Sonoma County Teachers of the Year Named
Three Sonoma County teachers are being honored through the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year program (part of the California Teacher of the Year program) for their exemplary, creative, and effective work serving students and supporting families through the unprecedented challenges presented during the 2020-21 school year by the pandemic, the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) announced Monday.
Danielle Kennedy, a special education teacher with Petaluma City Schools in the South County Consortium (SoCC), received the county’s top honor of Sonoma County Teacher of the Year. She will be nominated for the State of California’s Teacher of the Year program.
Heather Garcia-Rossi, an English Language Arts teacher with the Santa Rosa City Schools district, was named the finalist in the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year contest.
A third teacher is receiving a special honor for her outstanding work to connect with students and maintain a sense of school community during distance learning: Lisa Piehl, who teaches Career Technical Education at Santa Rosa High School in the Santa Rosa City Schools district, received the new School Community Leadership award.
A total of 10 teachers across the county were nominated as part of the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year contest.
“The teachers being recognized this year exemplified the dedication to students and families that was more important than ever during the pandemic,” said Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools. “During dark times, they shone a light on the way forward with their unwavering commitment to students. I am grateful to these teachers for their leadership and am thrilled to honor them through the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year program.”
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 have involved the community in the classroom. This letter is submitted along with letters of support from a school administrator and a colleague. In recognition of their achievements, Kennedy will receive a $3,000 award from Community First Credit Union and $500 gift card to the Luther Burbank Center in addition to being nominated for the California Teacher of the Year contest. Garcia-Rossi will receive a $2,000 award from Community First Credit Union and $250 gift card to the Luther Burbank Center. Piehl will receive a $1,000 award from Community First Credit Union in recognition of her unique contributions to her students during this challenging year.
The Sonoma County Office of Education officially recognizes these outstanding Teacher of the Year recipients during the annual fall gathering of school administrators in October.
Read more about each teacher and their unique contributions below.
Danielle Kennedy, Sonoma County Teacher of the Year
Danielle Kennedy teaches special education to third through fifth-graders in a moderate to severe special education classroom, as part of Petaluma City Schools’ South County Consortium at La Tercera Elementary School. The South County Consortium provides special education services to southern Sonoma County.
Danielle was recognized for her creativity, innovation, and hard work during the pandemic, including the way she embraced technology to better communicate with and serve her students remotely. She approached her job with energy, passion, and humor. Meanwhile, she supported her fellow teachers.
“Beyond anything else, Danielle has brought our group courage and confidence,” wrote Melinda Susan, the South County Consortium director, in her nomination. “She never allowed anyone to feel defeated or incompetent.”
Danielle is a single parent of two children. “I cannot express how strong her work ethic remains despite her own need to support her children,” Susan wrote.
Susan added that one of Kennedy’s greatest talents is how she gets to know her students, finding out their likes and embedding them into her instruction as an engagement strategy. “This was no easy feat in the distance learning format, but Danielle was able to bring in Beauty and the Beast, maps, menus, and trains,” Susan said.
Danilelle is being nominated for the State of California’s Teacher of the Year contest, where teachers are highlighted for their dedication to educational innovation, contribution to student learning, and for being a champion and model for the teaching profession. As part of the State of California’s process, Danielle will demonstrate her passion for teaching during an on-site visit / video submission of her classroom and participate in an interview with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction's office. The California Teacher of the Year will be announced in September of 2021.
Heather Garcia-Rossi, Sonoma County Teacher of the Year Finalist
Heather Garcia-Rossi has taught English Language Arts in the Santa Rosa City Schools district for 25 years and now serves as a teacher on special assignment, where she supports a number of school district initiatives centered on equity and student success. These include: Collaborative Curriculum Design, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and the district’s ethnic studies program.
“Ms. Garcia-Rossi is a champion for all students and an advocate for student voices. She is committed to engaging students and to creating a caring learning environment where all students are accepted, appreciated , and can learn,” wrote her nominator, Elizabeth Evans, director of Teaching and Learning for the district.
Evans wrote that, while Garcia-Rossi always goes above and beyond in her teaching, “this year, she has taken ‘above and beyond’ to a new level.” This spring, as the district moved to hybrid in-person instruction, many students chose to remain in full distance learning. Garcia-Rossi signed on to teach English virtually to more than 400 Santa Rosa City Schools students in grades 9-12. She excelled in this huge task, eliciting parent praise for her ability to listen, give clear directions, and be fair and kind.
Garcia-Rossi was also praised for quickly learning and embracing new forms of technology and communications platforms needed to connect with students during distance learning. She found creative ways to engage students, such as using the Zoom chat function, which many students were able to use to communicate even when they did not want to turn on their cameras and participate in other ways.
”She builds trust with students who then feel safe to reach out to ask her for assistance,” Evans wrote.
Lisa Piehl, School Community Leadership Award
Lisa Piehl, chair of the Agriculture Department and CTE teacher at Santa Rosa High School received a special “School Community Leadership” recognition for providing leadership and social emotional connection to her school community during the pandemic.
She stood out for the events she created with students to meet their needs while teaching remotely.
“Starting in March of 2020, Lisa Piehl has taken charge of the traditions and culture of Santa Rosa High School,” wrote her nominator, Santa Rosa High School Vice Principal Andrea Correia. “Lisa stepped in to ensure that although we were sidelined by COVID-19, our students would still be given an opportunity to connect to Santa Rosa High School.”
Piehl strategically shifted long standing annual events into socially distant versions that kept school spirit and tradition alive in a safe manner. She organized the 2020 graduation drive-thru ceremony, worked with her students to help them present their animals to the market in the summer of 2020, organized drive up movie nights, held virtual rallies, oversaw a student-directed school welcome video, broadcasted school news online, worked with the school’s Activities class to leverage social media to reach students remotely, and much more.
“With her everlasting joy and care of working with students and her overabundance of “can-do” attitude, she didn’t let the challenges of Covid get in the way of boosting school climate for students and staff” Corriea wrote.
One student added, “although as a senior we haven’t had the best year, Mrs. Piehl has found as many ways to help me and the other seniors in our student government class. She always knows how to bring a smile to my face even through the tough times.”
Learn more about the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year program at scoe.org/toy.