Let’s take a look back at this year’s Orange County Teacher of the Year announcements (video)

Back on May 20, a big yellow bus carrying county Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares, OCDE staff, media and sponsors paid a visit to five local schools. Their mission? To announce the Orange County Teachers of the Year for 2016.

As we previously reported, teachers Natalie Carias, Janis Leach, Lisa Moloney and Sharon Romeo all received the good news in their classrooms in front of cheering students, while Dr. Karah Street was surprised in the lobby of an administrative building on the campus of Saddleback College.

Our Media Services team was also on hand at each stop — with cameras rolling. To give you a little flavor of that day, we’ve put together a brief video that you can check out above. (Go ahead. We’ll wait.)

Of course there will be more celebrating in November during a special dinner at the Disneyland Hotel, where each of this year’s honorees are to receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by Orange County residents Bill and Sue Gross. Meanwhile, Disney sponsors handed out park passes and merchandise on the day of the announcements, and the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union issued $500 checks to each recipient.

OCDE’s Fischer School offers a path to graduation, redemption for students like Erik


“Being here finally made me understand that it takes being deprived of something to realize how significant it is to you. And you begin to realize how much of it you actually had. I was searching for freedom and meaning when it was right before my eyes all along. It had always been my art.”

A young man named Erik spoke these words at a high school graduation ceremony nearly a year ago. The backdrop was not a sprawling stadium or cavernous auditorium, but rather a modest meeting room within the confines of Orange County Juvenile Hall.

He and about a dozen classmates collected their certificates in front of 120 family members, friends and guests that day in June 2014. But while Erik had graduated high school, he was not allowed to walk just yet. His sentence extended another 14 months.

Still, Erik had a high school diploma, and he had something even more important — people who believed in him.

He earned both as a student at the Otto A. Fischer School, one of four detention and treatment facilities run by the Orange County Department of Education’s ACCESS program. That acronym stands for Alternative, Community and Correctional Schools and Services.

Students arrive at Fischer under less than ideal circumstances. Most are performing far below their grade levels and missing credits. Many come from low-income families that lack basic resources.

But the school’s staff works hard to ensure Fischer isn’t a dead-end for troubled youth. They believe it should be a path to academic engagement, redemption and, ultimately, a better life for the 265 young people enrolled. That’s why in addition to offering standards-based lessons that align with traditional schools, educators at Fischer work closely with the probation department to teach character, problem-solving and anger management.

“That is what really makes us unique to any other facility in the nation,” says Kirk Anderson, Fischer’s program administrator. “We really have that strong bond with probation for our character-based programming. When a student leaves us, we want them better off socially, academically and emotionally. That’s really how we look at it as a staff. If they’ve improved in those areas, then we can say we’ve done our job.”

Which brings us back to Erik.

“I turned away from my art, and my life became something that I never wanted it to be. It was fake and misguided and lacked what I desired the most, freedom without the guilt and shame. I lost my art. I lost my shelter.”

Now 18, Erik — we’re only using his first name in this story — grew up in a rough neighborhood in Garden Grove. Though he was able to sidestep drugs and gangs, he says feelings of isolation in high school eventually spiraled into a psychological breakdown that led to an assault. His arrest and subsequent sentence carried him even deeper into darkness.

“It took three months to realize where I was and what I was doing,” he says. “When you’re in your room, there’s only one thing that happens — you just think about your past. You just see all the regrets that you had. It took me to see how much I didn’t like myself to see how much I needed to improve.”

Eventually, he channeled some of those feelings into drawing, a love from his childhood. Deputy Juvenile Correctional Officer Clarence Taylor was impressed enough by Erik’s detailed sketches of anime characters — as well as his work ethic and attitude — that he bought him a box of crayons and colored pencils and encouraged him to join an art therapy program started by a fellow correctional officer, Eric Burnell.

“He loved art but didn’t give himself to it,” Taylor says.

“That little box, it made me feel so happy,” Erik says. “I was in Juvenile Hall with, like, a little playkit. I just drew.”

“One of the concepts that I love about art is that it has no boundaries. The only limits are the ones that an artist places upon himself. Although this is an inspiring concept, it is not quite true when it comes to life.”

Over the next few months, Erik continued to create, wowing anyone who got a glimpse. Marilyn Monroe was the subject of one portrait. Another work, commissioned by his art teacher, features Nelson Mandela and images related to his quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That piece is currently displayed outside the office of Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares.

