Santa Barbara County Education Office Bestows Top Honors on Six County Teachers Who Exemplify Excellence in Education 

(From L-R) Crystal Guzman, Elsy Mora, Kendall Stevens, Cara Leach, Christina Roessler, Alyssa Spanier | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Education Office

Press releases are posted on as a free commnity service.

Santa Barbara County – The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) has announced the selection of three Distinguished Mentors and three Distinguished New Educators who will be honored at the ninth annual A Salute to Teachers gala in November hosted by SBCEO and founding co-sponsor, Cox Communications, with support from other generous sponsors. 

Each year, school administrators, colleagues, and others are invited to nominate mentor teachers who demonstrate exceptional instructional practices and leadership, and to nominate new teachers who demonstrate early career success and outstanding skill.

Final winners are chosen by a selection committee made up of expert educators, administrators, business and community partners, and a previous county Teacher of the Year.

“At SBCEO, we are committed to developing, supporting and honoring educators throughout their careers,” said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Salcido. “This year, we are celebrating six distinguished mentors and new educators who bring wisdom and energy to their school communities, and talents and expertise to our students.  This recognition amplifies the importance of investing in the next generation of teachers– it takes incredible new educators and mentor teachers to make that happen. We congratulate and thank them for their achievement and dedication.” 

The Distinguished Mentors are:

Cara Leach – Foothill Elementary School, Goleta Union School District

Cara Leach | Credit: Courtesy

Cara Leach is a fourth-grade teacher at Foothill Elementary, where she is highly valued by her school community and throughout the entire district. Her colleagues in the Goleta Union school District are inspired by her willingness to share and collaborate for the betterment of students. She is seen as a resource to fellow teachers, known for graciously sharing materials with anyone who asks, even hand-delivering her own supplies to their homes.

As a mentor, Cara is extremely responsive and intentional with the feedback she provides. Her colleague said, “Within my first few weeks of teaching I told Cara that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. She laughed and said, ‘I still feel that way after 25+ years of teaching! You just need to do what you can in the moment.’ This feedback continues to be deep and meaningful to me.”

Cara takes the time to help all colleagues: from beginning teachers, to paraeducators, student teachers, and grade-level teammates. She is a veteran teacher who embraces new curriculum, tools, and strategies to improve the learning environment for her students.

Christina Roessler – Peabody Charter School, Santa Barbara

Christina Roessler | Credit: Courtesy

Christina (Tina) Roessler is described as an “expert teacher.” She teaches first grade at Peabody Charter and has developed a precise set of skills throughout her career as a professional educator. Her refined strategies for working with students from different backgrounds and experiences have resulted in a robust record of successful student outcomes, in both academics and social-emotional wellbeing.

One colleague shared, “Tina inspires me to continually improve myself as an educator and as a citizen of the world. She brings a lot of value to our team and to our school as a bilingual person who has experience living and studying outside of the U.S. She puts her experience into practice by creating an environment that is welcoming to students and their families.”

Tina supports and accelerates the professional growth of those who are fortunate to work with her. Her colleagues say she inspires great confidence in those whom she mentors and demonstrates how vulnerabilities can be turned into strengths. Her support of others and her strong belief that all students can learn make Tina a role model of the profession.

Alyssa Spanier – Solvang School, Solvang School District

Alyssa Spanier | Credit: Courtesy

Alyssa Spanier is a dynamic teacher and natural leader on the Solvang School campus, where she teaches English Language Arts. Under her mentorship, new teachers benefit directly from Alyssa’s commitment to excellence and her drive to succeed.

Alyssa has played a critical role in her school’s success. In the face of the pandemic, she became a Google certified teacher and trained the staff on how to use Google Classroom as a means of providing remote instruction. Alyssa also volunteers to run the student government and graduation rehearsal every year. Her leadership with the Language Arts team has resulted in increased rigor and success in the literacy curriculum. 

Her colleague shared “Alyssa is always checking in on me, reminding me of deadlines, and providing very thorough feedback on my assignments.” She is a constant advocate for students and their wellbeing and an excellent example of how to interact with, instruct, and support students.

