Santa Barbara County Education Office announces Teacher of the Year

Michelle Minetti-Smith named county’s Teacher of the Year
“I am very humbled to be a part of a family of teachers, students, and parents working together to embark on a voyage into the future of a child’s education. I am still as energized as I was in my beginning years of teaching, and I still feel that drive to be the best teacher that I can be.” – Michelle Minetti-Smith
The Santa Barbara County Education Office is pleased to announce that Michelle Minetti-Smith, a first grade teacher at Mary Buren Elementary School in the Gaudalupe Union School District, has been named the 2017 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Minetti-Smith is in her 20th year of teaching at Mary Buren.
Not only is teaching “in the genes” for Minetti-Smith; so, too, is the very building in which she works. “My grandmother taught here for 20 years,” she says. “And Mrs. Buren”—after whom the school site was eventually named—“was my fifth grade teacher. I was the fourth generation to attend this school,” she says proudly. She also hastens to add that she is delighted to still be in touch with her former fifth-grade teacher, who turned 100 last year.
“There is a very special quality about Michelle’s story that we are delighted to celebrate,” says County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone. Cirone introduced Minetti-Smith as the county’s newest Teacher of the Year at their monthly board meeting Thursday afternoon.
“She takes the idea of ‘home-grown talent’ to a new level,” Cirone continued. “Her family’s deep generational ties to the community in which she serves is just one of the motivators behind her persistent demonstration of excellence. Few know better than Michelle the importance of making a difference in our community. She truly walks the talk.”
“Our teachers serve over 67,000 students in 20 school districts,” Cirone concluded. “Being selected Teacher of the Year — and representing all the fine teachers throughout Santa Barbara County — is a tremendous honor. We are delighted to count Michelle Minetti-Smith among our ranks of great educators.”
Minetti-Smith was just one of a number of exceptional nominees for Teacher of the Year honors. She was selected after a comprehensive review process conducted by a five-person committee. The committee consisted of administrators, local business leaders, and last year’s Teacher of the Year, Canalino Elementary teacher Brandon Sportel.
She will become the county’s designated representative on July 1, when she succeeds Sportel as Teacher of the Year, and her nomination for consideration as California’s Teacher of the Year will begin sometime in the fall of 2016. The state winner will then move forward in the competition for 2017 National Teacher of the Year.
Minetti-Smith, who graduated from Fresno State in 1996, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher, following in the footsteps of her late grandmother. “I had a couple of job offers in Fresno once I graduated,” she says, “but I wanted to come home.”
Upon her return, she submitted her resume to the district office in the hopes they would soon be hiring. A week later she was called in for an interview with her former elementary principal, Mr. Jose Nichols. The job ad was for a bilingual teacher. “The panel was very surprised when I began answering them fluently in Spanish,” she says. She got a job offer that afternoon.
“I was so humbled when, at his retirement dinner, Mr. Nichols told a room full of people that one of his greatest accomplishments was having me come back to our school, fully bilingual and able to teach in Spanish. Education has opened so many doors for me,” she says, “and I hope the education that my students receive in my class will be a step in the path to many doors being opened throughout their lifetime as well.”
Minetti-Smith’s recognition is just the latest in a succession of high-profile successes for Mary Buren. Last spring, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Target donated $100,000 to the school’s library, which had been destroyed in flooding the year prior. HGTV crew-members followed up later with some special, signature touches.
“I remember as a kid going to the Guadalupe City Library to browse the bookshelf or to listen to Mrs. Villegas, the librarian, share some of her favorite stories,” Minetti-Smith says. “I’m so delighted that our kids have such a special, inviting space—right inside our own school—that encourages them to develop a love of books and reading.”
But it takes more than just a nice building, as Guadalupe Superintendent Ed Cora knows well. It’s people.
“In every sense of the word ‘caring,’ Michelle goes above and beyond to see that others’ needs are met,” Cora says. “She is truly a rare gem, and our school community is fortunate to be the benefactor.”
Michelle will also be recognized at the May 26 Education Celebration event held in Buellton, and will be highlighted at the November 5 “A Salute to Teachers” gala in Santa Barbara, held in partnership with Cox.
“I believe teachers need to be ambassadors for education and do their part in educating the public about the great things that are happening in our schools and our districts,” Minetti-Smith says. Her being named Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year provides just the opportunity to fulfill that ambassadorial role.
As Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Minetti-Smith will be available to speak countywide. She can be reached by calling Steven Keithley, Director of Teacher Programs and Support for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, at 964-4710, ext. 5281.


David J. Lawrence
Director of Communications
Santa Barbara County Education Office
ph: (805) 964-4710, ext. 5282
fax: (805) 967-2234

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