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Canalino Elementary Special-Ed Educator Brandon Sportel Named County’s Teacher of the Year

In accepting his third major award this year, the honoree says he takes pride in the personal connection he has with his students

Brandon Sportel, a special-education teacher at Canalino Elementary School in the Carpinteria Unified School District, with his Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year award he received Thursday. “All students have needs, and I’ve learned that quite well,” he says.
Brandon Sportel, a special-education teacher at Canalino Elementary School in the Carpinteria Unified School District, with his Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year award he received Thursday. “All students have needs, and I’ve learned that quite well,” he says. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Canalino Elementary School special-education teacher Brandon Sportel encourages students in his class to talk each day about how they're feeling and why.

Sportel also has a policy to reciprocate and tell the students how he is feeling, but one day in April this year, he had to admit what he felt: embarrassed.

The modest teacher had just found out he'd won the prestigious Milken Educator Award, which is awarded to only one teacher per state and comes with an unrestricted $25,000.

He sheepishly showed the kids the video of the announcement, and the kids were impressed.

"They're proud of me," he told Noozhawk on Thursday.

His students at Carpinteria Elementary School have even more to be proud of, as Sportel was named Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year on Thursday. He was chosen by a six-person committee that included administrators, a PTA representative, local business leaders and last year's Teacher of the Year, Allison Heiduk. 

In January, Sportel also won the Teacher of the Year award for Canalino Elementary, prompting Superintendent Bill Cirone to remark during the announcement of Sportel's third award this year that great things came in threes.

"You represent what is best about public education," Cirone told Sportel before presenting him with a plaque.

The teacher told reporters Thursday that he knew he wanted to be a teacher as early as junior high, and became a basketball coach teaching clinics.

"I realized I had a great connection with kids," he said. 

Sportel graduated from Michigan State University in 2001 and began working for the Carpinteria Unified School District in 2006.

He began working as the third- to fifth-grade special day class teacher for students with mild to moderate disabilities at Aliso Elementary and later moved to Canalino. In 2007, he received his master's degree in education from CSU-Northridge.

He has also developed a web based app called HelloYello that allows students to check in with teachers to let them know how they are doing emotionally, which students in general education classes are using as well.

Sportel cited one student who reported to her teacher that her infant brother was crying and keeping her up at night, which was affecting her studies. The teacher was then able to talk to the parent and fix the situation.

"All students have needs, and I've learned that quite well," he said. "We have gotten stunning results in that students absolutely trust their teachers."

A high point of his day is when kids start filing into class in the morning, and "they're bound to make me laugh," he said. "I'm really invested in that personal connection with them."

The Santa Barbara County Education Office also gave out four awards Thursday for 2015 Santa Barbara County Classified School Employee of the Year.  

Connie McGuire, who has worked nearly 40 years in the Santa Maria Unified Joint Union High School District, was awarded for her work as a community liaison specialist. Leora Sumner was also awarded and has worked as a food services cashier at Isla Vista Elementary in the Goleta Union School District.

Cassandra Locke, an instructional assistant in the Goleta Union School District, and Karen Apple, a career center specialist at Pioneer Valley High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, were also honored.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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