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La Jolla Cluster honors 5 Teachers of the Year

La Jolla Cluster schools' Teachers of the Year: Stacey Allen, Stephanie Marsala, Cathy Wallace, Jamie White, Kim Williams.
The La Jolla Cluster schools’ Teachers of the Year are (from left) Stacey Allen of La Jolla High School, Stephanie Marsala of Muirlands Middle School, Cathy Wallace of La Jolla Elementary School, Jamie White of Torrey Pines Elementary School and Kim Williams of Bird Rock Elementary School.
(Courtesy photos)

The five La Jolla Cluster schools in the San Diego Unified School District have selected their Teachers of the Year and plan to celebrate them in novel fashion.

District Teachers of the Year are nominated by certificated peers at their schools. The teachers’ union, the San Diego Education Association, collects the nominations and gives ballots to the schools for voting by the teachers at each site.

In place of the usual large-group restaurant dinner, which can’t happen this year due to coronavirus concerns, each La Jolla Teacher of the Year will receive a gift basket and a socially distant visit from his or her principal and Area Superintendent Mitzi Merino on Friday, June 12.

The baskets include gift cards for Candor by Giuseppe, which were donated by the La Jolla restaurant, and Fandango, along with a drink, sweets and popcorn, funded by the La Jolla Cluster Association.

The Teachers of the Year are:

Stacey Allen, La Jolla High School

“It’s a wonderful feeling that the rest of the faculty recognize what I do,” said theater teacher Stacey Allen, who has been at La Jolla High for four of his 24 years in teaching. “I’m the only drama teacher here and it can feel like I’m an island unto myself. Being appreciated feels special.”

Of working at La Jolla High, Allen said: “What’s not to like? We have great kids, a lot of really talented students. The La Jolla community really embraces the arts. It’s great fun working with the students and parents here. The theater itself is a fantastic space.”

Principal Chuck Podhorsky said he “couldn’t be more proud to have Stacey at our school. He comes with a wealth of experience, deeply entrenched in the theater community. He’s taken our theater program to a spot that I hope our entire La Jolla community is proud to be a part of.”

Podhorsky said Allen has “done a great job at building a parent group that supports the arts at the school. He’s always looking at building a long-term program, the through line for our cluster and how we build a strong pathway for kids. He’s a super great guy.”

Stephanie Marsala, Muirlands Middle School

Stephanie Marsala, who teaches seventh-grade English and history at Muirlands Middle School, said being selected a Teacher of the Year is a “huge honor. You put in so much work and effort, and it feels really good to be appreciated.”

Marsala won’t return to Muirlands for the fall. The school has experienced a drop in student enrollment, and her position was eliminated according to need and seniority, officials said. She will be teaching at another district middle school.

“Her peers recognized her as a great teacher and, knowing she’s leaving our community, wanted to celebrate her,” Muirlands Principal Geof Martin said.

“I adore working with the kids,” Marsala said. "[Muirlands’] population is unique. They all have such diverse interests and talents. It’s great we can all come together and learn from each other. I appreciate the support of the staff, students and parents. Muirlands is a special niche school, a community you don’t get too often.”

Marsala is “a wonderful teacher,” Martin said. “She has a great relationship with her students and is thoughtful about the way she engages them and nurtures their learning.”

Cathy Wallace, La Jolla Elementary School

Cathy Wallace has taught second grade at La Jolla Elementary for 20 years and is retiring this month. For her, the love of teaching comes from “the opportunity to be able to teach children the love of learning.”

Wallace, who lives in La Jolla, said she’s “enjoyed my time at La Jolla Elementary. There are so many great community activities for our school; it’s such a wonderful area and neighborhood to teach in.”

Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said Wallace “is adored by her colleagues. One said ‘Cathy teaches with her full heart and soul.’ She’s a passionate, dedicated teacher who gives everything and more to her students and her team. She goes above and beyond to teach content in a way that is creative, engaging, interesting and fun for her students.”

“Cathy’s dedication doesn’t stop at her colleagues and students — she also cares deeply about her students’ families,” said Hasselbrink, who called Wallace a leader and a role model. “It’s very important for her to have strong, authentic relationships with all members of our community. Cathy Wallace is truly an inspiration to us all.”

Jamie White, Torrey Pines Elementary School

“I love to teach,” said Jamie White, who has taught fourth grade at Torrey Pines Elementary the past eight of her 15 years’ experience. “One of the greatest perks of being a teacher is the relationships I build with the families.”

The families at Torrey Pines make the school remarkable for White, she said. “Our families are very involved; they volunteer for everything. They’re super supportive.”

White said her fellow teachers are partners in her success. “We really are a collaborative school; it’s not competitive,” she said. “We want all of our students to learn and grow.”

Being chosen a Teacher of the Year “feels really nice,” White said. “To be acknowledged by my peers as they are in the trenches with me … is really good.”

Torrey Pines Principal Nona Richard said she has seen White “show self-reflection and ask for support to become an even more powerful educator,” especially in English language development.

Richard said White also is “willing to grow and learn … a team player at Torrey Pines. I thank Jamie for her contributions to our school, her commitment to personal growth and her high expectations for students.”

Kim Williams, Bird Rock Elementary School

Third-grade teacher Kim Williams has 20 years’ experience, 15 of them at Bird Rock Elementary, which she called “a special community where everybody works together.”

“The parent community rallies and does what it needs to do to help the students achieve and the teachers be successful,” she said. “In this unprecedented time, it’s great to see how parents and students jumped on board and became even more of team players in the process.”

Being recognized by her peers as a Teacher of the Year is “a huge honor,” Williams said. “We as educators all work so hard, we’re all so dedicated. It feels weird to be singled out among my peers to fully deserve the same level of accolades. I couldn’t do it alone; I share it with them.”

Bird Rock Principal Andi Frost said Williams is “an incredibly responsive, reflective, professional, caring, funny, innovative teacher. She is well-loved; she is just absolutely fantastic.”

“One of her peers who worked closely with her wrote, ‘It’s a privilege to even know Kim, let alone share in the gifts that make her such an exceptional teacher and friend,’” Frost said. ◆