HANFORD — The Kings County Office of Education is to host its 2018 Excellence in Education awards ceremony Wednesday to recognize nominees for administrator, teacher and employee of the year. The 16 nominees have now been narrowed down to eight finalists.
Administrator/Manager of the Year
Loretta Black: Black started her career in education in 1996 with Visalia Unified School District, where she taught primary grades for nine years before moving back to Lemoore with her family. She taught second grade for three years at Meadow Lane Elementary.
In 2008, Black started working in administration as an assistant principal for Lemoore Union Elementary School District. She then spent three years as a learning coordinator and is currently finishing her sixth year as principal of Cinnamon Elementary.
Black said her favorite part of being a principal — her favorite part of any job she’s held over the years in education — is definitely the kids. She said they always keep things interesting and it is very rewarding to see students grow and reach their personal goals through the years.
Thinking back on her career, Black said she is most proud of the work LUESD has accomplished in the last seven years. She said teachers, administrators and staff have worked very hard to create schools where students learning at high levels every day is their general focus. She said it’s truly rewarding for her to be part of a team that is highly focused on this work.
Mary Brandt: Brandt has been involved with kids for most of her life. She taught at a Christian school in Selma for 11 years before her life took her in a different direction. She briefly drove a bus for special needs students, which she said was an eye-opening and amazing experience.
In 2006, she was hired for the position of lead cook at Pioneer Elementary School and worked there for five years. When the former food services director retired in 2011, Brandt was hired and has been there ever since.
Brandt said she loves being around the kids and does her best to encourage them on a daily basis. Until recently, she never considered herself as being a part of the educational experience for kids, but realized that food is an important part of students’ readiness for the classroom.
Besides the students, Brandt said she enjoys the staff she works with and is fortunate to have them there with her. Brandt said she works hard and hopes that work comes across at the end of the day. She said she is thankful for her job every day.
Teacher of the Year
Catherine Koelewyn: Koelewyn started her teaching career right out of college and taught first grade for eight years. When her second daughter was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor, she took eight years off of teaching while her daughter underwent a long stint of chemotherapy and radiation.
When her daughter was in the fifth grade, Koelewyn ended up long-term subbing in her classroom, which led to her return full time at her previous home district. She’s been back teaching there for seven years now.
Koelewyn said she often refers to her job as her “mission field”. She said she loves building relationships with her students filled with trust, respect and friendship. She said her favorite part about teaching is when her students have that “aha” moment and they get to celebrate together.
Koelewyn said her most proud moments are when she can connect, through hard work, to those students who have mentally and emotionally checked out and who have no desire to make academic effort and do not care. She said when she makes that connection of trust with them, they pour into her, their education, and most importantly, themselves.
Christopher Morshead: Morshead comes from a family of teachers and has always loved to help kids; his mother has been a teacher for 20 years and he knew that’s what he wanted to do. He attended California State University, Fresno, where he majored in music education.
Morshead did an internship with Hanford Elementary School District before getting a job with Lemoore Union Elementary School District, where he has been for 12 years. Besides being the music teacher at Liberty Middle School, Morshead has helped with programs and events at other local schools and high schools.
Morshead said his favorite part of the job is seeing the kids grow up and mature not only as students and musicians, but as human beings — which comes from the guidance of teachers and principals too. He said he loves that being involved with music, which is a fun extracurricular activity, helps the kids learn discipline and hard work.
Morshead said he’s proud of the fact that he helped form the winter guard and percussion program. He said the program is another opportunity for students to be involved with an afterschool activity that’s new and different. He said the program has been successful and he’s glad to showcase the students as a part of the community.
Bryan Rice: Rice said he never found much interest in school when he was younger. It wasn’t until college, as well as his work as a youth leader at his church, that he became passionate about learning and teaching. From that point, he pursued and earned a bachelor’s degree in history, a teaching credential and his master’s degree in educational technology.
Rice said his career began as a substitute teacher, which he did for about two years until he was hired as a part-time teacher at Jamison High School in Lemoore. The following year, he said a full-time position opened up at Lemoore Middle College High School, and although he thought he did horrible in the interview, they offered him the job and he accepted. He’s been a history teacher at LMCHS for 6 years.
He said his hands-down favorite part about being a teacher is the relationships with students. Each student has a unique personality, but each class has different characteristics as well, he said. Because of this, Rice said every day is an adventure and his job never gets boring. He said he gets to laugh with, mentor and experience life with youth on a daily basis and wouldn’t trade his career for any other.
Rice said he’s most proud of the moments of recognition and honor students have given to him, like the graduating class of 2013 choosing him to be the keynote speaker at their graduation ceremony. He said moments like that show him that the relationships he’s built and the genuine character that he expresses in his classroom are received positively by the students.
Employee of the Year
Ruben Amavisca: Amavisca said he’s been involved with education in one way or another since his sophomore year in high school when he was a migrant education tutor. He was a part of the California Mini-Corps while attending California State University, Fresno, and helped with English as a Second Language.
He has worked at Hanford West High School for 20 years; two years as a career tech assistant and the last 18 years as the career education coordinator. Amavisca helps students figure out what they are going to do after high school, whether it be college, trade school, military or entering the job force.
Amavisca said his favorite part of his job is the interaction with the students and talking to them about their futures. He brings presenters from different universities, community colleges, trade schools and hosts financial aid workshops.
While he sees many students go off to college, Amavisca said it’s a great feeling to see students who get full-ride scholarships or who are accepted into schools that are difficult to get into. He’s written many letters of recommendation and said it’s always neat to see the students’ hard work pay off. He said the fun part of his job is giving students the opportunity to do new and exciting things.
Melissa Dufur: After working at the front desk at Lemoore High School for three years, Dufur has spent the last six years as the registrar. She handles report cards, transcripts, enrollment and dis-enrollment, the online grade and attendance portal and scholarship information.
On any given day, Dufur’s office is a revolving door of current students, former students and parents. She said there’s nothing like interacting with students from a wide array of backgrounds and it keeps her happy day after day.
Dufur said her favorite part of the job is seeing the students succeed and accomplish their goals after high school. She said she loves seeing their eyes light up when they tell her about going to school or getting a new job.
Dufur said her proudest moments are the times when she receives thank you notes from students telling her how much they appreciate her for helping them. Whether it’s writing a letter of recommendation or showing a new student around the school, just knowing she made a small difference in the students’ lives is why she loves her job.
Lionel Garza: Garza has worked at University Charter School for 10 years as a custodian, and he could not be prouder to work for the school.
Garza said the school staff and Principal Crescenciano Camarena have embraced him as an important part of the school and made him feel like he is not just the custodian. He said he is involved with the students in their classrooms and enjoys being able to work and interact with them.
Growing up, Garza said he always encouraged his younger siblings and tried to motivate them in life. Although he never got a degree, he said he would have loved to be a teacher. He coaches soccer and baseball and loves helping in the community.
Garza said he enjoys being a positive role model and mentor, and hopes he makes a difference in the kids’ lives. He said he’s very thankful to Camarena, the teachers and the staff for making his job enjoyable.