The Rotary Club of Healdsburg Sunrise and several local elected officials in attendance honored four local teachers and a high school counselor at the Rotary Club’s annual teacher appreciation event, which was held last week via Zoom.

The teachers and staff that were recognized included Healdsburg High School counselor Kelly Mace, Healdsburg Junior High School teacher Gloria Hurtado, Healdsburg Elementary School teacher and lead coordinator Aida Pacheco, Healdsburg Elementary Fitch Mountain Campus third grade teacher Irma Figueroa and West Side School sixth grade teacher Teresa Brooks.

Counselors and teachers were nominated by principals at the Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) and at the West Side Union School District.

“This year’s recognition holds special significance as we honor those who have risen to the challenges of educating our community’s children during a pandemic while also navigating the health, safety, financial, social and educational concerns of their own families. This was no normal year,” said Nancy Palumbo, this year’s president of the Rotary Club of Healdsburg Sunrise.

Each awardee will receive a check for $500 and a plaque with a special inscription and commendations from local representatives.

The inscription reads, “The Rotary Club of Healdsburg Sunrise, Teacher Appreciation Award May 5, 2021, in recognition of outstanding service.”

HUSD Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel, local luminaries and several elected officials also joined the virtual event to recognize the honorees and to share a few words.

“This year more than any other is the year to appreciate our teachers and our educators … we’ve had a crazy year not only with the pandemic but with wildfires here in Sonoma County. I was thinking about how to describe what our educators have done this year and there is no way I can do it succinctly in just a few minutes, but I came up with three words and I wanted it to be something that stuck with you and they all start with the letter ‘P,’” Vanden Heuval said. “The first is they’ve pivoted. We have reinvented school three or four times in the last 14 months … They had to build the plane as it was flying. Throughout that they have persisted and doing everything they can to make sure students are showing up and that they are engaged and are learning. And finally, the passion that has come through. We are overjoyed to have our kids back in school.”

Vanden Heuval said the teacher's persistence, passion and the ability to pivot has “rung true” this year. 

“We are so pleased to have such an incredible team serving this community. Our teachers deserve this recognition and we want to celebrate them,” he said.

 

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was also in attendance and thanked the awardees for their hard work in what has been one of the most difficult years for educators and students.

“In what has been one of the most challenging years in our lifetimes and during the largest public health crisis this nation has faced in over a century, we want to say ‘Thank you.’ Thank you to our teachers and our counselors. Teachers and counselors have a tough job on a good day, but during this pandemic Healdsburg’s educators have truly gone the extra mile for our kids. Every student has been on their radar to ensure their success, whether ensuring their success on Zoom or delivering homework packets. Teachers have not missed a beat, especially now,” McGuire said. “We want to say ‘Thank you’ to Kelly, to Gloria, to Irma, to Aida and to Teresa. We are so incredibly grateful. Grateful for you, grateful for your tireless work (and) your commitment to our kids.”

McGuire presented the group of teachers and counselors each with a golden certificate, which was signed on behalf of the California legislature.    

Following the announcement of the awards, each school site principal spoke about why they nominated their specific teacher and counselor and also offered a heartfelt “thanks.”

Outgoing Healdsburg High School Principal Bill Halliday said while they normally nominate teachers for the Rotary recognition, this year they felt that the work of counselor Mace had to be recognized.

“This nomination is a little bit different. For teacher of the year we nominated our lead counselor for the role. This nomination comes from a place where this year the need for quality emotional and academic and organizational support for our school and our students has never been more pronounced and quite simply, Kelly stepped up to the task and excelled this last school year and a half ensuring that services were continuing to be provided to our students and ensuring that we kept our eye on student well-being and student progress and academic support,” Halliday said. “Kelly did everything from home visits to one-on-one visits, to Zoom calls that went from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on any given day. I’ve never seen a counseling department work this hard and this focused as they did this school year.”

Halliday, who’s retiring in June, said Mace pushed school staff to empathize and understand the challenges of students and families.

“Kelly was the voice to say why are we trying to do the same thing (on Zoom) when the situation is quite different and we need a different approach and a different strategy and that different approach comes from a deep empathy and understanding of the challenges that our students and families are going through,” Halliday said.

He said Mace also has good non-traditional problem solving skills, “She always has an eye on equity and student voices … She's a true leader on campus who is held in high regard.”

Mace said she was honored for the recognition.

“This has been a really tough year and I think we’ve all had to pivot, but I’m grateful for this nomination,” she said.

