Joyce Rooks, a second-grade teacher at Danville's Creekside Elementary School, has been selected as a finalist for 2016-17 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year, with a chance to advance the statewide competition later this year.
Rooks, who is in her 14th year of teaching, said it was a "humbling honor" to be among the four women named as the finalists when the county Office of Education announced its list last week.
"Teaching is my passion, vocation and avocation, and I count myself blessed to work with students and colleagues each day," she said in an email interview.
"For those of us who find our way into the teaching profession, we learn in our infancy that we, like our students, need a 'village' in order to reach our highest potential," Rooks added. "I am so very fortunate to have landed in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District where I have worked alongside some of the most collaborative, dedicated, innovative and creative teachers and mentors one can imagine."
A 26-year San Ramon Valley resident, Rooks has worked at elementary and high schools in the district, including the past five years at Creekside in southeast Danville.
"Joyce Rooks is an excellent representative of our school district and the engaging teaching that takes place in our classrooms. This recognition is well-deserved," SRVUSD superintendent Mary Shelton said in a statement.
Rooks will now compete against three other teachers during the next five months for an opportunity to be among the two county representatives in the state Teacher of the Year program. SRVUSD has had a county finalist nearly every year since the 2006 contest -- last year was the only exception.
The other finalists announced April 14 were Shauna Hawes, computer applications/technology teacher at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill; Gina Minder-Maldonado, Oakley Elementary second-grade teacher; and Summer Rodriguez, English teacher at Liberty High in Brentwood.
The four women were chosen by a 14-person committee that reviewed and rated applications for the 21 Teachers of the Year representing public school districts across the county. The SRVUSD's other nominee, Dougherty Valley High's Rachael Byron, was among those eliminated.
The selection process now gets more intense for Rooks and the other finalists.
A small group of educators and business partners will observe each teacher in her classroom and then conduct individual interviews later this month or early next month.
Then in August, each finalist will present a three- to five-minute speech to a panel of 12 education, business and public-sector representatives. The teachers will be graded on their speech and presentation skills.
The two winners are set to be announced during a banquet in Concord on Sept. 22 that will also honor all 21 district-level Teachers of the Year from throughout the county.
Rooks said she's looking forward to the next stages of the county competition and that she plans to practice her speech skills in the coming weeks and months.
"I understand that the next level of competition requires the delivery of speeches," she said. "Although comfortable teaching groups of adults and students and delivering presentations, speech delivery is a less-practiced skill that I will need to refine."
"It is wonderful to know that I can go back to my 'village' and draw on the expertise of others to provide support and insight as I prepare for the next steps in this process," Rooks added.
Rooks began her teaching career after working as a senior programmer and systems analyst for Mervyn's and an independent computer-training consultant.
She has taught kindergarten, first, second and fourth grades at Creekside and San Ramon's Coyote Creek Elementary, as well as served as a computer applications and graphic arts instructor at California and Dougherty Valley high schools in San Ramon.
"When one visits her classroom, one can see how hard she works to make her students love learning," her current principal, Aaron Tarzian, said in a statement when the SRVUSD announced Rooks among its Teachers of the Year.
"She is constantly working to meet the individual needs of her students in her awesome reading and writing workshop lessons, her engaging learning activities and technology projects, and the special way that she circulates about her classroom providing just-in-time compliments and support for students," he added.