Four teachers to get head-of-the-class honors today

Four Stanislaus County teachers of the year will be honored today by the Modesto Rotary and Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Winners were nominated by principals and the finalists were selected from among 75 nominees representing 13 school districts. The county employs more than 5,300 teachers.

Teachers of the year are named in four categories -- kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade, junior high school and high school.

Teachers of the year are:

Melanie Sluggett, kindergarten teacher at Mary Ann Sanders Elementary School in east Modesto. Principal Russell Antracoli says her enthusiasm for children is what makes Sluggett an exemplary teacher.

"She sets high standards for her students while constantly assessing their progress and adapting the curriculum and instructional strategies for individual student needs. She has made a dramatic impact in the lives of her students," he said.

Karyn Garcia, fifth-grade teacher at Orchard Elementary School in east Modesto. As a colleague and collaborator, Principal Victoria Briscoe says that Garcia has established a remarkable rapport with her fellow educators.

"Karyn is the first person colleagues turn to for ready resources, new ideas and trusted problem-solving support," Briscoe said. "She has a very special connection with her students and their families, inspiring each student to be their best."

Danesa Jepson, seventh-grade teacher at Oakdale Junior High School. As an English language arts teacher, Oakdale Junior High Principal John Simons says Jepson goes beyond what is required.

"In addition to her classroom responsibilities, she also serves as an intervention and enrichment teacher for our after-school program, called OASIS. In this program, she teaches students sign language, podcasting and coordinates a Friday Fitness program. Students that normally check out of school are checking in because they want to be part of something special," he said.

Pete Simoncini, social studies teacher at Oakdale High School. A retired Army officer, teaching is a second profession for Simoncini. Principal Richard Jones says that Simoncini sets high standards for his students and is able to get the best out of them.

"Pete takes great pride in the successes of his students and takes it personally when a student fails," Jones said. "He goes out of his way to help a struggling student, providing them with extra help and keeping in close contact with that student's parents."

A selection committee, composed of Rotarians and educators, narrowed nominations through a screening process and then visited the classrooms of the 12 finalists. Honorees will be recognized at a luncheon today and will receive a $1,000 cash award.

Other finalists include:

K-3 level: Maria Juarez-Tillery, Richard Moon Primary in Waterford; and Terrance Trowbridge, Cloverland School in Oakdale

Grades 4-6 level: Chris Alonzo, Wakefield Elementary in Turlock; and Susan Klinkefus, Glick Middle School in Empire

Junior high level: Terry Daniels, Ustach Middle School in east Modesto; and Jim Manning, Salida Middle School

High school level: Dan Harris, Downey High School in Modesto, and Tami Tharpe, Enochs High School in Modesto.