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Educators Tip Their Hats to ‘Coaches of Our Winning Team’

Times Staff Writer

The image of the teacher who made a positive difference stands foremost among the indelible memories--both good and bad--that everyone takes with them from their school years.

For San Diego County schools Supt. Tom Boysen, the key attribute common to the three people who last week were named teachers of the year is the influence they have had on their students.

Boysen introduced the three at an awards ceremony Wednesday: Joe Alfonso Smith, a science teacher at Olive Peirce Junior High School in Ramona; Charles Edward Reed, a math and instrumental music teacher at National City Junior High, and Joanne McCollom, a special education teacher at Albert Schweitzer School in the San Diego Unified School District.

‘Best and Brightest’

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“Today we are honoring some of the best and brightest . . . the coaches of our winning team,” Boysen said, a reference to the high levels of achievement that county students showed in California Assessment Program (CAP) test results released last week.

The teachers were nominated by their principals to enter the annual competition, which required them to write 21 pages of essays about their careers, their work with parents and the community, their views of teaching and education issues and their opinions about improving the profession.

A countywide committee of teachers, administrators and parents selected the winners from the 16 nominations forwarded from the 43 school districts.

Boysen said each of the winners has a long record of success with students. “They have outstanding teaching skills; these are no flashes in the pan,” he said.

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Parents and some of the students themselves would attest to that.

One of Charles Reed’s students, ninth-grader Fernando Carrillo, told the audience of Reed’s efforts in teaching people like himself with no experience in music.

“Two years ago, I knew only what a trumpet was,” Carrillo said. “Today I am first trumpet in our jazz ensemble and also in our advanced band, and I’m not just blowing my own horn in telling you this.”

Principal Gloria Samson said that National City Junior High has one of the most comprehensive band programs in the county. Almost 200 students participate in five classes, despite the fact that few students among the school’s heavily low-income, nonwhite population can afford their own instruments. Of Reed’s students, only five entered the program with their own horns.

Missed Kids Too Much

In his 32 years of teaching, the gregarious Reed has not only taught music, but developed a specialized alternative school for children at risk of dropping out. He also spent several years working with developmentally disabled adults at Agnews State Hospital in San Jose.

“But I missed kids too much, so I came back and started up band again,” he said.

In his application, Reed said his greatest achievements have been in “the changes in the lives of the learners . . . my crowning accomplishment and wonderful reward.”

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For Joanne McCollom, her special challenge is to motivate those children with severe physical disabilities so they can become more self-sufficient and fit more easily into everyday society. She has spent 20 years at the Schweitzer school, the San Diego district’s special facility for work with the physically disabled.

“She is an exceptional instructor . . . . She has a clear understanding of what it takes for a special-needs child to succeed not only in school, but in life,” Pamela Ibarra, whose 8-year-old son, Jacob, has attended Schweitzer for five years, wrote in supporting McCollom’s application.

McCollom created the Daily Living Skills program 13 years ago to give her students the knowledge and confidence to integrate better into daily life. She also teaches prospective special education teachers at the University of San Diego, as well as parents of disabled children.

Joy in Their Faces

“It is rewarding to see the joy on the face of a child who is washing dishes or making a bed for the first time,” McCollom said. “These tasks, which seem so routine, are exciting to the child whose physical impairments limit his abilities to do them. I love the challenge of problem solving, of finding a way for a child to take his jacket off or complete a spelling test without having to have another person assist him.”

She added: “There’s lots of humor, and the kids don’t dwell on their disabilities. . . . I find there are so many intrinsic rewards to what I do.”

Joe Smith, who was honored last year as the outstanding science teacher for middle schools by the San Diego Science Teachers Assn., has helped pioneer a statewide chemistry program and served on the state Board of Education’s science curriculum committee. But, in the view of those in Ramona, Smith’s contributions to science teaching are more than matched by his dedication to students and parents.

“To this day, he has been a great help as well as a good influence to our sons,” Margarita A. de Torres, a Ramona High parent, wrote Boysen. “He took time to help my younger son, Cesar Torres, after school by tutoring him in math as well as other subjects he was having trouble in. He also took time to tutor my older son, Humberto Torres, in math and also counsel him on his studying habits, which are helping him immensely now that he is attending San Diego State University.

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“We are very grateful to Mr. Smith for taking the time to care.”

Smith reflected the views of his fellow winners Wednesday in saluting the many teachers he has worked with during his 13 years in Ramona.

“Teachers have to work with other inspired teachers, and I owe this award to all the teachers who have allowed me to steal their good ideas over the years.”

The three county winners will compete for the state Teacher of the Year award, which will be announced Nov. 7. That recipient will go on to a national competition early next year.


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