Desa Mandarino and Bill Cirone
Paul Wellman

It’s no small feat to run a marathon and it is certainly no simple thing to be a successful public school teacher, especially in this day and age of the ever-shrinking budget. However, holding court in classroom B-12 at San Marcos High School is a woman who, it turns out, is pretty darn good at both of these things.

An English teacher for the past 16 years, Desa Mandarino was honored this week by the Santa Barbara County Education Office for her hard work at the front of a classroom and named Teacher of the Year. Smiling broadly, Mandarino gushed after receiving the award Thursday morning from county Superintendent Bill Cirone. “I am just so honored,” she said. “Every day I feel connected to the scholars, the parents, and my colleagues, and now I feel connected to our community at large. I am truly elated.”

Desa Mandarino
Paul Wellman

Mandarino, who is a UCSB graduate, teaches 9th and 12th grade English, leading classes that range from Honors level to remedial to summer school. However, no matter what type of “scholar” ends up sitting in her classroom, Mandarino says she preaches the same recipe for achievement: “Time + Effort = Success”.

Her approach is more that of a coach than, as she puts it, “someone who lectures or dictates in the classroom.” Passion, energy, and teamwork are at the core of her teaching philosophy while a poster, declaring “Pressure Makes Me Fresher”, famously adorns her classroom wall. “I am up at 5 in the morning and I am still working at 11,” stated Mandarino matter of factly. “This is my calling.”

And her students agree. As one of her 9th grade students, Elizabeth Ochi, opined, “She was continuously pushing us to be fearless with our learning by pursuing new depths…Not a day goes by where her attitude is not positive or upbeat.”

Also a celebrated varsity softball coach at San Marcos for many years as well as an accomplished athlete in her own right, Mandarino was named Teacher of the Year after an exhaustive search process by the County Education Office.

Each year, a specially charged search team, comprised of former Teach of the Year winners, PTA presidents, school board members, administrators, and local business leaders, solicits nominations from the community and, of course, the 23 school districts within the county. From there, the candidates begin to be vetted via one-on-one interviews and unannounced classroom visits until only one remains.

Thanks to the honor, Mandarino, who officially assumes the title of Teacher of the Year on July 1, is now entered in both the California-wide and national Teacher of the Year competition.


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