Cara Leach
Cara Leach of Foothill School in Goleta is being honored as a Salute to Teachers 2023 Distinguished Mentor. (Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on the teachers who will be honored Nov. 5 at A Salute to Teachers, presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.]

Eight public school educators will be recognized Nov. 5 at A Salute to Teachers, an event hosted by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito.

Joanna Hendrix — a Santa Barbara County Education Office preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten deaf education teacher at Ralph Dunlap School in the Orcutt Union School District — has been named the 2023 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year and is a finalist for 2023 California Teacher of the Year.

Jennifer Peterson of Cabrillo High School in the Lompoc Unified School District will be recognized as the 2023 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.

The 2023 distinguished mentors to be recognized are Cara Leach of Foothill School in the Goleta Union School District, Christina Roessler of Peabody Charter School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Alyssa Spanier of Solvang School in the Solvang School District.

The 2023 distinguished new educators to be honored are Crystal Guzman of El Camino Junior High School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, Kendall Stevens of La Cumbre Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Elsy Mora Zambrano of La Colina Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The ninth annual presentation will be livestreamed at 5 p.m. Nov. 5 at

In addition to Cox, Salute to Teachers is sponsored by Noozhawk, Fielding Graduate University, Melfred Borzall, Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bowl and the Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

Noozhawk Q&A

Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Cara Leach: I think it is true of most, if not many, teachers that being a teacher is something they envisioned for themselves early on. As a young person I was always involved with kids, whether it was babysitting, working at summer camps, or volunteering for organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

I was also interested in learning about pedagogy. I remember reading books by Haim Ginott in high school just for pleasure!

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

CL: This is my 29th year.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject or lesson plan to teach your students?

CL: For many years I was a part of a countywide program called “Trout in the Classroom.” With the support of the Fly Fishermen’s Club of Santa Barbara, which supplied the eggs, each spring my students raised rainbow trout in a 25-gallon tank from egg to fry stage, and later released them into nearby lakes.

As a cross-curricular program, it covered life science, writing, literacy and math. Plus, the students loved observing and recording the changes happening daily in the tank, as well as becoming caretakers and later teaching younger peers all about this endangered fish.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

CL: I love getting to know a new group of students each year, building relationships with them, discovering what makes them tick, and watching their growth.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

CL: Many! The COVID-19 pandemic really threw a curveball to everyone in education, as well as families the last few years. I feel like we are all still finding our footing again.

Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?

CL: After the pandemic there is a renewed sense of normalcy; kids are no longer separated from other groups, field trips are back, families and others are welcomed onto campus. There’s a lot to look forward to this year!

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

CL: As an educator, I feel I am always learning. This is in part what attracted me to the profession. My mentors are my colleagues, my principals, and also my students.

Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life and work environment who support you every day?

CL: I am supported by my husband, Gregg; my adult children, Jack and Meg; and many caring friends. I also lean on my teaching colleagues, principal and office staff for support on a daily basis.

Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers?

CL: It is of course very humbling to receive this honor because I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t deserve it.

Teachers are known as “unsung heroes,” yet it just takes one act of kindness to recognize and appreciate the work and effort that goes into teaching for others to also take notice and appreciate the work that teachers do every day.