Excellence in Education

Exemplary Educators Announced at Awards Dinner

During a festive, inspiring evening Feb. 7, 630 guests gathered to celebrate and honor the district's 49 Excellence in Education finalists. Five outstanding educators were announced as the top winners:

- Classified category - Tianna Gonzales, office manager at Turner Elementary School
- Certificated category, elementary - Judith Sanchez, Aynesworth Elementary School
- Certificated category, middle school - Stephen Ruiz, Ahwahnee Middle School
- Certificated category, high school - Fabiola Perez, Edison High School
- Administrator category - Teresa Morales-Young, teacher development

Gonzales, Morales-Young and Perez will move on to the Fresno County Educator of the Year awards.

Finalists were nominated by their peers for their work above and beyond for students and the district.

The finalists demonstrated a love for their work, willingness to collaborate and support their colleagues and above all, genuine concern for the students of Fresno Unified and a desire to help them succeed in school and beyond.

Excellence in Education profiles

Judith Sanchez
Elementary Teacher Winner
Job: First grade teacher at Aynesworth Elementary School

Selected because: Sanchez has a true passion for her students and knows that their experience even as young as first grade can either set them on a path for learning or discourage them. She encourages technology in the classroom, guiding the students as they create PowerPoint presentations about what they are learning.

Students who need to get the "wiggles" out can go bounce gently and read on a small trampoline in the corner. She is the lead teacher for her grade level, leading with passion and always keeping student success as the focus. She is an outstanding listener and creates opportunities for colleagues to express their ideas and works hard to bring about group consensus and do what is best for students even if it is uncomfortable for adults.

She works after school with migrant students and English learners of all grades, tutoring the students in reading and language arts to help them catch up and be fluent English speakers.

About: Sanchez was educated as a young child in Mexico. She has immersed herself in researching new teaching strategies and spends many hours of her own time mentoring new teachers or teachers new to a grade level. She has taught a variety of grade levels, including high school. She is a great cook; her specialty is mole. She has been with the district since 2011, all at Aynesworth. She feels a sense of urgency to inspire students "before they get to the point...where they hate school."

Quote: Aynesworth Principal Jane Keeler -- "Everybody feels better and energized to do their best after spending time with Mrs. Sanchez."

Stephen Ruiz
Middle School Teacher Winner
Job: History teacher at Ahwahnee Middle School

Selected because: He consistently articulates his overall goal for his students -- that they strive for success. This is written on the wall of his classroom and he reiterates this to his students every day.

He has established a culture in his classroom of respect between teacher and students and students and students. He challenges his students to learn through productive struggle and constant revision of challenging content. He has high expectations for students and they do not want to disappoint him.

He started an English learner intervention class two years ago, with the redesignation rate for students at Ahwahnee increasing 8% the first year and another 10% the second year. He is the department chair and lead teacher for history. He started a computer game club and basketball club for students.

About: He is a lifelong learner himself; when he learns something new, whether it is for his classroom or as a leader, he calls it his personal "software upgrade." He has been at Ahwahnee for three years and with the district for four years. "I push my students and make my students believe they can be successful in life," Ruiz said.

Quote: Principal Jose Guzman -- "Mr. Ruiz believes that by challenging students with the highest of expectations they will learn to always expect it out of themselves."

Fabiola Perez
High School Teacher Winner
Job: Campus culture director and leadership teacher at Edison High School

Selected because: She is the magic behind the culture and energy at Edison. She works hard to help students feel connected to their school. She assisted students this year in launching #BeKindBeATiger random acts of kindness campaign, which has now gone districtwide. The students opened school with over 500 tweets of random acts of kindness.

Perez also monitors student participation in Goal 2 (engaging in arts, activities and athletics) and has increased student involvement in clubs, dances, graduation events, and freshmen orientation. She works with a team of teachers to help support English learners by sharing her own journey as an English learner.

She has facilitated the school's Tiger of the Month campaign to have staff recognize students monthly from their classes. She encourages students to engage outside their social groups and focus on making a difference on campus. She guides students to make decisions that will make them better individuals.

About: Perez emigrated from Mexico as a child and faced struggles without citizenship documents. She was homeless her senior year of high school but was still a three-sport athlete and valedictorian at Roosevelt High School. One of her teachers at Roosevelt gave her the hope she needed to persevere -- Lindsay Sanders, now her principal at Edison.

"I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the teachers in my life," Perez said.

She became a teacher to do the same for other students. She has been campus culture director for three years at Edison and with the district as a teacher and coach since 2008. She became a U.S. citizen Feb. 21.

Quote: Principal Lindsay Sanders -- "She has countless individuals who continue to come back and visit to share the impact that she has had on them from her early years of teaching to now."

Tianna Gonzales
Classified Winner
Job: Office manager at Turner Elementary School

Selected because: Gonzales is highly skilled at handling the front office and a variety of work beyond her normal duties, all done with grace and a smile. For example, she learned to navigate the school's budget when the campus was short an administrator. Her warmth and friendliness make families and students feel welcome and lift the spirits of staff.

She knows just the right words when offering support and guidance to students in need. She will walk students home or help them across the street. She has boundless energy for supporting staff and smoothing the way for teachers to do their work in the classroom.

About: Gonzales has worked for the district for 13 years, all of them at Turner, starting as an after school assistant. Although she works full time and has a family, she has taken classes to pursue her teaching credential. She takes the time to get to know students and encourage them to pursue their dreams. "I want to instill in their minds that it's not if I go to college, it's when I go to college," Gonzales said.

Quote: Turner teacher Linda Christensen -- "She is there for the children and parents to guide and support with a smile and a true feeling of care and concern."

Teresa Morales-Young
Administrator Winner
Job: Administrator for teacher development

Selected because: Through her work overseeing the support of aspiring, new and veteran teachers, Morales-Young has a direct hand in giving teachers the tools they need to be the best they can be for students. Her efforts are improving teachers' skills in every corner of the district.

Through her leadership of the teacher development team, the district has established a variety of teacher pipeline programs for selecting, training and retaining teachers.

Morales-Young also represents the district in partnerships with institutions of higher learning in redesigning teacher preparation programs. She does her job with enthusiasm and pride, always placing students and teachers at the center of her work.

About: Morales-Young began at Fresno Unified 20 years ago as a teacher and has been administrator for teacher development for eight years. Because she gets to support new and veteran teachers to excel in front of the classroom, she considers her job "the best in the world."

Quote: Maiv Thao, teacher on special assignment in teacher development -- "Teresa is a visionary leader, passionate and dedicated to serving our students and teachers."