The Distinguished New Educators are:

Crystal Guzman – El Camino Junior High School, Santa Maria-Bonita School District

Crystal Guzman | Credit: Courtesy

Crystal Guzman demonstrates skill and positivity in her role teaching English Language Arts and Leadership at El Camino Junior High. She has reignited school spirit on campus and was the winner of the Nicholson Hero Award for her tireless determination to improve El Camino. Crystal is said to be a “master” of teaching essay writing, and she implements skillful tricks and tools in the classroom with the grace of a veteran teacher.

Crystal’s colleague says, “[Crystal] never fails to ask how she can improve. She asks questions about the many skills teachers must master: content, pedagogy, and school climate. She handles new concepts beautifully and with curiosity.”

In addition to being an exceptional teacher, Crystal is highly respected by all staff, students, and families of the El Camino community.

Elsy Mora – La Colina Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District

Elsy Mora | Credit: Courtesy

Elsy Mora is a Math teacher at La Colina Junior High who has fully immersed herself in the school within her first year of teaching. She fosters meaningful connections with students and is a hardworking, dedicated colleague. She was elected to represent the Math department in monthly site meetings and makes decisions on behalf of the math team. Elsy also tutors students after school, providing not only additional academic support, but also a warm and welcoming environment for some of the school’s at-promise students looking to develop their skills, academic identities and connections to caring adults.

Elsy’s colleague refers to her as a “unicorn” because she is a fully credentialed, bilingual Latinx math teacher who also has a degree in Chicano Studies. She adds a unique voice to the site leadership team and focuses on creating learning opportunities for all students, especially those who are struggling or underrepresented in higher level math classes. She thinks about the students who really need extra support, and she brings them into focus for the rest of the site.

She connects with students over both subject matter and shared cultural experiences. Her colleagues shared one instance when Elsy chatted with a group of girls about their quinceañeras. Elsy told them details about her own “quince,” including the food, dances, dress, and her emotions around the event. The next day she brought photos. Her colleague recalled “The girls said they never had a teacher who had had a quinceañera, and I could see how validated they were – sharing in something so important with Ms. Mora.”

Kendall Stevens – La Cumbre Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District

Kendall Stevens | Credit: Courtesy

Kendall Stevens is a second-year teacher at La Cumbre Junior High, teaching 8th grade Social Studies. She has quickly defined herself as an innovative, enthusiastic, and motivated educator. In addition to the subjects she teaches, Kendall stepped up to advise the leadership club and has organized more opportunities for student connection on campus, including costume contents, games, and dances.

Kendall asks for student feedback through Google forms, exit tickets, and individual conversations, and she uses that feedback to improve every day. “She is always refining her lessons and plans to meet the needs of her students. Kendall also helps students see the importance of personal reflection in their own growth and educational journey,” said her colleague

Kendall has nurtured warm, positive, and collegial relationships with staff at La Cumbre. She raises the bar in the classroom by incorporating a variety of discourse strategies with students to encourage them to think deeply, and inspires colleagues to do the same. She is motivated to grow as a teacher and works hard to make the campus a supportive place of growth for students.

Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year Joanna Hendrix | Credit: Courtesy

These distinguished educators take part in a two-year Teacher Induction Program, which pairs new teachers with experienced mentors to improve practice, learn professional responsibilities, and focus on student learning. “Teacher Induction Programs elevate the teaching profession and positively impact teacher retention. The supportive relationships and the focus on improving teaching practices are transforming our school communities,” said Ellen Barger, Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum & Instruction. 

Also to be honored at A Salute to Teachers in November is Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Joanna Hendrix, and Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Peterson. 

Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year Jennifer Peterson | Credit: Courtesy

SBCEO is grateful for partners such as Cox Communications and sponsors, including Fielding Graduate University, Melfred Borzall, Montecito Bank & Trust, Noozhawk, Santa Barbara City College Foundation, the Santa Barbara Bowl, and others who make the A Salute to Teachers event possible. 

For more information about the awards or the event, click here or contact Steve Keithley, Director of Teacher Programs and Support, at (805) 964-4710, ext. 5281. For more information about the Teacher Induction Program, click here or contact John Merritt, Director, Teacher Induction Program, at (805) 964-4710, ext. 5426. 


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.