Two Southland educators are among five 2021 “California Teachers of the Year,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced Wednesday.
Jim Klipfel, a ninth- through 12th-grade social studies and athletics teacher at Saugus High School in the William S. Hart High Union School District, has also been nominated by Thurmond as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition. Klipfel will compete against other state nominees, and the 2021 National Teacher of the Year will be announced in the spring.
The other Southland honoree is Laura E. Gomez Contreras, a third-grade multiple-subject teacher at Martin Elementary School in the Santa Ana Unified School District. The 25-year veteran educator, who was named earlier this year as Santa Ana Unified’s teacher of the year and as Orange County Teacher of the Year, was credited with planning “family nights” focusing on literacy, math and science and other activities such as field trips.
“My approach is centered on each child being `seen’ in the classroom, and the value of choices,” Gomez said. “Developing a positive relationship with students cultivates their participation. This is especially true during this pandemic, as we reimagine teaching, engagement and learning with time constraints through a two-dimensional format.”
Two Riverside County educators also made the cut: Allison Cyr, a third-grade, multiple-subject teacher at Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in the Desert Sands Unified School District, and Keisa Brown, a seventh- and eighth-grade Spanish and AVID 8 teacher at University Heights Middle School in the Riverside Unified School District.
The fifth member of the 2021 “class” is Nora Wynne, a sixth- through eighth-grade Spanish teacher in the McKinleyville Union School District in Humboldt County.
Thurmond said the five educators are ambassadors for the profession and serve as representatives of the state for the calendar year. They were chosen because they go above and beyond to educate, inspire and empower students, families and communities, he said.
“In a year that might be the most challenging in all of our lives, these five inspiring teachers have made profound differences in the lives of their students and communities,” he said. “I’m proud that these educators are receiving this prestigious honor for their continued effort to rise above the challenges and connect with students even during unimaginable circumstances.”
Three other Southland teachers were among seven 2021 finalists:
— Ericca Dent, a second-grade multiple-subject teacher at Joaquin Miller Elementary School in the Burbank Unified School District;
— Hazel Kight Witham, a 10th- and 12th-grade English teacher at Venice Senior High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District; and
— Shelley Andros, a sixth- through eighth-grade coding, horticulture and robotics teacher at Buena Park Middle School in the Buena Park Elementary School District.
The California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage and inspire new teachers to enter the profession.
County offices of education nominate California Teachers of the Year applicants through their county-level competitions. CDE selection committees review applications; evaluate teachers’ rapport with students, classroom environments, presentation skills and teaching techniques; and interview the teachers. The State Superintendent then selects the five California Teachers of the Year and the National Teacher of the Year nominee.
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