MandelaMeanwhile, Erik also poured himself into his schoolwork, landing a spot on Fischer’s honor roll more times than he can recall — or maybe more times than he’ll admit.

“He’s very modest,” Taylor says. “Sometimes it’s hard for him to have other people invest in him, but his achievements have really overwhelmed everyone.”

“I think the school system here is really awesome,” Erik says. “They help you, and since the student-teacher ratio is reduced, a lot of people get more help.”

With each success, his confidence seemed to swell. Taylor, Burnell, colleague Jeff Gallagher and the rest of the Unit Q team under the leadership of Supervising Correctional Officer Brian Cochran encouraged and rewarded Erik with special incentives, including a chaperoned furlough so he could attend his sister’s wedding. And when it came time to graduate, he was selected to speak. Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, OCDE’s chief academic officer, called it one of the best commencement speeches he’s ever heard.

Erik says he wasn’t nervous delivering his remarks, having once taken a drama course in school. Besides, he says, he was really speaking to just one person in the room.

“Mom, you are the reason I want to be someone in life. I owe my life to you, and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything that you’ve done. You are the ground beneath my feet, and I know you will be there when I succeed.”

When the ceremony was over, Erik still had more than a year to serve. But his school and probation supporters encouraged him to continue his education. Thanks to a unique partnership with Coastline Community College, he was able to enroll in college courses from Juvenile Hall. He got a B in a political science class and is now tackling sociology and humanities.

“Looking back, I never even thought I would be in college,” he says now. “I never thought I would pass a class in college. It’s just, like, amazing.”

Erik will have the option of continuing higher education after he’s released in August, but he still hasn’t settled on a career path. He says he wants to be an animator, or maybe a tattoo artist, or possibly a fashion designer. Perhaps he’ll become a barber, or a chef, or even a makeup artist.

“I wasted all this time,” he says. “Even before I got locked up, I wasted all this time doing nothing. I don’t want to live the rest of my life like that.”

With the support of Fischer and the probation staff, Erik will have a chance to start a new chapter in a few months, and he’s intent to be the author this time.

Or maybe he prefers another metaphor, one from a graduation speech that still echoes through the corridors of Juvenile Hall.

“Life is like a ship that rocks against an ever-changing tide. And you, who are the commander of your ship, must endure and stay afloat. When you feel that you are stranded and you are sinking, remember that there is land waiting to be reached, and that true happiness can be found.”

John F. Dean, former Orange County superintendent of schools, dies at 89

John F. Dean, who served as Orange County superintendent of schools from 1991 through 2001 and led OCDE through the county’s 1994 bankruptcy, died last week at the age of 89.

Dr. John F. Dean headshotDuring his decade-spanning tenure as county superintendent, Dr. Dean was admired for his work in helping to create safe school environments with high achievement and low dropout rates. He advocated for funding to serve special education programs and supported the Alternative, Community, and Correctional Schools and Services program to include incarcerated students and students experiencing homelessness. Dr. Dean backed rigorous world-class standards for all students, promoting English language mastery and bringing technology to every school.

“Dr. Dean was an exceptionally kind-hearted and effective leader who guided the Orange County Department of Education through the dark days of the county bankruptcy and led us into the modern era of data-driven decision-making and accountability,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “His passion for literacy and commitment to meeting the needs of each student has left a lasting impact on our schools and our county.”

Raised in Ontario, Calif., Dr. Dean earned a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in English and journalism from the University of Southern California. He received a master’s degree in education, administration and curriculum from California State University, Long Beach, and a doctorate in educational administration from USC in 1966.

Dr. Dean began his career in 1950 as an elementary school teacher in Ontario. Three years later, he and his wife, Katherine, moved to Newport Beach, where he taught at Horace Ensign Intermediate School and Newport Grammar School before joining the administrative ranks. He spent five years as principal of Harbor View School in Corona del Mar and five years as the district’s director of curriculum.

After serving for a year as dean at Orange Coast College, he spent 21 years as a professor of education and chair of the Education Department at Whittier College. He left Whittier in 1991 when he was elected to his first term as Orange County’s superintendent of schools. Dr. Dean  was recognized with helping guide schools through the county’s 1994 bankruptcy crisis and was twice reelected to his post. After 50 years in education, he retired in April of 2001.

