Teachers of the Year for 2013-14 announced during surprise visits to their schools


It’s that time again.

Today is the day that three Irvine educators will find out that they’ve been selected as IUSD’s elementary, middle and high school Teachers of the Year.

The good news will once again travel by way of caravan, with school board member Lauren Brooks, Superintendent Terry Walker, Irvine Teachers Association President Tim Jamison, 2013 honorees Joe Huber and Brendan McBrien, and other district staff members making surprise visits to local campuses.

As we have in years past, we’re going to tag along and post the winners as they’re announced, so be sure to refresh this page every so often. We should point out that we’ll be sending our dispatches from our iPhone, so we have a good excuse for typos.

And here’s a little background:

Now in its 28th year, IUSD’s Teacher of the Year program recognizes exceptional instructors at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Nominations are submitted by district employees, and candidates are later interviewed by a committee that includes teachers, principals and administrators.

That panel ultimately narrows the field to three using the following criteria: Evidence of a wide range of instructional strategies used effectively; commitment to the teaching profession; and demonstration of Irvine teachers’ values of integrity, empowerment, learning, collaboration and trust.

IUSD also recognizes a handful of standout first- and second-year teachers, who will be announced this morning as “Teachers of Promise.”

Oh, and all of today’s honorees will be formally honored in May at the Excellence in Teaching Awards Banquet, which is organized each year by the Exchange Club of Irvine and ITA.

Here we go.

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8:10 a.m., Northwood High School

Our first stop of the day is Northwood High School, where vocal music director Zach Halop has been named IUSD’s High School Teacher of the Year.

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Halop was notified of his new rock-star status during an impromptu staff meeting called by Principal Leslie Roach. Fittingly, they were in the school’s theater.

“It feels stunning,” he said afterward. “This is a tribute to the place I work at. I’m allowed to take risks and to do great things with the kids because of this staff and the way everybody works together.”

Since its launch in 1999, Northwood’s choral music program has continued to soar in popularity, drawing more than 300 students this year. Many arrive at Northwood seeking out the program, a fact that should surprise no one who has observed Halop’s class.

Halop — he’s pictured on the right, next to Jamison — has earned a stellar reputation as a music educator dating back to 1992, his first year in IUSD, and his teaching chops have even earned attention from the recording industry: In 2013, he was named a national quarterfinalist for the Music Educator Award from the Grammy Foundation and The Recording Academy.

Meanwhile, Halop has demonstrated additional talents at Northwood. He also coaches girls golf and serves as the announcer at football and basketball games, making him the “voice of the Timberwolves.”

Speaking of Timberwolves, another Northwood staff member was surprised with an accolade during our visit. History teacher Brendan Geck was announced as a 2013-14 Teacher of Promise.

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9:20 a.m., Stonegate Elementary School

We’re now at Stonegate Elementary School, and fifth-grade teacher Allie Nixon has been named Elementary Teacher of the Year.

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The announcement was made after students and staff gathered on the field for a mock fire drill. Building a theme around the concept of Stonegate’s superheroes, Principal Stan Machesky characterized Nixon as the school’s “Batman,” equipped with a virtual utility belt of tools that help students succeed.

Indeed, Nixon brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Stonegate, having served as a teacher and administrator in Irvine since joining the district in 2003.

“I don’t know what I’m feeling right now,” she said, shortly after being presented with flowers and outfitted with a Batman costume by the staff. “I am shocked, overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised by the honor. I am one of many here.”

Colleagues say Nixon is deeply committed to providing the best educational opportunities for students, implementing effective instructional strategies, such as “close reading,” while making the most of innovative technologies, including Google Apps for Education. She also promotes a collaborative culture in her classroom through cooperative learning, which is a type of group work.

Nixon continually builds upon her skills through professional development and consistently reaches out to help others, including those new to the teaching profession. Above all, her instructional objectives are guided by one simple question: What is best for students?

We’re now about to depart for our next stop, but first we have a couple more Teachers of Promise to announce. Alyssa Morris, a sixth-grade teacher at Canyon View Elementary School was surprised with the good news in front of the entire school, as was Darin Nakakihara, who teaches fifth grade here at Stonegate. In fact, Principal Machesky called Nakakihara the “Robin” to Nixon’s Batman. Naturally, he was also greeted with the appropriate costume.

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10:20 a.m., Jeffrey Trail Middle School

Our final stop of the morning is Jeffrey Trail, IUSD’s newest middle school, where math teacher Karen Feng has just learned that she’s the district’s Middle School Teacher of the Year.

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Feng also received the big news after an emergency drill brought hundreds of students and staff to the blacktop.

“I honestly didn’t think that I would win,” she told the NewsFlash. “It was just an honor to be nominated among all the great and awesome teachers in Irvine.”

Feng is a fixture around Jeffrey Trail, known for her willingness to help any time and her ability to motivate students to give every assignment their best effort. An IUSD staff member since 2006, she is a member of Jeffrey Trail’s leadership team, and she played a valuable role in shaping the nascent campus’ staff, vision, policies and programs.

As Jeffrey Trail’s mathematics department chair, Feng has helped ensure a smooth transition to the state’s new Common Core instructional standards. But her dedication extends even further: She regularly assumes extra responsibilities, including Mathcounts competitions, the AMC 8 math contest and the district-wide geometry committee. She also coordinates the school’s Advantage Program, which includes weekly remedial extension and enrichment activities.

Before arriving here at Jeffrey Trail, our group paid a visit to Sierra Vista Middle School to announce the selection of science teacher Jill Morgan as the fourth and final IUSD Teacher of Promise.

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That’s it for today’s live Teacher of the Year coverage. As we mentioned earlier, each of this year’s recipients will be honored in May at a special awards dinner that will also recognize outstanding educators from each site.

In the meantime, please join us in congratulating IUSD’s Teachers of the Year and Teachers of Promise for 2013-14.