La Jolla educators honored as ‘teachers of the year’


By Pat Sherman

Longtime public school educators Lorene LaCava and Julie Latta have been voted “Teacher of the Year” by peers at their respective La Jolla schools.

LaCava, a kindergarten teacher at Bird Rock Elementary School, and Latta, a sixth-grade Earth Sciences teacher at Muirlands Middle School, will be recognized during the San Diego Unified School District’s “Day of the Teacher” celebration on May 8.

LaCava serves on her school’s governance team, as well as the Bird Rock Community Council.

“Lorene is a fabulous classroom teacher,” said Bird Rock principal Sally Viavada. “She’s extremely dedicated to her students … and very involved in the school community at large.”

LaCava, who chairs a committee that works on building and grounds improvement projects at Bird Rock Elementary, is also head of the school’s 60th anniversary celebration committee. “She’s always looking for an extra way to support the school community,” Viavada said.

LaCava has taught at Bird Rock for 16 years. “I grew up in La Jolla, so it’s a quite a privilege to teach here,” she said. “I just feel very blessed to be a part of the school. It’s a great place to teach.”

LaCava credits her success to the dedication of parents and colleagues, viewing education as a “team approach.”

Muirlands Vice-principal Jennifer Nash said Julie Latta was selected for being “an outstanding teacher, colleague and mentor.”

“She provides tutoring at lunch and after school for students who require more support and intervention,” Nash said. “School-wide she is the chair of the governance team and also represents Muirlands on the La Jolla Cluster Committee.”

Last year, Latta started a group to address the needs of students who are struggling academically. Teachers meet weekly to develop common strategies that can used to get problem students up to speed.

“It sounds cliché but it’s always humbling when you’re honored by your peers — embarrassing even, because these are people you work shoulder-to-shoulder with and respect so much,” Latta said. “It’s a very collaborative staff. I’m just in the trenches with them.”

Latta said she places a high value on getting to know each student as an individual. She credits colleague Trey Best with helping her build her science program at Muirlands.

“We’re trying to get them excited about what’s in the world around them and then, in the end, to care enough to want to take care of the world,” she said.

La Jolla High School is not choosing a teacher of the year for 2012, Principal Dana Shelburne said. La Jolla and Torrey Pines elementary schools have until the beginning of May to nominate a Teacher of the Year, though they have missed the deadline for a teacher to compete for district-wide honors.

There are 180 schools in the district, about 130 of which nominate a Teacher of the Year, district officials said. Teachers have the option of going on to compete for higher honors at a state, county and national level, though they must have taught for five consecutive years in the district.