Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 9:12 am | Overcast 66º


Community Mourning Loss of Longtime Santa Barbara Teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan

The 35-year Santa Barbara County educator, most recently at Adams Elementary School, dies after a battle with pancreatic cancer

Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan died Friday of pancreatic cancer. “When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” longtime friend and Adams Elementary School Principal Amy Alzina said.
Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan died Friday of pancreatic cancer. “When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” longtime friend and Adams Elementary School Principal Amy Alzina said. (Amy Alzina photo)

Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan passed away Friday, and the education community is mourning the loss of a passionate educator who worked tirelessly for the children in her classes.

Hernandez-Sibayan was a teacher in Santa Barbara County for almost 35 years and most recently worked at Adams Elementary School, where she taught kindergarten for four years.

The school community rallied behind Hernandez-Sibayan when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by hosting fundraisers and printing up “I Heart Mrs. Hernandez” shirts.

“She was my best friend and mentor and godmother to my daughter,” Adams Principal Amy Alzina said. “It’s been hard on our team and our staff and family. It’s hard also to see her go through so much pain.”

Hernandez-Sibayan was a founding teacher at the Santa Barbara Community Academy, where she taught for about 16 years, and before that, she taught at Harding University Partnership School and San Roque School, Alzina said. She also served as president of the teachers’ union.

The Santa Barbara Community Academy is where Alzina met her, when they taught kindergarten together and Alzina eventually — with the mentoring of Hernandez-Sibayan — became principal.  

“She could just spark that love of learning and reading in any child,” Alzina said, adding that Hernandez-Sibayan would tutor students and teach full-day kindergarten classes for free at the school because she believed students needed as much learning as possible. “She just gave 1,000 percent to every kid.”

Santa Barbara Community Academy staff show some love for Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan, who was a founding teacher at the school. (Facebook photo)

Hernandez-Sibayan loved being in the classroom and didn’t put in for retirement even after the cancer diagnosis, though she was in her mid-50s, Alzina said. She did leave when she got ill, more recently, Alzina said.

“When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” Alzina said. “She’s just the best teacher ever.”

Hernandez-Sibayan is survived by her husband, Max, and six siblings.

“She loved her children like they were her own. She was absolutely loving, so generous,” said her sister, Phyl Hernandez. “Since last year and when she got sick, we have had nonstop calls and messages, and so much love pouring in from this community.

“She enjoyed life and that was one thing she did say, ‘I had a good life.’ She felt truly blessed and thankful for everyone, all the love and prayers.”

She was trilingual (speaking English, Spanish and French) and taught English as a Second Language classes, Hernandez said. Over her teaching career, she taught students in private and public schools, from kindergarten to the high school level.

“She was everything to me,” Hernandez said. “I’m the youngest of the siblings and she was one of my best friends. She raised me along with my other siblings — she was primarily my guardian and she actually was my teacher.”

The first official teaching job Hernandez-Sibayan had was replacing a teacher at La Purísima Concepción Catholic School in Lompoc, and her youngest sister was a student in her class.

“I truly, truly miss her and am blessed that we got to spend some of her last days together,” Hernandez said.

The family is planning a celebration of life event in May that will be open to the community. They also established a memorial fund at Wells Fargo in Hernandez-Sibayan’s name, where donations can be made in lieu of flowers. Alzina said Adams Elementary is also accepting donations and cards which will be given to the family.

Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash called for a moment of silence to recognize her at Tuesday night's meeting. 

"Isabel Hernandez was a teacher’s teacher," he said in a statement. "She nurtured our youngest learners with patience, kindness, compassion, and a wonderful sense of humor. Isabel joined the district in 1996 and taught at Harding School. In 1999 she taught next door at Santa Barbara Community Academy. Then, in 2010, Isabel joined the staff of Adams Elementary School. She was a mentor teacher. At one point, she was the president of Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association. Generations of kindergarteners probably still remember the wonderful teacher who encouraged them, who taught them how to share, how to play nicely with one another, and how to recognize numbers and letters. She was the teacher who dried their tears on that very first day of school."

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli 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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >