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.”

Shay said it’s easy to be a good teacher when he has such great students.

Every student in advanced placement calculus passed the AP exam, a great accomplishment he credits the entire math staff for.

“We’re not just the arts school, we have a lot of intense academics going on here,” Shay said of Canyon Crest.

Shay was proud to receive the district teacher of the year honors, but it’s not the only award he’s received recently.

Last year he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and traveled to India with 16 other teachers from across the U.S. He also won Math Teacher of the Year from the Greater San Diego County Math Council and the Crystal Apple, a teaching award giving by the Church of Latter Day Saints.

The voice for children

Solana Beach School District Superintendent Leslie Fausset said that her teacher of the year, Solana Pacific speech therapist Paula Merrick, is adored.

“I think Paula absolutely stands out because she is such a collaborative professional,” Fausset said. “She’s always willing to give, always willing to share.”

Merrick has worked as a speech and language pathologist for 31 years.

She has been with the Solana Beach School District since 1991, working at both Skyline and Solana Highlands before coming to Solana Pacific in 2004.

“This is like the dream team,” Merrick said of her co-workers. “They all could be teachers of the year.”

She especially singled out Principal Brian McBride for being “the best principal ever.”

Merrick has 45 to 50 children in her caseload, all who qualify for her services based on state guidelines.

Sometimes she has to “push in” to a classroom--come into a regular classroom and assist a student. At other times, the students come into her office to work on learning strategies and communication techniques.

“It’s giving kids the power to have control over their destiny,” Merrick said. She said she loves seeing students go from being frustrated to being able to express themselves the way the want to.

“To see growth is just so inspiring,” Merrick said, tears springing to her eyes, recalling one student’s newfound abilities to speak clearly. “Some kids really capture your heart.” Merrick’s two daughters went through the district schools and she said she is proud of the Solana Beach School District as both a parent and an employee.

“We have phenomenal parents and a support system that allows us to do what we need to do. Education has to be about teamwork,” Merrick said. “It isn’t just one teacher.”