Newport-Mesa honors two teachers

Two Newport-Mesa educators learned they were named teachers of year when they received a surprise classroom visit Monday from school officials and family members.

Costa Mesa High School's Dana Kahawai, 30, and Newport Elementary School's Terri Clarke, 31, received balloons, flowers and accolades upon learning that they were chosen for the districtwide honor.

Kahawai has taught English at Costa Mesa High for the last four years and spent one year at Estancia High School. She currently teaches regular and Advanced Placement (AP) English classes for sophomores, and AP English literature for seniors.

Kahawai was sitting in her classroom during her prep period when her parents, principal and district officials arrived to tell her the good news, said school board member Katrina Foley, who was part of the surprise party.

Kahawai, a Santa Ana resident, had seen the officials and her parents moments earlier while walking from the front office. She said she had some inkling it could be about the award.

Still, it was a nice surprise.

"I think that it's a really great honor considering the professionals that work at the district," Kahawai said. "It's just a huge honor to represent such professionals."

Foley said Kahawai goes above and beyond what is required.

"She is such a great spirit," Foley said. "She is so involved on campus."

Kahawai is the adviser to the senior class, the National Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation. She also writes grants and is an AP coordinator.

A former Costa Mesa resident who graduated from Estancia, Kahawai said she is glad to be able to give back to a district that gave her so much.

Clarke's class was on hand when she was surprised. They couldn't be more excited for their teacher, Foley said.

The second-grade instructor was completely surprised and in tears when school and district officials, as well as her husband, showed up to make the announcement, Foley said.

"I'm very surprised and honored," Clarke said. "It's kind of surreal right now."

The Costa Mesa resident celebrated the honor with her students at the end of the day. A popcorn machine was wheeled into her class to commemorate her achievement, Clarke said.

"I told them they are a big part of this honor," she said.

Clarke has been teaching for seven years at Newport Elementary. Two of those years have been teaching second grade.

Candidates are nominated at each school site and fill out an application for review by former teachers of the year and principals, said Blanca Salas, who oversees the application process as the office assistant with the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.

From the applications, finalists are chosen for each of the 10 sites, Salas said.

Those 10 are interviewed and observed in the classroom by a committee of teachers, who select the winners of the district honor.

The two will go on to compete against the teachers of the year from districts across the county.

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