Dr,. Dean authored several books, including “Teaching in America,” “Writing Well: 60 Simply-Super Lessons to Motivate and Improve Students’ Writing” and “Games Make Spelling Fun: A Teaching Aid to Better Spelling.”

He was named a Distinguished Alumni in 1991 by Cal State Long Beach’s Graduate School of Education and was inducted into the California Reading Association Hall of Fame in 1989.

Dr. Dean was preceded in death by his daughter, Karol and is survived by his wife, Katherine, son Brian, four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and brother Jim.

Education advisor Fullan calls for collaboration and capacity-building at OCDE conference

Renowned education reform expert Michael Fullan says two things matter most in changing the culture of a school or district — the ability to shape and reshape quality ideas, and the ability to build capacity and ownership around those ideas.

Fullan4“If you have one without the other, you don’t get anything,” he said.

Fullan, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the author of more than 30 books, was the keynote speaker at OCDE’s “Equipping an Emerging Generation” conference at the Hyatt Regency Orange County on Tuesday, May 19. Hosted by county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares and sponsored by SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, the event also featured Trevor Packer, senior vice president for the College Board.

Fullan has advised policymakers around the world and is widely recognized for his role in transforming the school system in Ontario, Canada. In recent years, he’s been recruited to help bring similar reforms to California. Speaking to more than 400 educators and business leaders from Orange County and beyond, he said there’s a very real opportunity to bring meaningful change to schools in the golden state.

The key, according to Fullan, is to foster collaboration, allow educators a chance to develop, focus on a specific agenda and avoid being judgmental, particularly in the early stages. Talented teachers are a necessary ingredient, he said, but research indicates effective collaboration is an even bigger driver of high academic achievement.

“Collective efficacy of a group of teachers has more impact on student learning than individual things,” he said. “It makes sense when you put it together. This is why we work so much on changing the culture of schools and the culture of districts. That is really where the power lies.”

Student enthusiasm also plays a role, yet surveys show a consistent decline in enthusiasm with each passing grade level. To turn that around, Fullan said schools must strive to make learning engaging, ensure technology is accessible and easy to use, and offer lessons steeped in real-life problem-solving.

“This is fundamental to how learning should happen in the 21st century,” he said.

As for the role of principals, Fullan believes they should avoid becoming micromanagers and instead view themselves as the “lead learners” at their campuses, meaning they pursue professional growth as they build capacity.

“The main mark of a good leader, whether it’s a superintendent of a principal, is that they work five, six, seven years or so in a given jurisdiction, and they build collaborative cultures to the point where they, themselves, become dispensable,” he said.

PackerIn his presentation, Packer — he’s pictured to the right — said his role in developing and managing the Advanced Placement program for the College Board has prompted him to question whether tests appropriately reflect and reinforce instructional rigor. Too often, he said, school exams require memorization rather than thoughtful analysis. He cited an older AP biology test question that asked students to identify the term for “the creeping horizontal and subterranean stems of ferns.” (Google tells us the answer is “rhizomes.”)

“If teachers see lots of questions like this on tests, what do they do? They cram, they lecture, they cover as much material as possible because you don’t know what micro-fact, what minute piece of data, is going to show up on a test,” he said.

As part of a landmark redesign of AP courses and tests, Packer said the College Board worked with cognitive scientists in each discipline to determine what practices and skills would best indicate a student is prepared to be successful in college. As a result, newer questions blend content with an associated task. For example, students might be asked to create a diagram showing how nervous systems transmit information.

Similarly, an older version of the AP U.S. history exam asked this multiple-choice question: “Which of the following colonies required each community of 50 or more families to provide a teacher of reading and writing?”

“Do any of you know the answer to that?”, Packer rhetorically asked the audience. “Yeah, why should you, right? And yet we’re all functioning adults. Somehow we were all able to succeed in college without knowing this.”

Those types of questions send the message that teachers and students should focus on memorizing random facts, he said.

So a recent overhaul of the AP test in U.S. history doubled the number of questions that require student writing and replaced 80 multiple-choice questions with 55 prompts asking students to analyze primary and secondary sources. The new version, for example, might ask students to decide which of three dates marks the beginning of the United States as a world power — and explain why.

