fullerton.
“I take my students that are in third grade and up, and it’s such a fun day for them,” she says.
And she also started a class at Brea Junior High and Brea Olinda High School called Unified PE — where students of all abilities (both special education and general education) participate in her class together as “buddies.”
“This class has quickly become one of my favorite parts of teaching,” she says. “I love helping the Unified PE students learn how to see people’s abilities instead of their disabilities. It’s a class that focuses on what a student can do, not what they can’t do. I’ve had several students from this class decide that they want to pursue a career in special education because of their experiences with their buddies, and that makes my heart so happy.”
She says she’s inspired by her students every day.
“I always tell people that I have the best job,” she says. “I get to play fun games with awesome kids all day. What else could I ask for?”
— Jessica Peralta
Top 10 Teachers of OC 2020
Buena Park Junior High
“I’m passionate about teaching, and helping kids find their passions. I don’t take teaching lightly. I think it’s important that we provide role models, that we provide opportunities for our students to learn in a caring environment.”
Shelley Andros is a remarkable educator who leaves her heart-print across the school district and community. She dedicates her time and talents to ensuring that all students succeed, creating lasting relationships with students that help to bolster their motivation and strengthen their work ethic. Her tireless work has led to the development of many Buena Park School District programs that excite and engage students, such as the BPSD STEM/Sailing Academy and the BPJH Horticulture program, utilizing the native garden habitat area, which Andros helped to create. She orchestrated the BPSD VEX Robot Nation Tournament and was also involved with the BPJH Coding Class, which offers the AP Coding exam, BPJH Robotics and the Femineers Program (female engineers). Andros creates these programs and offers them to students in a non-exclusionary way — as evidenced by the number of special needs students and ELD learners who successfully participate in her classes. Andros is a true champion of all students.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Erik Bagger
San Joaquin Elementary School
“This award was incredibly rewarding to receive because it validates all the risks I’ve taken in the classroom. I devote my life to lifting up my students intellectually and emotionally, while challenging them in ways that resonate on a personal level. To be recognized for doing something I’m so passionate about is truly an honor.”
Dynamic is the word that comes to mind when describing this fourth-grade teacher. As a vanguard for STEAM best practices at the school, Ashby shines with creating Intentional Lesson designs that not only meet the needs of her students, but promote the 4Cs of Common Core (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking). She’s also involved with teaching a STEAM engineering class, where students apply their knowledge of the engineering process to create solutions to real-world problems. With this type of engagement, students are set up for success when they reach high school and college. She is also looking forward to applying her background as a credentialed reading specialist with a master’s degree in reading and literacy, to start a literacy club that focuses on reading and reading skills. She is a superhero to students and makes a positive impact in their lives every day.
— Nominated and approved by Principal David Shun
Clarence Lobo Elementary School
“I’m exceptionally honored by the nomination. I’m grateful to all of my students, family and friends who’ve been there to support me and without them I wouldn’t be here today.”
Cheryl Guckert is one-of-a-kind. This special education teacher has spent her career teaching students who have a wide variety of disabilities. Students love her and rise to any expectations that she sets. Her teaching style is multimodal, which results in successful growth in her class. Any guest who walks into her classroom will only see happy children striving to learn. She knows her students extremely well and also knows what motivates each of them. Not only does she spend quality time during the school day in the classroom, but she spends countless hours in the evening and on weekends to complete all the necessary paperwork that is involved with being a special education teacher, and planning for busy school days. She has also spent thousands of dollars of her own money to make sure she has what she needs to provide the students with the learning environment that each child needs to be successful. She is trusted and admired by all who know her.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Cheryl Sampson
San Juan Hills High School
“As a professor and as an educator, I’m honored that my teaching is recognized as having a positive impact on my students and community.”
Kelly Hambrick has created an inviting, healthy and fun environment for physical education students. As PE department chairperson, he helped the department swap out the traditional units of volleyball, basketball, etc. with more engaging curriculum, including yoga, hiking, Badminton, circuit-training, Frisbee and a backyard games unit where students learn bocce ball, cornhole and lawn bowling. His purpose in changing the curriculum was to actively engage students and teach them sports they will actually play after high school. The PE department saw multiple benefits with the changes. They are building their self-confidence and developing a positive attitude toward physical fitness. He and his department met with managers from Orangetheory Fitness, Planet Fitness and a local circuit-training class. They took the best from all three programs to develop cardio/circuit lessons at the school. His passion for students to be happy, physically fit and confident will have a lasting impact.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Jennifer Smalley
Red Hill Lutheran School
“It is an honor to be part of such a great community of teachers, parents and students.”
Boomwhackers, pBones and Orff Instruments. Anyone entering Ben Hunter’s music class will undoubtedly hear these terms, along with the sounds of symphonic strings, rhythmic drumlines and a rousing concert band. Hunter is a leader and innovator in music education at the school. His passion not only resonates in his classroom but in the community. Since 2014, Hunter has single-handedly developed an instrumental survey program for elementary students, as well as a middle school concert band and a string orchestra. This year, he founded the RHLS Drumline, which has played at Angel Stadium and during the Tustin Tiller Days Parade, where the school’s presentation won first place. After a full day of leading students who play recorders, ukuleles, violins, cellos and a variety of band instruments, he still has time to promote school activities like the Christmas Carol and Dessert Night, pep rallies and Angel’s Band Night, where more than 330 members of the school community came to support the RHLS band. Hunter works tirelessly to instill a love of music in his students.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Paul Marquardt
Portola High School
“I’m retiring in June after 36 years, and so for me, it’s a wonderful way for the community to recognize all of us as educators. I’m happy retiring knowing that we’re all being appreciated and we’re all being honored.”
