Around 350 local teachers, education leaders and community members filled the Blackhawk Museum as the San Ramon Valley Education Association recognized some of its top members and supporters during an award ceremony Thursday evening.
In all, 31 winners received awards and dozens more nominees were acknowledged as part of the second annual San Ramon Valley Excellence in Education Awards (SRVEEAs).
"This is a celebration of you. You are the ones that believe in the future, that devote yourselves to our children, our students," SRVEA president Ann Katzburg said to open the event.
"Putting the rigors of our job aside, we have come together to highlight and to honor you: our inspirational, creative, dedicated, devoted educators and those that support us, as well as the leaders in our district who guide us," she added.
The 2 1/2-hour dinner and presentation had many traits common in entertainment award ceremonies, including a video montage of nominees, an "in memoriam" tribute, musical performances, comedic banter and even award presenters struggling to open the winner-card envelopes -- almost everything except acceptance speeches.
The teachers union honored members in a variety of categories, including Truly Inspirational Teacher, Making a Positive Change, Incredible Creativity and Outstanding Leadership.
Alamo Elementary School teacher Sue Benit, who is retiring this spring after 47 years in education, received the SRVEEA for Lifetime Achievement.
Awards also went to non-association education standouts for categories such as District Office Dynamo, Outstanding Classified Educator, Sensational Substitute Teacher and Dedicated Parent. SRVEA also singled out three first-year San Ramon Valley principals as Amazing Administrators.
"To come out and see teachers, administrators, parents and staff honored together like this ... it's just refreshing," Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and emcee for the evening, said after the ceremony.
"This honors very special superstars of this district," school board president Greg Marvel, one of four board members in attendance, said following the event. "We are not the best school district in the state because of our location; it's because of the great kids and the great teachers."
The nominees were recommended by SRVEA members and the winners were chosen by an association committee that judged based on specific award criteria, Katzburg said.
Below is the list of SRVEEA winners, with descriptions provided by the judging committee. Most categories had award recipients for each school level.
Jon Campopiano. The new principal at Alamo's Stone Valley Middle was credited with bringing new life to the school: "Teachers and students are treated fairly and with professionalism, which has allowed the whole school community to thrive."
Amy Gillespie-Oss. With a motto of "we are all leaders at Del Amigo," Gillespie-Oss transitioned to the continuation high school with her shared vision and leadership: "Her ability to understand the students, families and culture of this unique campus has won her the hearts of all involved."
Shelli Kravitz. Starting her tenure at Twin Creeks Elementary in San Ramon this year, Kravitz was presented "with a multitude of difficult situations to face, yet she did so with grace and a positive 'can-do' attitude, which ultimately resulted in a huge morale boost for her staff."
Making a Positive Change
Brooke Dalrymple. The second-year counselor at Charlotte Wood Middle has made "an unmatched difference in the lives of those she works with." Dalrymple was also lauded for her "uncanny ability to see the positive in every situation, advocate for her students and communicate effectively with teachers."
Natalie Loflin. The Green Valley Elementary educator, called a "true pioneer" for being the first to teach a counseling-enriched special day class, demonstrates "moxie, a gracious attitude, patience and clever creativity" while being "the kind of advocate every student deserves."
Heather Slipka. Credited as "a staunch, outspoken ally and advocate for LGBT students and teachers," Monte Vista High's Slipka is helping develop curriculum for Fair Act implementation, has hosted gay-straight alliance forums and is coordinating the launch an inaugural LGBT prom.
Outstanding Classified Educator
Cathy Haberl. Tasked with helping Monte Vista students find and pursue their dreams, the College and Career Center coordinator "is an expert on all things post-high school, is generous with her time and is compassionate in listening to fears and concerns."
Debbie McCabe. Described as the "heart of Green Valley" after 20 years in various roles, McCabe is called "the face of the school, greeting everyone warmly, the key organizer of social events and she's beloved by all staff."
Sue Wild. Far more than an "aide" at Charlotte Wood, Wild is described as helpful, flexible, always prepared to listen and "has earned the trust of parents, students and teachers alike."
Kathy Barberi. She "does it all" at Golden View, including PTA, Ed Fund, Read-A-Thon, Read Across America, "copy mom," room parent and fundraising -- just "an incredible asset to all stakeholders."
Carol Chun. The Dougherty Valley High music booster choir president supports the program of 200-plus performers, organizing fundraisers, recruiting volunteers and learning the name of every student. She also volunteers at the library once a week.
Tom Glynn. He helped Tassajara Hills Elementary start its STEM club -- which has now grown to more than 150 participants in multiple sessions -- and he also helped Diablo Vista Middle and Creekside Elementary start similar successful programs.
Colin Zink. A father of three and the new president of the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation, Zink has "worked tirelessly ... to ensure that any needed resources are attained, yet he never asks for anything in return."
Truly Inspirational Teacher
Pedro Dorado. Students in his Spanish classes at Windemere Ranch Middle often show off their growing language skills because of the "confidence and desire to learn that he instills" during his Common Core State Standards-aligned lessons in his congenial classroom environment that incorporates modern technology.
Annie Nguyen. With four sections of AP environmental science classes in the program's first year at Dougherty Valley, she is "constantly striving to communicate the reality and needs of our planet to her students through authentic and eye-opening experiences, which inspires students to make conscious changes in their own lives."
Deanna Utley. The Bollinger Canyon Elementary was credited for making her top priority "inspiring her students in the classroom" through sharing her current reading and vocabulary research with her team, holding high expectations, focusing on self-esteem and spending lunchtimes "catching up" with her students.
