Ten women and six men were recognized Friday as the “best of the best” among Los Angeles County’s nearly 75,000 K-12 public school educators.
Three Los Angeles Unified School District teachers made the cut. The others teach in Arcadia, Azusa, Bellflower, Burbank, Castaic, Palmdale, East Whittier, Manhattan Beach, Norwalk, San Marino and Torrance. The winners span all grade levels and school subjects, and their experience levels vary widely.
The Manhattan Beach representative is Linda Okumura, who teaches first grade at Pacific Elementary School. Known as “Mrs. O” by her students, Okumura has been a teacher for 33 years, 19 of them at Pacific. She was also honored as Manhattan Beach Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year for the 2011-12 school year during a Board of Trustees meeting in June.
“I am in fifth grade now, but my memories of Mrs. O will always be with me,” said Kevin Chao, one of Okumura’s former students. “I just wish she could be my teacher for all my grades to come. She made school a fun place, and I really still enjoy learning because she excited me about school.”
“These hard-working teachers have been judged by their colleagues as exemplifying the very best of this wonderful profession,’’ county Superintendent of Schools Arturo Delgado said at a morning ceremony. “Every day in the classroom, they make the most of a precious opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of their students.’’
The award’s main sponsor, California Credit Union, gave each teacher $1,000 in cash.
The 16 winners were chosen from a pool of 69 teachers that participated in the 30th annual Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year competition after being selected as the teacher of the year by their respective districts. They were interviewed and had to submit essays and lesson plans to a panel of educator peers.
The winners will compete for the “California Teacher of the Year’’ title. The top five in that competition will be named in November, and one will go on to compete for a national title.
Okumura, who has also taught preschool and college students, was also named Pacific’s 2010-11 Teacher of the Year. She was selected by her colleagues for her “inspired, focused teaching, as well as her solid leadership skills,” and for making “a significant impact within her grade level and across our campus.”
In an interview with Pacific Pawprints, a campus publication, Okumura said her role models were her mother, who was “passionate about education,” and her fourth-grade teacher, who clearly “enjoyed being a teacher.”
She said she enjoys working with first-graders because they are “fun, positive, enthusiastic and they love to learn. And they show the most growth in reading.” Her favorite subject to teach is reading because “it opens the door for every subject like science, math and social studies.”
Her advice to kids who want to be teachers when they grow up: “Study hard, do well in school, make sure you LOVE teaching and children. I believe it’s a calling, not just a job.”
City News Service contributed to this story.