She goes by “Mama J.” Jeanne Jelnick is a driving force in one of Orange County’s newest high schools, Portola, in the Irvine Unified School District. She is a founding member of the school’s Leadership Team and has been a powerful influence in every decision that has gone into creating the culture and program at the school. As the most veteran of the 60-plus teacher staff, she not only sits on the school Leadership Team but is also the PHS drama director and the literature and language arts department chair. The best part about “Mama J” is just sitting in her classroom. She is captivating, and has perfected the art of engaging and empowering every single learner in every single lesson. She makes every learner feel like they are important, their opinion matters, their quality of work matters and that every lesson is important to life. Her influence is apparent across the basic fabric of the school.
— Nominated and approved by Principal John Pehrson
Trabuco Hills High School
“I think it’s amazing and such an honor to be part of this recognition. We all work so hard throughout the year day-in and day-out and being recognized is wonderful.”
As the school’s Unified Champion School Site Leader and District Liaison Kara Johnson has tirelessly promoted relationships, acceptance and inclusion between general education students and students with disabilities. By building positive staff relationships, engaging the school campus and community, and providing support, she has built a model program at THHS for students with moderate and severe disabilities. This positive integration was exemplified two years ago when two of her students were elected homecoming king and queen, and again this year with one student on homecoming court. Five years ago, she pioneered a Unified Sports program and collaborated county- and state-wide to expand Unified Sports within schools. Three years ago, she established a fully integrated Unified Physical Education class, one of the first in the state. This year, she started a fully integrated Unified Arts class, also one of the first in the state.
— Nominated by Maranda MacDonald, approved by Principal Craig Collins
Calvary Christian School
“This award means the world to me, but there are many teachers who put their blood, sweat and tears into their classroom as well. I am proud to be featured and I’m honored for receiving this award.”
Lukas McGlasson is an integral part of the school’s technology committee. He led the updating of the school’s technology plan. He also empowers students to create videos that support and connect them to the study of history and science. Second-grade students enjoy utilizing green screens to reenact historical events from the Greek and Roman time periods they’re studying. He uses the puzzle video game Osmos in the classroom as an advanced technology tool that bridges the real and digital realm through unique educational games focused on mathematical and spelling skills. He coaches, mentors and leads students to grow as learners both academically and athletically. While teaching second grade, he steps up into the middle school realm by leading students in outdoor education and on mission trips. He will soon be leading his second trip to Ecuador, where he guides students in understanding the value of serving people in need. He helps students organize fundraisers and provides opportunities for them to practice Spanish.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Leah Hess
Foothill High School
“When my name was announced as an Orange County Top 10 award winner, my first thought was, ‘What an honor!’ I was proud to accept the award as a representative of all the talented and dedicated educators that I get to work with each and every day.”
Parents know him by name and he’s often requested as a teacher because of his reputation as a caring educator. The department chair for the Career Technical Education and Visual and Performing Arts departments, Shell — a 21-year veteran of the school — teaches introduction to engineering as well as photography and visual imagery. Shell works with some of the school’s most challenging students through a program he oversees and is funded through a California Partnership Academy grant. The students he teaches in engineering are considered at-risk. This year alone, Shell has several students diagnosed with emotional disturbances whose only mainstreamed class is engineering. Upon entering his class, you’ll find his students engaged in complex tasks and difficult software, building and design projects. His patience and care are essential in this role, and he never lets his students down. His presence with his classes is a combination of calm and engaging while infusing humor and compassion. He also serves as the freshmen football coach, and this experience carries over into the classroom as well.
— Nominated and approved by Principal Michelle England
Top 25 Teachers of OC 2020
Truman Benedict Elementary School
“Truman Benedict Elementary is reminded every day of how fortunate we are to have Mrs. Anderson teaching our kids.
— Principal Mike Brant
Lake Forest Elementary School
“I was excited, humbled because I work with an amazing group of educators.”
The Parish School at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church
“Being named one of the Top 25 Teachers in Orange County means that I am valued and appreciated by the people I value and appreciate!”
Salem Lutheran School
“I was shocked when I was told. An incredible honor and I’m truly thankful to everyone who had a hand in this very special recognition.”
Tustin High School
“It’s nice to be recognized from all of the hard work
you put into it.”
Capistrano Home/Virtual School
“It humbles me to be recognized for a job that I
love to come to each and every day, and feel blessed to call my profession.”
Calvary Christian School
“I am blessed, humbled and encouraged to have been selected by my fellow faculty members for this award.”
St. Angela Merici Parish School
“It was an honor to be nominated not only from our school but throughout all of the teachers in Orange County and I’m proud to represent our school and what we represent.”
Fairmont Private Schools, Anaheim Hills
“This nomination has been an honor and it is so humbling to be nominated with so many amazing educators. It also makes me so proud to be a part of such an amazing school.”
International School of Orange County
“It’s amazing to be recognized for something I love to do and I’ve been doing for almost 25 years now. It’s like a little nod … and to be doing something I love on top of that.”
Heritage Oak Private Education
“It shows me that I’m where I should be and I’m doing what I should be doing. My confidence has just grown through this nomination and award, and I can’t wait to be a better teacher.”
Dwyer Middle School
“It is great to be noticed for how much love, energy and time we all put into our craft.”
Newhope Elementary School
“I was honored to be nominated and surprised to be chosen. I am so happy to do what I love and help students be the best person they can be.”
Bolsa Grande High School
“It was an honor and it took me totally by surprise. … It was really a neat thing. … This is my 40th year. I really love what I do.”
Irvine High School
“I am inspired by my students and colleagues on a daily basis and I am more hopeful about our future because of the… young people I have the privilege of teaching.””