Seventeen teachers representing all of the Hart District’s schools have been named Teacher of the Year by their respective sites. All 17 will be presented to the Hart District Governing Board at its Sept. 16 meeting, when one will be announced as District Teacher of the Year, to represent the Hart District in Los Angeles County competition.
This year’s Teachers of the Year and the schools they represent:
Bruce Arnold has been a special education teacher at Placerita Junior High School since 1996. He provides standards-based instruction in both history and mathematics in a Special Day Class setting, while managing a special education Individual Education Plan caseload. He teachers summer school each year, working with students with multiple disabilities and special needs. “Having the opportunity to encourage special needs young people is what fuels my passion for teaching,” he reflected.
Zaid Bakoo came to the Hart District in 2004 from the Antelope Valley and has been teaching at Saugus High School ever since. He teaches American government and AP Government and Politics, serves as the school’s intervention coordinator and has been a summer school administrative intern. “While I was in graduate school, I began to substitute teach for the Wm. S. Hart District,” he explained. “I quickly realized that I really enjoyed education as a career. I am so fortunate to have selected a career that keeps me motivated, positive, energetic and vibrant.”
Brady Burrill was selected as Teacher of the Year by his colleagues at West Ranch High School, where he has been a math teacher and baseball coach since 2005. A product of local schools, he was a standout on the Valencia High School baseball team, where he was named First Team All-CIF catcher in 1997 and 1998. “My students inspire me,” he says of his teaching experience. “They all give me the motivation to get better. I’m inspired by the students that take a regular class of mine and then feel they are ready to take an honors class the following year.”
Christine Enns has made a name for the choral music program at Valencia High School, where her vocal groups have won a number of honors and been invited to sing in prestigious venues. She has been teaching choral music at Valencia since 2003. Students in her classroom are given the freedom to create and compose their own songs, direct and conduct the choir, make costumes, run sound and tech, and direct their own one-act musicals.
Mary Gaskin has been an art teacher since 2004 at Bowman High School, where she also teaches theatre arts and yearbook. She is also chair of Bowman’s Elective Department and a district professional development coach. Her students say about her: “She is very forgiving and believes in several chances because she doesn’t want her students to fail. When I come to class I feel right at home.”
Jeff Gilbert is the music teacher at Rio Norte Junior High, where he has been on staff since 2003. He coaches beginning guitar and three levels of band-from beginning to intermediate and advanced. He also created the school’s first drum line, which he co-coaches after school. “It has been my pleasure to bring forth the enjoyment of music to my students,” he explains. “It is my hope that music will continue to enrich (their) lives in the future, whether as a performer or as a listener.”
Jamie Hawn was name Teacher of the Year by her colleagues at Golden Oak Adult School, where she teaches students seeking to obtain their high school diploma or GED. She has been on the Golden Oak staff since 1999. “I am so proud of every student that walks across the stage at Golden Oak Adult School to receive their high school diploma,” she commented. “They each have their own story and have overcome their own hardships to accomplish a goal.”
Daren Hoisington came to the Hart District 15 years ago and has been a teacher at Academy of the Canyons for three years. She teaches Honors English for 10th and 12th graders and yearbook and served as editor for the school’s accreditation self-study this year. “I seek to honor students’ trust in me by never asking them to work harder than I myself am wiling to work,” she explains. “My favorite moments of a teaching day often include a good rollicking class discussion, complete with incisive comments and laughter, or a really productive conference with a student about his writing.”
Jennifer Huhn has been a special education teacher at Golden Valley High School for the past four years, teaching everything from English and study skills to reading, Career Explorations, U.S. history, Career Visions, biology and earth science. Both students and administrators have named her Teacher of the Month in the past. “Students need a teacher who genuinely cares and believes in nurturing their ability to succeed,” she said.
Nelson King joined the Hart District as a Special Day Class teacher and resource specialist at La Mesa Junior High School in 1997 and shifted to the school’s world history and geography classes in 2000. He uses story telling to help students relate to the material in each unit and incorporates reading and writing into each of his lessons. “History comes alive when the kids can touch history and use their imagination,” he explains. “Once they are interested, they are ready for more difficult concepts.”
Lori Ann Levy-Holm started at Sierra Vista Junior High as a long-term substitute in English and art and has been an art teacher at Rancho Pico Junior High since 2004. She describes her classroom as “organized chaos,” better defined as an active space. “My responsibility as a teacher goes beyond my subject matter,” she concludes. “I am in the business of contributing positively to those I encounter and it is my goal to inspire this in others.”
Laura Luxmore is another “home-grown” teacher, who earned her diploma at Valencia High School. After college, she returned to the Hart District as a special education teacher at Rio Norte Junior High, later at Arroyo Seco Junior High School and for the past two years teaching English, music and ASB to special needs students at Sequoia Charter School. Her teaching goal: “to provide students with a high quality, well rounded educational experience in the least restrictive environment to meet each student’s unique needs.”
Chris Mansfield has been a mathematics teacher at Hart High School since 1977, where he focuses on Advanced Placement and honors classes. He also coaches the school’s women’s basketball team and both the men’s and women’s tennis teams and is a district mentor teacher. “The universal nature of mathematics is something that I have always believed and taught to my students,” he commented.
Brenda Monteleone is an English teacher at Arroyo Seco Junior High, where she teaches both seventh and eighth grade students. She has also taught seventh grade world history, reading intervention and learning strategies since joining the staff in 1992 and has been a long-term substitute counselor since last January. “I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of young people, and I do make a difference every day,” she said.
Mike Motherspaw started as a substitute teacher in 2004 and joined the permanent staff at Canyon High School in 2005, teaching Algebra A and B in summer school and biology and AP Environmental Science during the regular school year. He also serves as a boys basketball coach and has been a Safe School Ambassador team leader since 2007. “Canyon High School has always been my home,” he explained. “Coming back to teach on my high school’s campus was something I simply felt I needed to do.”
Ilona Pennay has taught both seventh and eighth grade English since joining the Sierra Vista Junior High staff in 2005. She also has taught writing strategies and reading strategies and has served as the English Department co-chairperson since 2008. She was in charge of eight family workshops for the school’s Family Resource Program. “Teaching is about not giving up; it’s about persistently believing in students and their ability to succeed even when they don’t believe it themselves,” she concluded.
Jennie Siemens did her student teaching at Canyon High and Rio Norte Junior High before joining the staff at Early College High School in 2007, teaching algebra and Freshman Seminar. She currently teaches math at Academy of the Canyons. Her goal is to “develop a classroom environment of mutual respect; a safe-haven for intellectual risk-taking, where students will develop a love of learning and be equipped with the basic skills and critical thinking abilities necessary to be successful.”
Teacher of the Year honorees are chosen by their peers and the administration at each site. The District Teacher of the Year advances to the county level, where a small number of honorees are selected to represent Los Angeles County at the state and possibly even the national level.
All of the district’s Teachers of the Year will be honored at a luncheon this fall at Robinson Ranch, in addition to their Governing Board presentation. Their portraits will be on display in the district’s Administrative Center for the 2009-10 school year.