Rachel Ambrose of Analy High School Named Teacher of the Year; Phil Tacata is Runner-Up
Rachel Ambrose, an Analy High School social science teacher lauded for her “exceptional leadership skills,” “unwavering dedication to all students,” and promotion of equity and empathy on campus, has been named Sonoma County Teacher of the Year. She was teaching in her classroom on Thursday when a “prize patrol” including County Superintendent Steve Herrington, the district superintendent and school principal, Teacher of the Year Sponsor Community First Credit Union, and others surprised her with flowers, balloons, and news of the award.
Ambrose was recognized for her leadership and innovative work to make her students’ education as timely, relevant, and meaningful as possible. This year, she implemented the school’s first ethnic studies class and has since advised other districts on how they might do the same. She also instituted a "Woke Wednesdays" series of guest speakers on topics of interest to her ethnic studies students, including DACA, LGBTQ rights, Islamophobia, and police brutality. She revived the school newspaper and guided students in award-winning coverage; prepares and takes teams to History Day competitions; and guides students to engage with their community through projects like StoryCorps interviews with local seniors. At the same time, she has developed a classroom system built on equity, where students feel challenged and engaged regardless of learning level.
“Our reviewers were particularly impressed with Rachel’s commitment to promoting equity, empathy and civic engagement,” said Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools. “In these challenging times, these skills are critical to the success of our youth and society as a whole.”
To be eligible for this prestigious award, educators must have taught for at least eight years. They must write a three-page letter showing how they’ve: Worked to close the achievement gap for their students, demonstrated educational leadership in their school, fostered 21st century teaching practices, contributed to the success of their school, and involved community in the classroom. This letter is submitted along with a letter of support from a school administrator and a colleague.
In recognition of this achievement, Ambrose will receive a $3,000 award from Community First Credit Union and season tickets to the Santa Rosa Symphony. She will work with SCOE’s Teacher of the Year coordinator to apply for the prestigious 2018-19 California Teacher of the Year award.
Phil Tacata of Petaluma High School Named Runner-Up
This year’s pool of nominees was described by the judges as highly competitive, with the decision between Teacher of the Year and runner-up particularly difficult.
Phil Tacata, a biology/marine science teacher at Petaluma High School, was honored as runner-up for his commitment to making marine science accessible for all students, closing the achievement gap in his classroom, and bringing his subject to life through engaging and personalized instruction, hands-on work, and field trips.
“In my six years as a principal, I have rarely had moments when staff are fighting for the underperforming students. Phil’s dedication to every student, particularly those who don’t normally share the limelight, underlined for me his capacity as a teacher and empathy as a human,” said David Stirrat, principal at Petaluma High School. “His heart and connection to our students is evident everyday and the student response to his teaching is nothing short of miraculous.”
Herrington, in a letter recognizing Tacata, observed, “Phil is an artist. He creates a physical and social environment where students thrive. Phil is a teacher whose commitment to each of his 135 individual students inspires students to strive to do their best work for him and themselves. Phil is a teacher who changes students’ lives.”
Tacata is the recipient of a $2,000 award provided by Community First Credit Union.
“At SCOE, we seek to inspire the local educational community by honoring and telling the stories of our most exemplary teachers. I can’t imagine better models for rigorous, student-centered teaching than Ms. Ambrose and Mr. Tacata,” Herrington said.