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Oakdale Educators Named Teachers Of The Year

POSTED May 8, 2009 9:28 a.m.
The Modesto Rotary and the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) announced the selection of four local educators as 2009 Teachers of the Year at a Modesto Rotary luncheon on Tuesday, May 5 at the DoubleTree, where each received a $1,000 cash award.
Teachers were nominated by their principals and the finalists were selected from among 75 nominees representing 13 school districts in Stanislaus County. A selection committee, composed of local Rotarians and educators, narrowed the nominations through a paper screening process and then visited the classrooms of the 12 finalists.
This year’s honorees include two Oakdale teachers and an Oakdale resident who teaches in another school district. The high school division honoree is Oakdale High School teacher Pete Simoncini. The junior high division honoree is Oakdale Junior High School teacher Danesa Jepson. The K-3 division honoree is Oakdale resident and Mary Ann Sanders Elementary School teacher in the Sylvan Union School District, Melanie Sluggett.
A retired United States Army Officer, teaching is a second profession for Pete Simoncini, who currently teaches social studies at OHS. It was his Army experience that influenced him to become a teacher.
“Working as an ROTC instructor was the most enjoyable part of my military career because I loved interacting with students and became energized by sharing my knowledge and experiences with those students,” he said. “Helping people successfully progress intellectually from young students to thriving professionals was, to me, the most significant achievement a person could have, and in ‘retired’ life I wanted to continue providing that help.”
OHS Principal Rick Jones said that Simoncini sets high standards for his students and is able to get the best out of them.
“Pete takes great pride in the successes of his students and takes it personally when a student fails,” Jones said. “He goes out of his way to help a struggling student, providing them with extra help and keeping in close contact with that student’s parents.”
Beyond the classroom, Simoncini serves as Social Studies Department chair, as an adjunct instructor in political science for Columbia College, as a site representative for the Oakdale Teachers’ Association, as a member of Oakdale High School’s Site Council, and he is the public address announcer for most of Oakdale High’s interscholastic sports teams.
“Pete volunteers countless hours of his own time at our school and in the Oakdale community,” Jones added.
Currently a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher, Jepson wanted to become a teacher for as long as she could remember.
“As a child, I was the teacher when I played school. When I started school, I often stayed in from recess to help my teachers,” Jepson said. “My whole life I’ve been working towards becoming a teacher or learning to become a better one.”
Jepson said that her greatest accomplishments in education come from working with her students.
“Every day, I strive to reach my students, not only with our lesson, but in their lives as well,” she said. “I love seeing my students’ eyes light up with those ‘Ahha!’ moments. I love their excitement when a lesson or activity peaks their own interests, and I especially enjoy when my students come back to visit sharing their own success in education.”
Oakdale Junior High Principal John Simons said Jepson goes beyond what is required and has positively impacted every facet of Oakdale Junior High School.
“In addition to her classroom responsibilities, she also serves as an intervention and enrichment teacher for our after school program called OASIS,” he said. “In this program she teaches students sign language, podcasting and coordinates a Friday Fitness program. Students that normally check out of school are checking in because they want to be part of something special. That’s exactly what she has done for our after school program, by creating a place that is safe where students have learning opportunities that they feel are unique and valuable.”
Sluggett, who teaches kindergarten at Mary Ann Sanders Elementary in the Sylvan district, has been a leader at the district and site level for the past 23 years. Principal Russell Antracoli said her enthusiasm for children is what makes her an exemplary teacher.
“She sets high standards for her students while constantly assessing their progress and adapting the curriculum and instructional strategies for individual student needs. She has made a dramatic impact in the lives of her students,” he said. “Beyond the classroom she is a natural leader, having served on every conceivable committee at various school sites and worked tirelessly on school level committees.”
Sluggett also played a key role in helping get two new schools up and running — Freedom and Mary Ann Sanders Elementary schools. She has also been actively involved in Oakdale’s Magnolia Elementary School Parent Teacher Club and was instrumental in bringing Missoula Children’s Theater to the school.
“I teach because I believe that the single, most significant impact I can have on this world is to equip my students for the future,” she said. “I teach my students to problem solve, make good choices and think for themselves, whether they are five-year-olds in my kindergarten class, Chapman University students in my Credential class, or 11-year-old soccer players on my competitive soccer team. I give them the tools to be successful in their learning — academically and socially, because I believe that to teach deeply is to empower students with knowledge that can be applied in numerous situations.”
Also among other finalists who were honored at the May 5 luncheon was Elementary (K-3) Level nominee, Cloverland Elementary School teacher Terrance Trowbridge.
This is the eleventh year that Modesto Rotary and SCOE have joined efforts to honor teachers in Stanislaus County. The program not only honors local teachers and celebrates excellence in education, but also provides an opportunity for teachers to receive state and national recognition. Two of the four teachers will be selected, through an interview process, to represent Stanislaus County in the State Teacher of the Year Program. One state winner then proceeds to the national level.

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