Packer said college should continue to be encouraged as a path for students who are at risk or on the bubble, pointing to studies that show higher education has a dramatic impact on their futures. He also noted that courses fostering critical-thinking have become somewhat politicized in recent years, and he called on educators to stand up for challenging coursework.

Dr. Mijares, the county superintendent, kicked off the conference by discussing recent budget news out of Sacramento, where proposition 98 revenues are expected to hit an all-time high of $68.4 billion.

“These are most certainly improved fiscal times,” he said. “However, with these resources comes enormous accountability. That’s why the Orange County Department of Education created the highest vision for our work: Orange County students will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that local demographics are increasingly posing new challenges for educators. Mijares said half of Orange County’s students are eligible for subsidized lunches based on their families’ income levels, and 24 percent are English-learners who speak nearly 60 languages.

The superintendent encouraged attendees to read author Robert D. Putnam’s new book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.”

“I love it that (Putnam) says ‘Our Kids,’” Mijares told attendees. “These aren’t somebody else’s kids; these are our kids. And he writes about the opportunity gap, because with the achievement gap comes an opportunity gap … and that gap is wholly tied to education. In fact, all major indices of social dysfunction are tied to education.”

2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Dr. Karah Street

Karah Street and Al MijaresIf you’ve been following the OCDE Newsroom this morning you know that the Orange County Department of Education is announcing the county’s 2016 Teachers of the Year today.

The “prize patrol” includes OCDE administrators and sponsors who are handing out prizes including Disney park passes, and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is presenting each winner with a $500 check. Each teacher will also receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross, at a dinner gala in November at the Disneyland Hotel.

We now bring you the final winner, the community college Teacher of the Year, Dr. Karah Street.

Teacher Karah StreetIn an administrative building on the campus of Saddleback College, county Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares surprised the fifth and final Orange County Teacher of the Year, Dr. Karah Street.

Dr. Street had been in a meeting with Saddleback President Dr. Tod Burnett and Dean Chris McDonald as a small crowd gathered quietly in the lobby. When she emerged, she was greeted by Dr. Mijares, who handed over the last Golden Apple.

“If we had more people like you, we’d be even farther along than we are today,” the superintendent said.

Dr. Street described the moment as “truly overwhelming.”

“That’s not why I do what I do, to be recognized,” she said moments later. “I love to do it.”

As a professor of biological sciences at Saddleback College in the South Orange County Community College District, Dr Street says getting students to open their science textbooks is the first challenge, and she’s humble enough to recognize that students will retain only a fraction of the science content they learn in her class.

Which is perhaps why she references the work of psychologist Lev Vygotsky and describes her “real” role as an educator to be “a more knowledgeable other.” For Dr. Street, that means being a mentor who shares her personal experiences, perspectives and knowledge to impart the life skills that she hopes her students will carry for the rest of their lives — while guiding their learning of science.

And she finds that those life lessons are what affect the young adults she teaches the most.

After Dr. Street shared the story of her transition from a successful scientist to a teacher, a student who was struggling to find a career direction put it this way: “Your vulnerability was not only inspiring, but it was also a reminder that we are not alone. You care and we notice.”

2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Janis Leach

2016 Teacher of the Year Janis LeachToday we’re following along as the Orange County Department of Education announces the county’s five Teachers of the Year for 2016. The “prize patrol,” comprising a yellow school bus carrying OCDE administrators, media and sponsors, is surprising most of the winners in their classrooms.

Disney is presenting each teacher with a prize package including park passes and merchandise, and the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is giving each a $500 check, along with a lunch bag and pen set. Finalists will be honored at a dinner gala in November at the Disneyland Hotel, where they’ll will receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross.

We now bring you the next teacher honored this morning, Janis Leach.

Teacher Janis LeachFlanked by Tustin Unified Superintendent Dr. Gregory Franklin, Tustin Public Schools Foundation representatives and district and county officials, county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares paid a visit to “Leachville,” better known as the classroom of Mrs. Janis Leach, to deliver the next Golden Apple.

“I’m just speechless right now,” the standout teacher said shortly after 11 a.m. as cameras clicked. “Thank you. It’s very, very overwhelming.”

Mrs. Leach teaches a second- and third-grade combination class at Arroyo Elementary School in the Tustin Unified School District.

