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    Exceptional Educators Earn Top Honors for Their Teaching Practices, Innovation, Leadership, Teamwork and Skill

    The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) is pleased to announce the naming of six of our county’s most talented and inspirational educators as 2024 “Distinguished Mentors” or “Distinguished New Educators.” The awardees were nominated by their peers, and selected by a countywide panel of educators, administrators, business and community partners.

    The selected educators will be honored at the tenth annual A Salute to Teachers gala in November hosted by SBCEO and founding sponsor, Cox Communications, with support from other generous sponsors. Also to be honored are 2024 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Gregory Wolf, and 2024 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year, Elesa Carlson.

    Each year, school administrators, colleagues, and others are invited to nominate mentor teachers who demonstrate exceptional instructional practices, leadership, and support to new educators. They are also invited to nominate new teachers who demonstrate early career success and outstanding skill.

    The Distinguished Mentors are:

    Victoria Aguirre – Hollister School, Goleta Union School District

    Victoria Aguirre is a role model for both students and colleagues at Hollister School. She is a first-grade teacher and grade-level lead, a designated mentor for new teachers on campus, and a member of the school site’s Guiding Coalition. She is known for her creative classroom instruction and for going above and beyond in supporting new teachers as well as veteran staff. One colleague shared: “Victoria has an incredible wealth of knowledge about equitable, engaging, and effective instructional practices. I strive to be the kind of educator she is and feel incredibly lucky to have the privilege to learn from her.”

    Natalie Durbin – Liberty Elementary School, Santa Maria-Bonita School District

    As an Instructional Coach, Natalie Durbin helps teachers improve their practices and achieve greater student engagement and outcomes. She provides instructional resources and shows teachers how to implement them in the classroom successfully, in addition to working one-on-one with students. Her “mastery” of teaching English Language Arts is credited for students’ excitement about reading and writing. “Natalie has the gift of seeing the full picture and knows the support teachers need to reach their full potential. She is an outstanding role model for all teachers, new and seasoned,” shared her principal.

    Tiffany Gonzalez – Peabody Charter School

    Tiffany Gonzalez has taught kindergarten at Peabody Charter School for 15 years. She is admired as a key member of the school community and is seen as a tremendous resource to all Peabody staff. Tiffany contributes to and cares deeply about the school’s success, serving as the school site’s union president and on various committees including the Technology Committee and English Advisory Committee. Her principal shared: “Tiffany’s exceptional skills as a classroom teacher, her collaborative nature, bilingual abilities, and leadership qualities are what distinguish her as an outstanding mentor.”

    The Distinguished New Educators are:

    Ryan Helsel – Goleta Valley Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District

    Ryan Helsel is a science teacher who is known for going the extra mile for his students. In addition to teaching his first year at Goleta Valley Junior High, he mentored twenty students for the Science Olympiad competition and shared helpful materials with other teachers in the district. Colleagues admire his concerted effort to build meaningful relationships with his students, parents, and fellow teachers and staff. His positive attitude and “exceptional dedication to providing high-quality instruction and fostering a nurturing learning environment for all students” are deeply respected by his school administration.

    Sammi Lambert – San Marcos High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District

    Sammi Lambert is described by her colleagues as one of the “best new teachers” they have encountered and someone who is setting the bar for the profession. She has taught chemistry at San Marcos for two years, fulfilling her lifelong dream of being a science teacher. Sammi is active in the teaching community and leads professional development for science teachers countywide. She pursues new opportunities for her students such as an invitation to the Disney Imagination Institute for her Advanced Placement chemistry class. Her principal shared: “Sammi is intentional with her teaching, cares deeply for her students, and is extremely thoughtful and reflective about her craft.”

    Julio Molina – Delta High School, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District

    Julio Molina is “naturally gifted” as a science teacher, according to his peers. It is extremely important to him that students feel successful, and he always has his door open for extra help. His lessons engage students through websites, videos, partner work, and group work. Julio is credited as the reason why his students are “excited and eager to involve themselves in learning.” Outside of the classroom, he helps with robotics clubs, school activities, and greets students in front of the school every day as they arrive. “He encourages all students, no exception. We are fortunate to have him as a staff member at Delta,” his colleague shared.

    “At SBCEO, we are committed to elevating the field of education and to recognizing the remarkable talent that exists in our county’s schools,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido. “I am inspired by the six distinguished mentors and new educators who model excellence for their students and colleagues. Today’s classrooms require innovation and complex problem-solving, and these educators are setting the standard. Furthermore, they are preparing new teachers to succeed and empowering the future of the profession. We congratulate and thank them for their achievement and dedication.” 

    The awardees are participants in qualified teacher induction programs either through their district or SBCEO. Induction programs pair experienced mentor teachers with new teachers to ease their transition into the profession, accelerate teacher effectiveness and enhance teacher retention.

    Ellen Barger, SBCEO’s Associate Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction, highlighted the role of the SBCEO Teacher Induction Program in building relationships between new and more seasoned educators.

    “The program not only elevates the teaching profession, it also positively impacts teacher retention,” Barger said. “The supportive relationships and the focus on improving teaching practices are transforming our school communities.” 

    Kirsten McLaughlin, Market Vice President of Cox Communications, said the team is looking forward to celebrating the awardees and their school communities at the upcoming A Salute to Teachers. “Education is core to everything we do at Cox. We are proud to celebrate this year’s new educators and mentor teachers who do so much for our community across the county.”

    SBCEO is grateful for our partnership with Cox Communications and other sponsors, including Fielding Graduate University, Melfred Borzall, Noozhawk, Rusty’s Pizza Parlor, Santa Barbara City College Foundation, the Santa Barbara Bowl, and others who make the A Salute to Teachers event possible. 

    For more information about the awards or the A Salute to Teachers event, visit sbceo.org/salute or contact Steve Keithley, SBCEO Director of Teacher Programs and Support, at (805) 964-4710, ext. 5281. For more information about the Teacher Induction Program, visit sbceo.org/tip or contact John Merritt, SBCEO Director of Teacher Induction Program, at (805) 964-4710, ext. 5426. 



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