Award-Winning Schoolteacher’s Secret: Never Give Up On a Student : ‘I really represent the other teachers,” she says of profession. Four others in state are honored, two of them from L.A. area.


Moments before their play was to begin, Sandra Fleishman’s fifth-graders at Yerba Buena Elementary School in Agoura Hills had butterflies.

“I know you guys are all nervous,” she told them. “But don’t worry, you’re going to do a super job.”

She was right--the play turned out fine. Her ability to bring out the best in her students is one of the attributes that helped Fleishman win a Teacher of the Year award for 1995. She is one of five educators from around the state to be honored today by the state Board of Education at a ceremony in Sacramento.


The other teachers to be honored are Cedric Anderson, from the Los Angeles County Office of Education; Emma Glover, from Hanford Elementary School District in Kings County; Javier Gonzalez, from the Whittier Union High School District, and John McGuire, from the Pacific Union Elementary School District in Humboldt County.

The reason for Fleishman’s selection is simple, colleagues say. “She’s spectacular with the children,” said Sandy Argast, Yerba Buena’s principal. “She really brings the curriculum to light.”

Fleishman is embarrassed by the attention, saying it’s a heady tribute for a humble schoolteacher who spends her days hanging out with 10-year-olds.

“Being a teacher, you’re not normally in that kind of limelight,” she said.

As she takes her bows today in Sacramento, Fleishman says she’ll be thinking of the thousands of talented, dedicated teachers who labor in obscurity. She said she hopes her own notoriety will help gain recognition for them, and for her entire profession.

“I really represent the other teachers,” she said. “It’s not like winning a contest.”


Fleishman said teaching was her destiny. Whenever she played school as a youngster with other children, she said, “I wouldn’t let anyone else be the teacher.”

She also married an educator, Dan Levy, principal of Mint Canyon Community School in Canyon Country.


Levy said Fleishman’s late father taught her the value of education. A tailor and a Holocaust survivor, he could not speak English when he came to the United States. Determined to succeed, her father learned to speak English and eventually became the manager of other tailors at a department store. Sandra Fleishman eventually helped him learn to read English.

“Whatever he did, he did to the best of his ability,” Levy said. “He took great pride in his work, and that carried over” to his daughter.

Fleishman began as a special education teacher in 1974 for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For eight years, she taught physically disabled children.

Levy said that his wife’s work with special needs children gave her a greater understanding and compassion for children with learning difficulties. And that, he said, has carried over to her work with all students.

One of her greatest attributes, he said, is that she refuses to give up on a student.

If someone is having problems with math, for example, he said, she tries different approaches until she finds one that works.

“She gets them to try things they have given up on,” he said. “But it’s always without putting them down, and I think that’s the key thing.”


“She tries to make learning fun,” said Nick Blair, one of her students at Yerba Buena, where Fleishman has been since 1985.

She also encourages teamwork. It’s all designed, she said, to teach the students to respect each other.

Fleishman said she learned that from her own fifth-grade teacher back in Boston.

“He taught us how to respect each other, how to motivate each other,” she said. “He respected the kids. He liked his job and that came through.”

“She never really yells at you,” said Shane Hirschman, another one of her fifth-graders. “She might lecture you a bit, but it’s for a good reason.”

Fleishman said that she believes her students truly enjoy school.

Following the afternoon play, another student, Erik Acevedo, asked Fleishman what time it was. When told it was almost 2:30, dismissal time, he sounded disappointed. “It’s time to go home already?”