Three local teachers have been selected to receive the Educator of the Year Award at the Confucius Birthday/Educators of the Year Award event.

The award is presented by the Central California Chinese Cultural Center in partnership with the Tulare County Office of Education. One elementary, one middle school and one high school teacher are honored.

All three teachers honored this year are from the Orange Belt area as Strathmore High School teacher John Lujan, Rockford Elementary School teacher Terri Dillard and Sunnyside Elementary School teacher Anderson Schmidt will be honored.

They will be honored at the 26th annual Confucius Birthday/Educators of the Year Awards event to be held on Thursday, September 19.

“This year’s winners are exceptional teachers who have a passion for building character and life skills in their students,” said Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire. “The positive difference they make in the lives of their students will be remembered for years to come.”

Here’s a look at each winner:

Terri Dillard, First-Grade Teacher Rockford School — Dillard is entering her 25th year as a teacher. She began her career at Sunnyside before going to Rockford in 2000. 

Dillard is praised by Rockford Superintendent Caron Borba as “one of the most dedicated teachers that I have ever met.” 

Dillard spends her break time and lunches with students in her classroom, helping them improve on their reading skills. She takes struggling readers to great heights, giving each student special attention to ensure no one slips through the cracks.

“Even after 25 years in education, Terri is willing to try new teaching methods and adapt her teaching style and curriculum to enable her students to be 21st century learners,” Borba said. “She is a great role model and help to new teachers as well. When I think of Terri Dillard as a teacher, she is rock solid.”

“I feel my job is to give my students a solid foundation in education and help build their character,” Dillard said. “I work it into lessons and use books at story time that have character-building themes. We often use the themes to talk about how we treat each other when situations arise in class or on the playground. I also try to share stories about things happening around them to teach them compassion.”

Anderson Schmidt, Physical Education Teacher/Coach Sunnyside — In his sixth year at Sunnyside Schmidt has established himself as a campus leader. Sunnyside Superintendent Steve Tsuboi reports upon arriving, Schmidt set out specific goals and objectives to develop Sunnyside’s first true physical education program. 

His program can be described as a true learning environment that requires students to think, research, and apply specific topics along with the outdoor physical activities. In addition to his teaching duties, Schmidt is Sunnyside’s coach for all sports, including football, soccer, basketball, track and field, cross country, and baseball. 

“He also developed our first cross-country team and the Marathon Madness program where his students run 26 miles in 26 days with many far exceeding this distance,” Tsuboi said.

“My main goal as a physical education teacher is to help students develop life-long learning skills to address their health, fitness, and nutrition,” Schmidt said. “I hope to instill confidence in them and the ability to take their dreams and set the goals they need to achieve them.”

In addition to his responsibilities for physical education, Schmidt has worked with several new educators as a Teacher Induction Program support provider. Most remarkably he took on the role of English Language Development teacher for the middle school students last year, demonstrating his willingness to step outside his teaching area for the betterment of the students.

John Lujan, Mathematics Teacher Strathmore High School — Lujan is a teacher at Strathmore High School with 20 years of teaching experience across all grade levels. On some days, he might be in his classroom explaining math problems and guiding students to solutions. 

More often though, he’s at the Strathmore High School farm helping students learn math concepts through real-world applications. A self-described chili pepper farmer, Lujan uses his knowledge of agriculture to teach students in his classes, which range from math skills for freshmen to consumer math for seniors. At the farm, students have planted their own seeds and learn math through the business of farming, marketing, and sales.

“Twenty years from now, my students may not remember the point slope formula, but they will remember how I treated them,” Lujan said. “I try to treat them with respect and create a fun learning environment.”

Porterville Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Nate Nelson shared Lujan possesses the unique ability to connect with every student and an enthusiasm for teaching that gets them excited about learning. Lujan has used his abilities to lead a Reconnecting Youth class, and serve as a coach for Math Super Bowl teams and the Step Up Program. 

Lujan won a National Education Association Human Rights Leadership Award in 2015. He’s currently the Strathmore High School Class of 2022 co-advisor, Key Club advisor, and public address announcer for football games.

For more information about the Confucius’ Birthday/Educators of the Year Awards, contact Marlene Moreno at marlenem@tcoe.org.

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