Phil Tacata Named Sonoma County Teacher of the Year Runner-Up
Phil Tacata, a biology/marine science teacher at Petaluma High School, was honored as Sonoma County Teacher of the Year 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.”
When Mr. Tacata took over a popular marine science class, he made it his mission to make sure all students felt welcome in the class, regardless of whether or not they were the typical "high-achievers" who usually signed up. "Marine Science is a wonderful course and I felt it was my charge to make sure all our PHS kids got a chance to kayak with otters if they so chose," he said. He lowered the prerequisites to get into the class and began actively marketing it to students from all walks of life. At the same time, he maintained the rigor. He explained, "Shaped by my own personal expertise and experience in aquaculture and wildlife management as a former NOAA Marine Biologist, I expose my students to the same topics and give my students the same labs –and expect the same level of mastery– that a 1st and 2nd year college student would experience in college… And I hold my kids to it!"
Sonoma County Superintendent Steve 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.