Sensational Substitute Teacher
Jackie Acton. Turning a potential nightmare situation into a perfect outcome, Acton recently finished a 17-week substitute job that required her to be at two sites, teaching two art wheels and four art electives to middle school students.
Laurie Stroud. After substituting at Tassajara Hills Elementary for more than 10 years, Stroud has gained a reputation as "an exemplary substitute who will help in a pinch" while also remaining deeply involved in the school community, including hosting a year-end party at her house.
Sue Threatt. Known as a "consummate educator" who recently stepped out from retirement to fill in at Monte Vista, Threatt was cited as a substitute that has "impeccable judgment, pays close attention to details and deals positively with students."
District Office Dynamo
Peggy McPeak. A recently retired credential analyst at the district office in Danville, McPeak was singled out because "literally not one teacher in our district would have a job without Peggy doing her job so diligently."
Rare Golden Apple
Jenny Abdelmalek. In the category honoring teachers with five years of experience or less, Abdelmalek was recognized for her work with new technology and instructional materials while teaching two preps in two classrooms at Windemere Ranch. "She's willing to try anything that will help her students learn, even if it's out of her comfort zone."
Nikki Ogden. A new member of the California High library team, Ogden has "reinvigorated the library with engaging new displays and clever ways to entice reading" while also teaching workshops on staff development days, helping the Venture Independent Study program acquire books and fulfilling other tasks.
Todd Swenson. In his first year at John Baldwin Elementary teaching fourth grade, he is piloting two math programs, teaching readers and writers workshop, organizing field trips and creating rigorous curriculum.
Erin Halonen. A physical education specialist at Tassajara Hills, Halonen highlights each student in a positive way with her photo galleries, which "allows students to show off their new physical fitness skills to their parents, teachers and community."
Kat King. Colleagues said King inspires Venture students to think creatively and engage in their learning in part because she speaks "millennial-ese and uses this fluency to engage her digital-happy students in creative lessons."
Scott Matek. The 17-year PE teacher, Matek works hard to find new ways to motivate his Iron Horse Middle students to improve their physical fitness, such as creating interactive games, using Garmin watches to help students improve their times and implementing a new high-intensity program.
Chris Tyshing. A former paraprofessional, Tyshing now teaches fourth- and fifth-graders at Twin Creeks, many of whom are nonverbal or medically fragile, "which pushes Chris to be as creative as possible with her teaching ... to help her students meet their academic, social and life-skills goals."
Jan Engberg. A math teacher at Windemere Ranch since it opened 2005, Engberg has earned the respect of her colleagues across the district for her leadership, using her "straightforward approach to help guide and coach teachers both in and out of the classroom."
Brendan Nelson. An English teacher at Monte Vista who also serves as a SRVEA rep and mentors new teachers, Nelson is recognized by colleagues on campus "as a respected leader, collaborator and curriculum designer."
Marissa Ware. The John Baldwin teacher is called "a true leader" for various efforts, including writing the new teacher handbook, leading workshops district-wide and serving as a team lead, interview committee member and site council member.
Sue Benit. The Alamo Elementary educator is retiring this spring after 47 years in teaching, almost all of which was spent in the Valley. She did a little bit of everything during her career, including serving as acting principal, professional developer and community leader.
"During her tenure, she has shared her heart, her wisdom and teaching skills with hundreds of colleagues, more than 1,200 students and several-thousand parents. The students profit from her teaching skills and parents and colleagues benefit from her wisdom. Everyone has a little piece of Sue's heart."
Other ceremony notes:
* The "in memoriam" presentation toward the end of the ceremony recognized three SRVEA members who died during the past school year: Sue O'Reilly, Jane Bidinger and Thea Scioscia.
* The SRVEEAs scheduling proved somewhat fortuitous, as the event began hours after a state Court of Appeal judicial panel upheld California's teacher-tenure laws by striking down a trial judge's 2014 ruling that found the laws on tenure, dismissal and seniority to be unconstitutional.
"I was actually on my way here in a car when that ruling came down," Heins told the audience to some applause Thursday night.
Heins said, "If I had anything to tell the (lawsuit) proponents or anybody who wants to continue attacking our students, I would tell them first of all that if you work together with the entirety -- the administrators, the teachers, the classified, the community -- you can do just about anything."
"And I would tell them that if students really matter and you really want to provide the best educational experience possible for the children in California and if you want to improve education, then do the things that improve education and make students matter. Just like you're doing here. Just like the educators here in San Ramon do every single day," he added.
* After Heins delivered opening remarks, the nominees were highlighted in a nearly 15-minute photo collage video tribute set to songs such as "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey and "Home" by Phillip Phillips.
* Live musical performances were scattered throughout the ceremony, starting with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," with Katie Donovan singing and her brother Rob on guitar.
Quail Run Elementary teacher Jon Williams performed an original song, "1995," and Windemere Ranch's Sue Lukito played a musical medley that featured "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Creekside Elementary special day class teacher Lisa Dokken-Patterson gave the final performance, singing "God Help the Outcasts" from Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
* This year's ceremony had 100-plus more attendees and nearly twice as many nominees than last year's inaugural event, according to SRVEA officials.
* It's rare for individual local teachers associations to host award ceremonies like the SRVEEAs, according to CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski, who said the union in nearby Mt. Diablo Unified School District is one of the only others to present a similar, community-wide event.