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Kelly Choi, Six Other Teachers Center of Celebration at Inaugural Salute to Teachers

Cox Communications event also recognizes Cheryl Lastra, Tyler Wilkes and Jessica Zambrano as Distinguished New Educators

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A celebration of Santa Barbara County teachers resulted in a fun night for education at the inaugural Salute to Teachers reception Saturday.

The event at Bacara Resort & Spa was presented by Cox Communications in collaboration with the Santa Barbara County Education Office. More than 250 people gathered to recognize the efforts of the county’s teachers.

“Cox is very happy to present the Salute to Teachers event and we want to make this an annual celebration for our fantastic teachers,” said Sarah Clark, public affairs manager at Cox Communications.

The reception paid tribute to the 2013 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Kelly Choi of The Academy at Dos Pueblos High School, and awarded honors to three Distinguished New Educators and three Distinguished Mentors.

“When they called me on the phone and read the nomination to why I was chosen, my eyes filled with tears and I got very emotional,” Choi recalled.

“Everything they said about how they think I teach, is the teacher I want to be.”

Choi, who has been a teacher for 17 years, teaches math at Dos Pueblos High. She’s also a technology coach for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, helping colleagues leverage technology to boost student achievement. Choi was given the award because of her impressive relationship with her students and because she does whatever it takes to ensure their success.

“To be a great teacher I think you need to have a kind and patient heart,” Choi said. “It’s great to be here tonight and to celebrate education with my friends and family.

"It’s a fabulous evening and it almost feels like it’s the Academy Awards,” she added with a grin.

The Teacher of the Year award is an annual recognition of an exemplary educator. Each year a neutral team selects one K-12 teacher based on his or her competency, enthusiasm and leadership skills. The teachers are interviewed by the selection committee and observed in the classroom. The Teacher of the Year award is one of the highest honors an educator can receive locally.

“Every year I get more and more impressed with the teachers we have, and it’s great that we have a chance to honor them here tonight,” said Bill Cirone, the county's schools superintendent. “We have a lot of wonderful teachers in Santa Barbara.”

Saturday's event started with a red-carpet cocktail reception followed by dinner and the awards ceremony and ended with dancing. Host of the evening was Andrew Firestone, senior vice president of West Coast Asset Management.

“It’s a fun night for education,” Firestone said. “It’s time to recognize the teachers for all the hard work they do 365 days a year. This is their night.”

The 2014 Distinguished New Educators were Cheryl Lastra of Jonata Middle School in the Solvang School District, Tyler Wilkes of Hollister School in the Goleta Union School District, and Jessica Zambrano of Pioneer Valley High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.

The Distinguished Mentors were Amanda Sweigart of Ellwood School in the Goleta Union School District, Michelle Poquette of Cabrillo High School in the Lompoc Unified School District, and Megan Cotich of La Colina Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Noozhawk intern Emma Hermansson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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