As the self-proclaimed Mayor of Leachville, she has created a classroom environment based on the social science standards on community studies. Her students are “residents,” responsible for their “homes” – also known as their desks – and they proudly put in a hard day’s work to make the community of Leachville successful. This model has created a feeling of belonging and true connectedness for the students, and parents report that their children learn a sense of responsibility through the experience.

Mrs. Leach believes rigorous learning environments increase student engagement and achievement. She is credited with bringing new mathematics instruction to her classroom and school, and she’s lauded for her use of technology in her teaching.

“Wherever there is student engagement, rigorous learning and innovative technology you can expect to find Mrs. Leach,” one colleague wrote.

As for Janis Leach, her message is simple yet profound. “We simply need to do what we want our students to do,” she says, “have high expectations for ourselves, push our thinking, trust and try.”

It wasn’t long before her class broke into their well-known Leachville cheer. Leach told students that they played a big role in her recognition.

“I really think a lot of it is because of you, my fabulous, amazing students, who push me to make learning fun,” she said.

2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Natalie Carias

Natalie Carias and Al MijaresThis morning, the Orange County Department of Education and a handful of program sponsors have been visiting schools to announce the 2016 Orange County Teachers of the Year. Disney sponsors have been presenting the honorees with park passes and merchandise, and the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union has a $500 check on hand for each teacher. Finalists will also receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross, at a November dinner at the Disneyland Hotel.

And here at the Newsroom, we’re following the announcements and bringing you information on the winners. Here’s the story of Natalie Carias.

Natalie Carias and Al MijaresIn a Crescent Elementary School classroom adorned with student artwork and writing, county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares presented the next Golden Apple to Mrs. Natalie Carias as her students cheered on. Also in attendance were Orange Unified Superintendent Michael Christensen and Principal Randi Leach.

“You’ve done an amazing job,” Dr. Mijares told the newest county Teacher of the Year. “There are thousands of teachers in Orange County, and you’ve risen to the tip of the top.”

“I’m shocked and I’m honored,” Carias said afterward. “To be part of Orange Unified and the staff at my school and to work with these students and our parents has been an incredible experience.”

Carias is a third-grade GATE teacher at Crescent, which is in the Orange Unified School District. She’s implemented a pilot program utilizing an innovative co-teaching model, allowing students to benefit from the expertise of two teachers. Mrs. Carias strives to create a student-centered environment in her classroom and considers that her greatest accomplishment.

In fact, she compares the work of a teacher to that of a tour guide, where teaching becomes less about the instruction and more about the “stimulation of a student’s own curiosity, natural desire to learn and ultimately the development of a sense of place in the world.”

She is known for continually seeking to improve and enhance the quality of the educational programs at her school and district. A parent of one of her students expressed that her children are lucky to have a “teacher of excellence” in their lives, saying, “If there is a lesson to learn from Mrs. Carias, it is to always strive for excellence in everything you do.”

Mrs. Carias finds the rewards of teaching from witnessing the joy of discovery and learning in her students and sums up the foundation of her teaching philosophy this way: “We are all both a teacher and a student.”

Upon receiving the Disney gift bag, Carias joked that perhaps a field trip to Disneyland was in order.

“Yay!”, the class of third-graders shouted in unison.

2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Sharon Romeo

2016 Teacher of the Year Sharon RomeoThe “prize patrol” bus loaded with OCDE administrators, media and sponsors continued its journey announcing the five 2016 Orange County Teachers of the Year this morning. Sponsors are on hand with prizes including Disney park passes and a $500 check from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. Each winner will also receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross, at a dinner in the teachers’ honor in November at the Disneyland Hotel.

We now bring you the story of the next winner: Sharon Romeo.

2016 Teacher of the Year Sharon Romeo and Superintendent Al MijaresApplause broke out in Ms. Romeo’s classroom as county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares presented her with the next Golden Apple shortly before 9:30 a.m. This time the pack of well-wishers included Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Dr. Rick Miller and Mendez Fundamental Intermediate Principal Dennis Cole, who shared the good news over the school’s PA.

Romeo, who admitted to being shocked, quickly deferred the credit.

“I couldn’t do it without these guys here because they work so hard,” she said of her students. “It’s not about me really, it’s about you guys.”

Romeo, a language arts teacher at Mendez in the Santa Ana Unified School District, is known for her unwavering belief that curriculum should be rigorous and challenging, and she melds compassion with high expectations.

Described by her peers as a “leader of leaders,” one colleague had this to say: “It’s true Ms. Romeo is an expert at the ‘gifted’ learner, but her bent on equality for all students – English learners, socio-economically disadvantaged, low performing – is what makes her a remarkable teacher.”

Reflecting on the issues facing students from low-income households, Ms. Romeo stresses that poverty is not only limited to financial resources. “A student can be impoverished mentally through lack of rigor in the schools, physically through lack of nutrition and spiritually through the hopelessness that poverty provides in abundance,” she says.

Ms. Romeo says the work of a teacher is to inspire students when things are difficult, and she believes the role of educators is to “always advocate for students, and never underestimate them.”

2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Lisa Moloney

2016 Teacher of the Year Lisa MoloneyToday, the Orange County Department of Education is announcing the county’s five Teachers of the Year for 2016. In the next few posts, we’ll be sharing information about the winners and the qualities that make each a great teacher.

Let’s begin with Lisa Moloney, a second-grade teacher at Perry Elementary School in the Huntington Beach City School District. This was the first stop for the “prize patrol” caravan of OCDE officials, media and sponsors.

Teacher of the Year Lisa Moloney with administratorsShortly after 8:20 a.m., a throng of visitors entered Room 12 at Perry Elementary School. Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County superintendent of schools, led the way and congratulated Mrs. Lisa Moloney as an Orange County Teacher of the Year.

Disney representatives followed, presenting a prize package with park passes and merchandise. SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union handed out a $500 check along with a lunch bag and pen set. Also on hand were Huntington Beach City School District Superintendent Gregory Haulk and Perry Elementary Principal Renee Polk.

“We have more than 20,000 teachers in this county, and she is being recognized as one of the five finalists, so this is an amazing accomplishment,” Dr. Mijares told her students.

“Wow, this is overwhelming. Thank you so much,” Ms. Moloney said. “What a way to celebrate 22 years of teaching.”

In those 22 years Lisa Moloney has honed her gift for reaching students who are at-risk, have special needs or who are limited in their English proficiency. She has described herself as the “Statue of Liberty of educators,” proclaiming, “Give me the ones who have just arrived to this country, hate school, the ones who nobody can figure out. I will love and respect them and gain their trust.”

Mrs. Moloney consciously works to make her classroom a safe place for students, where her No. 1 rule is “No stress.” By creating a warm and inviting environment in her classroom, students are able to flourish and have fun while learning.

When students do need to be redirected, she employs sign language to give visual support while protecting their privacy. It’s another way in which she expresses her respect and love for the young scholars in her charge.

She describes her personal view of teaching this way: “Every child deserves the opportunity to learn, can learn and should be cherished as they evolve.”

Mijares: Teacher Appreciation Month is a time to celebrate those who inspire others

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools

May is designated as National Teacher Appreciation Month, and here in Orange County, we are incredibly fortunate to boast some of the most passionate, talented and committed teachers in the world.

The fact is, academic standards cannot optimally be achieved without the women and men who make it their life’s calling to be teachers. They guide our students along the educational paths from preschool through college, and their contributions far exceed the subjects they teach.

Al MijaresOur county serves a significant percentage of students who are impacted by many obstacles and challenges, making it difficult to succeed in the classroom and envision a better life. While teachers cannot singlehandedly eradicate these problems, they can make a life-changing difference by establishing genuine personal connections with their students. It should therefore come as no surprise that when individuals are surveyed and asked to identity the greatest mentors of their lives, they inevitably mention teachers.

Indeed, despite managing a dizzying array of responsibilities and requirements, our best teachers lift students up, support them, encourage and help them develop their aptitudes and aspirations. They recognize their potential to change lives. 

The great American historian Henry Adams said it best: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” As such, a number of schools and districts planned festivities tied to Teacher Appreciation Week, which officially spanned May 4, and later this month the Orange County Department of Education will surprise a select group with the news that they’ve been named Orange County Teachers of the Year.

These events are worth celebrating, but we don’t have to wait until May to recognize our classroom teachers who made a major contribution in our lives – or who are making a difference in the lives of our children. A heartfelt thank-you goes a long way any time of year to motivate those who daily inspire others and bear the esteemed title of “teacher.”