Sonoma County Office of Education

Santa Rosa’s Jen Uken Named Sonoma County Teacher of the Year

05/16/2024 -

Jen Uken

Jen Uken, a bilingual 1st grade teacher at Albert F. Biella Elementary School who routinely takes the time to ensure her students get extra care and support, has been selected as Sonoma County’s Teacher of the Year for the 2023-24 school year.

Uken credits her approach as an educator as being guided by her own experiences as a former “naughty child” who had negative experiences with school.

“I have a special place in my heart for the kiddos with the biggest behaviors,” she said in her application. “My goal is for all my students to feel loved, wanted, safe, and successful so they want to come to school. I make it my mission to deeply connect and understand each one so I can meet them where they are and help them evolve into well-rounded little humans.”

The Teacher of the Year program is facilitated by the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) and Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Amie Carter. As Sonoma County’s 2023-24 Teacher of the Year, Uken will move on for consideration as a California Teacher of the Year for 2025. The California Department of Education announces state teachers of the year in the fall.

“The deep level on which Ms. Uken connects with all of her students shone through in her application,” Dr. Carter said. “The testimonials from parents who shared the tangible difference Ms. Uken helped their children to make, in terms of both behavior and academic performance, were incredibly moving. They’re a testament to the power all educators have to improve the lives of the students they serve.”

Several family members wrote firsthand accounts of how Uken made a difference in the lives of their children. One highlighted how Uken helped transform her daughter from someone who would refuse to get ready for school into an engaged learner, at a time when every student was struggling with the transition from online learning back to classroom learning.

“Despite the demands of managing a classroom full of transitioning students, she invested significant one-on-one time to understand my child's needs intimately and assist her in overcoming obstacles,” the parent wrote. “Jen's ability to inspire a love for learning and instill a drive for academic excellence in my child is a precious gift that will benefit future generations.”

Biella’s principal, Michael Jablonski, said that Uken shines as a schoolwide leader, as well, as she leverages her skills as a bilingual educator to benefit families from the wider school community.

“Recently … she delivered a comprehensive presentation to families in Spanish, guiding them on how to navigate and monitor our online student learning platforms across all grade levels,” he wrote. “As our webmaster, she even updated the school website to provide families with instructions and troubleshooting advice to make accessing the programs easier.”

Dr. Carter and staff from SCOE plan to celebrate with Uken and the Biella community during a school assembly at 8 a.m. Friday, May 24. Media are invited to attend.

In addition to Uken being recognized as Sonoma County Teacher of the Year, SCOE also named Shala Pace, an English language arts, social science, and AVID teacher at Thomas Page Academy in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District as a finalist.

Uken will receive a $3,000 check from Community First Credit Union in recognition of her work, and Pace will receive $1,500. The educators along, with all the nominees, will be honored during a celebration at SCOE on Sept. 18.