On behalf of State Assemblymember Jim Wood, who represents District 2 of the California Assembly, Field Representative Will Tesconi read a few words in honor of Mace and the teachers.

“Teachers have truly gone above and beyond over the past 15 months. They’ve worked to meet the students where they are and have tried to not only deliver the standard of education they deserve, but to foster the sense of belonging students usually find in the classroom. As they have been asked to pivot over and over again to adapt to shifting guidelines they’ve kept student's needs at the heart of their work,” Tesconi said.

Healdsburg Junior High School Principal Chris Miller introduced the next individual to be recognized, junior high school teacher Gloria Hurtado.

“Gloria is an inspiration … and above all, an inspiration to her students. Students who are timid, shy or reluctant to participate in other classes have no problem speaking up in Gloria’s classroom. She is supportive, always creates a safe environment both physically and emotionally and she encourages students to take a risk even when they know they are going to make a mistake. She says mistakes are great, they help us learn,” Miller said.

Miller said sometimes students share with him that they absolutely love Hurtado’s class.

“I asked ‘why is that,’ and they said she doesn’t just tell you what to do, she makes you talk and tricks you into learning. That was such a great quote from a student that I really think sums up just her talent and her level of inspiration for students,” he said.

Hurtado said she was humbled to be recognized and said she couldn’t have made it through this past year without the help of her colleagues at Healdsburg Junior High School.

“I’m honored and humbled to be recognized in this situation and that I know I wouldn’t have survived this year if it wasn’t for my fellow comrades here at HJH,” she said.

Healdsburg Elementary School Principal Jeff Franey introduced a lead coordinator and teacher at the school, Aida Pacheco, as the next awardee.

“She understands that there are skills that students need that are going to take precedent over anything else. She pushes those around her on a daily basis, both the adults and the students day in her own relentless efforts to get better. She is extremely strategic and she is a huge leader at our school and I am extremely excited that she is getting this honor,” Franey said.

Pacheco has been an educator for over 20 years and said one of the biggest rewards of her profession is seeing the twinkle in students’ eyes when they meet their academic goals and develop or recognize their passions whether it be art, math, reading or writing.

Sue Simon, who’s currently the interim principal at Healdsburg Elementary Fitch Mountain Campus while Principal Erika McGuire is away on maternity leave, shared a few words on behalf of Principal McGuire regarding their teacher honoree Irma Figueroa .

Figueroa has taught in the district for 32 years and has taught in every grade.

“She shows incredible dedication to her students, being amongst the last to leave the campus she is a collaborative colleague who exudes warmth and always has a smile on her face. Irma also stands out for her willingness to try new things, doing it all with a positive attitude that is infectious. She is extremely dedicated to her students,” Simon read from Erika McGuire’s statement.

A Fitch Mountain student even shared some praise for Figueroa and said, “Mrs. Figueroa is the best teacher ever, you are cool for a teacher, you are the best math teacher.”

West Side Union School District Superintendent and Principal Kris Menlove, who’s also departing her role, discussed West Side’s teacher of the year honoree, Teresa Brooks.

West Side is a one-school K-6 district serving the western unincorporated areas of Healdsburg near Dry Creek Valley.

“It’s been an unprecedented teaching experience and we’ve seen teachers do unprecedented things for children this year. They have pushed themselves in ways that were unimaginable and I just want to say thank you to Teresa who exemplifies what it means to be a teacher during this time frame … Teresa is a strong woman, she is confident, she is kind, she is knowledgeable, her classroom is engaging and she is respected. She’s always learning … she is dynamic, she is positive, she has an infectious laugh and she loves life and that really forth in the lessons that she gives to her students and she is a ‘make it happen’ kind of person,” Menlove said of Brooks.

Brooks thanked the group for the recognition and said West Side is a special place to work every day.

“We have a special little campus and staff and it is a fantastic place to show up to every day,” she said.

Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell said the city of Healdsburg has many wonderful things, but its teachers are at the top of the list.

“This has been a tough year clearly and there are a number of things that a mayor gets to do that aren’t so much fun and this is not one of those things, this is an amazing opportunity. There are a lot of wonderful things about Healdsburg and our educators are at the top of that list so thank you. I’m really impressed with how you all have pivoted and continued and what comes out of it is a lot of creativity and perhaps looking at new ways to do our work and our learning system,” Mitchell said.

To watch the annual teacher recognition event, visit: https://rotaryclubofhealdsburgsunrise.org/.

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