“As the needs of classes vary, I have to adapt my delivery, but not the content. It is always a collaborative effort, and if I am diligent, prepared, reasonable, animated and engaged with my students, that is what they reflect back to me. ... I propose a student-centered, humane learning environment wherein students are ‘seen’ in their varied competencies … and offered a classroom culture that is inclusive, authentic and stimulating, because that is the true and noble purpose of public education, rather than winnowing the weak.”
So wrote Diane Siegal, a ninth- and 11th-grade English teacher for nine years at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School who was named this year’s Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year.
Siegal, an absolutely outstanding example of the truly exceptional teachers in classrooms countywide, was selected by a committee including representatives of teachers, administrators, PTAs and school boards.
The same day she learned of this honor, she received word that her position had been terminated. In this sense, she is a true representative of the educational community in this county, this state and this nation. We are sustaining devastating blows. Dire budget circumstances are forcing districts to lose their best teachers, their best programs and their best opportunities to reach and teach their students.
Each year, the county Teacher of the Year is a truly exemplary teacher and human being. Each one brings different skills and passions to the table, and represents all that is excellent in classrooms throughout our county.
Look at some of Siegal’s bonafides: She first worked as a teacher of English in Japan, and then served as chairwoman of the board of directors of the Starr King Parent Child workshop. She has served as the faculty adviser for Santa Ynez High’s mock-trial team, took part in an intensive language academy in Costa Rica, studied abroad at the University of Valencia in Spain and was a competitive cyclist in Osaka, Japan.
She has won recognition as Educator of the Month from Montecito Bank & Trust, and was awarded C.E.O. New Chapter award and Outstanding Adult Adviser awards from People to People International. She is the community liaison for Achievement/Risk/Challenge (ARC) leadership and literacy program at Santa Ynez High, raised money for the Jesse Rohde Foundation Community Medical Clinic in Ghana, and has her class do projects to support Heifer International. She has been developing a schoolwide service model in conjunction with the school’s leadership team and was testimonial speaker at the formal installment ceremony of newly appointed Judge Kay Kuns. Last year, she was a Santa Barbara County Distinguished Educator.
This is not an all-inclusive list.
Siegal’s nomination next will be reviewed for consideration as California Teacher of the Year in the fall. The California winner will proceed into consideration for 2010 National Teacher of the Year.
Educators have always taken pride in the ability to take a “hit” and keep on performing. Hit after hit after hit has been sustained, and the institution has survived. Those in positions to know the difference have despaired over what cuts have meant in terms of services provided, but the public has largely been shielded from seeing the effects. This year may well be different.
Two years ago, Ron Zell, a music teacher in Buellton who provided music instruction to every child in the kindergarten through eighth-grade district, was County Teacher of the Year. This year he, too, was informed that his position and his program were terminated. Excellent teachers cut. Programs devastated. Services eliminated.
Where will it end? And what will the impact be on this generation of students?
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.