First-class teachers honored

Three outstanding teachers from Carmel Valley schools were named their district's teachers of the year. Canyon Crest's Brian Shay, Ocean Air's Jim Gianola and Solana Pacific's Paula Merrick now have to wait until Oct. 10 to see if they will rank in the county's top five at the Salute to Teachers awards ceremony.

Here's a look at Carmel Valley's first class teachers.

The trusty tech teacher

Jim Gianola has been in the Del Mar Union School District for 19 of his 28 years as a teacher. Gianola taught at Torrey Hills and Del Mar Hills before opening Ocean Air School.

He's taught first, second, third and sixth grades and for the last nine years he's taught technology,"I always wanted to be a teacher," said Gianola, who grew up as the oldest of eight kids.

After working 13 years with the parks and recreations department teaching swim lessons, Gianola found himself in a third-grade classroom - his first class, he still recalls, had 35 students.

After helping start school computer labs at San Diego Unified and in Del Mar, he realized how much he enjoyed teaching technology.

'Technology is so important, it's so valuable for these kids and the world that they're going into," Gianola said. "Everyday it surprises me at how fearless kids are about using technology."

Gianola said today's children are "technology natives" and he is learning something from them everyday.

The teacher of the year honor was a surprise to Gianola, as he said there are so many amazing teachers in the district.

"It's incredible working with the parents and community of this area," Gianola said. "We have such wonderful kids and wonderful facilities but it wouldn't be possible without the support of the parents in this community."

Gianola is very active. He rides his bicycle to campus at least once a week from his home in Pacific Beach. He is also a swimmer and has surfed for 42 years. He has four children.

The dancing math teacher

San Dieguito Union School District's star teacher Brian Shay, 31, has been a high school teacher for eight years. He was there to open Canyon Crest Academy after teaching at La Costa Canyon. He teaches mostly calculus classes.

The New York native said math gets a bad rap. To him it's always been straightforward and even elegant. He finds it unacceptable for people to say they hate math.

"That infuriated me, I never understood it," Shay said. "It's important to me to be a math teacher and to make people not talk like that."

In Shay's classroom, students work in groups to solve problems. They go beyond xs and ys to tackle problems that prove math has relevance beyond calculus class--like the example of using math to build a better roller coaster. "I try to make class fun," Shay said.

Shay uses his background in theater and dance to connect with his students, often lending a hand in the theater and dance departments. At Canyon Crest's first homecoming rally last year, Shay held his own against a student dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

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