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San Diego County’s Teachers of the Year chosen

Stephanie Cluxton, Jacqueline Ma, Juanita Nuñez, Melissa Rains and Aimee McCoy honored

San Diego County’s Teachers of the Year for 2022-23 — five teachers judged to be outstanding in county education — were announced Friday evening, Aug. 26.

Chosen from 40 nominees countywide were Stephanie Cluxton, Jacqueline Ma, Juanita Nuñez, Melissa Rains and Aimee McCoy. They were recognized at a private reception held as part of the 32nd annual “Cox Presents: Salute to Teachers,” sponsored by San Diego County Credit Union. The teachers will now represent the county at the California Teacher of the Year program.

Returning to the classroom after a year of distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic posed obstacles for students, teachers and administrators. Several teachers noted the difficulties their students experienced, especially in social and emotional areas — but were able to find ways to help them through it. Here are some excerpts from their Teacher of the Year application essays and letters of recommendation:

Stephanie Cluxton
(Terri Rippee)

Stephanie Cluxton, kindergarten/multiple subject, Torrey Hills School, Carmel Valley, Del Mar Union School District
Cluxton graduated from UC Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in art history. She received a multiple subject teaching credential from UC Irvine’s School of Education and started her career in Orange County, where she became a UCI Writing Project Fellow. She started at the Del Mar district in 1995.

“Stephanie believes that in order to teach her students, she must first reach them, and this begins with valuing the individual genius within each child and nurturing their social-emotional development,” wrote Sarah Raskin, coordinator of the Del Mar district’s curriculum and instructional program. “With 28 different home languages spoken on the Torrey Hills campus, Stephanie fosters opportunities for students to learn about their own cultural beliefs and backgrounds while also celebrating the experiences of others.”

Cluxton was one of five remote kindergarten teachers in the district doing full-day instruction via Zoom; virtual partnering with parents also strengthened her teaching. “Parents became learning coaches and our invaluable partnership allowed each child to meet and exceed our kindergarten benchmarks,” she wrote. “What felt like a monumental undertaking became second nature to each of us.”

Jacqueline Ma
(Melissa Jacobs)

Jacqueline Ma, elementary/multiple subject, Lincoln Acres Elementary, National City, National School District
Ma received her bachelor’s degree in biology from UC San Diego, where she also earned her master’s in education. She has taught grades 5 and 6 in the National School District since 2013.

Ma was instrumental in helping colleagues and students engage successfully with the technology needed to keep learning. “I could not have survived without her when it came to virtual teaching,” wrote Cynthia Valle-Lone, a teacher at Lincoln Acres Elementary. “This was a new era of teaching that was abruptly brought upon all educators. However, Ms. Ma took all her expertise in technology and previously taught lessons and was able to find various techniques on her Google Meets to help engage the students while presenting on her screen.”

The effects of the pandemic on students and teachers has yet to be fully understood, Ma wrote in her application, “but that unknown does not have to be dark. We can use this opportunity to provide more funding and resources for social emotional learning. We can continue to provide all students with food security, access to the internet, and devices. We can develop more ways to integrate technology into coursework so that schoolwork will more closely resemble their future careers.”

Aimee McCoy
(Melissa Jacobs)

Aimee McCoy, Language Arts and Social Studies, AVID program, grades 8 and 9, Mesa Verde Middle School, Poway Unified School District
McCoy received her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and her teaching credential from California State University San Marcos, and her master’s in education, educational theory and practices from Arkansas State University. She started at PUSD as a substitute teacher in 2013 and has been with the district since.

McCoy noted in her application that children and teens are often underestimated. “Giving students an opportunity to express their voice while learning is fundamental. Students have more buy-in to the learning process, increased engagement, and feel valued. I want students to have the voice that I never had the opportunity to while in school,” she wrote. In her work with the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) academic support program, she teaches students “how to be students. I use AVID methodologies ... but I extend beyond that for my students. I integrate my own struggles in school with reading, tests, and anxiety to connect with my students. Students see that they, too, can overcome their obstacles.”

Kellie Moore, principal at Mesa Verde Middle School, recognizes the way McCoy supports her students. “Aimee has been a staunch advocate for student success by leading our AVID program, ensuring that all students have the resources and knowledge to be college and career ready ... Aimee has been helping to lead the charge to make our school fully inclusive so that students with learning differences have as many doors open to them as possible.”

Juanita Nunez
(Terri Rippee)

Juanita Nuñez, STEM and physical education, grades 4 to 6, San Ysidro School District, San Ysidro
Nuñez received her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from San Diego State University, and earned her master’s degree in human behavior from National University. She has taught in the San Ysidro School District since 2002.

“As a teacher in a school where 80 percent of the students are English Language Learners, and 84 percent are economically disadvantaged, Ms. Nuñez was purposeful in her instruction and interactions, acknowledging their individuality and addressed their needs accordingly,” wrote Manuela Colom-Ramirez, retired executive director of educational services in the San Ysidro district. “The use of hands-on Science and Technology empowered students to be themselves and take risks. ... Ms. Juanita Nuñez is an exceptional educator who demonstrates in her teaching that she believes that all students can learn when given the appropriate tools, conditions, and support.”

Giving students that support — academically, socially and emotionally — is vital, wrote Nuñez: “It takes courage, resourcefulness and love to help children who are suffering in fear and despair. Mental health is a crucial issue we need to address. Teachers need to continue being compassionate, so we can be real instruments while practicing self-care and in our own lives for our own wellbeing, stability, and for the future of our children.”

Melissa Rains
(Melissa Jacobs)

Melissa Rains, general science 2, grades 8 and 10, Castle Park Middle School, Chula Vista, Sweetwater Union High School District
Rains earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the U.S. Naval Academy. She holds a master’s in government and politics from the University of Maryland, and a master’s in education in geosciences from UC San Diego. She has taught at Hilltop Middle School and Palomar High School in the Sweetwater district, and has been at Castle Park since 2014.

Rains acknowledged in her application that her students “have a lot of variables in their lives that impact their capacity to learn. All my best intentions, lesson plans, and practices do not equate to days without challenges. In fact, it is the challenges I face with my students that help me grow the most as a person and an educator.” Educating the whole child, she wrote, is fundamental to her teaching methods. “This includes ensuring their basic needs of safety and security are met when they walk through my door. It includes teaching them the skills of collaboration, communication, self-management, and other skills that will enable them to find success in their professional and personal lives.”

Castle Park Principal Bill Walsh appreciates this viewpoint: “Melissa has devoted her professional teaching career to the pursuit and infusion of themes of equity into our school and district, and as a direct result of her efforts, we at Castle Park MS maintain a focus on social-emotional learning and related supports for students and staff, a focus on equitable practices and commitment to excellence through equitable practices.”

Learn more about these teachers and others in the upcoming one-hour “Cox Presents: Salute to Teachers” television special being produced by Cox Communications with the San Diego County Office of Education. The show will recognize local teachers, spotlight the Teachers of the Year, and share highlights from the reception. The broadcast will air at 9 p.m. Oct. 2 on YurView Network (Cox Channel 4). Visit www.SalutetoTeachersSD.com.


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