June 2024

2024 Educator of the Year Award Recipients Honored

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education (Santa Cruz COE) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2024 Santa Cruz County Educator of the Year Awards, which recognize exceptional educators from across Santa Cruz County who embody the values of our school community.

Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Faris Sabbah and the Santa Cruz County Board of Education recognized this year’s award recipients at the County Board of Education meeting on May 16.
“Each of these outstanding honorees has shown unwavering dedication and support for students’ success, both in and out of the classroom,” said Sabbah. “It is a privilege to recognize these exemplary educators and partners whose knowledge, passion, and values serve as a source of inspiration for our entire school community.”

Honorees received a plaque recognizing their service to Santa Cruz County, and their names will be engraved in the Educators of the Year perpetual plaque hanging in the foyer of the Santa Cruz COE.
A selection committee reviewed nominations using the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, and the following criteria:

  • Ability to create a passion for learning
  • High expectations for all students
  • Strong communication and collaborative skills
  • Strong sense of values, integrity, and professional ethics
  • Knowledge of subject and curriculum content
    -Commitment to the community they serve

2024 Teacher of the Year

Recipient: Russell Bryan Love, Lead Teacher, New School Community Day School, Pajaro Valley Unified School District

Russell Bryan Love teaches Science, Biology and PE. Mr. Love’s main teaching credos, hewn from his own academic beginnings and experiences raising his three sons, are: Learn by Doing, Learn Together, and !No Aburrimiento Permitido! (No Boredom Allowed!) Mr. Love created New School’s Outdoor School & Character Development program, now in its seventh year and 12th iteration, behind those philosophies and New School founder Don Eggleston’s belief that “students aren’t supposed to sit still in classrooms for six hours a day.”

As coach of beach volleyball, basketball, soccer and now flag football, Love has led the New School Aztecs to fourteen Monterey Bay Alternative Schools Athletics League championships in as many years. Mr. Love attests that none of the above would be possible without Mrs. Kimberly Dawn Love, shoving him out of the house in the morning or the overwhelming brew of love and vibrant passion that swirls through their household where they live with their daughter, Dylan, son-in-law, Josh, and their three grandchildren, Jagger, Journey and Jett.

2024 Classified Employee of the Year

Recipient: Jennifer Konicke, After School Program Coordinator and Classroom Aide, Pacific Elementary School, Pacific Elementary School District

Jennifer has 18 years of experience working with children in various recreational and educational capacities. She ventured into roles such as wildlife researcher, wetland restorationist, and environmental education director before finding her current role coordinating after school programs and working as an instructional aide. Her responsibilities range from aiding in mathematics instruction for 6th graders to providing support in 4th grade, serving as a camp counselor, coordinating recreation activities, assisting in the Food Lab, acting as a substitute teacher, and offering support to special needs students. Jennifer has raised her two children in Davenport and being a part of the Pacific Elementary community is one of her greatest joys.

2024 Counselor of the Year

Recipient: Soledad Hess, Social Emotional Counselor, Mission Hill Middle School, Santa Cruz City Schools

Soledad is an LCSW and has been the Mental Health counselor at Mission Hill Middle School for 3 years. Soledad has worked with children and families for the past 24 years and has a passion for incorporating art, music and the outdoors into her work. Soledad loves to create art, write and sing music in her band, cook up delicious food, travel abroad, frequent music festivals, camp, thrift shop, spend time with her daughter and family and friends – and snuggle with her cats Arwen and Fifer.

2024 Administrator of the Year

Recipient: Cristal Renteria, Director of Alternative Education, Santa Cruz County Office of Education

Cristal Renteria is the Director of Alternative Education at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, where she is able to co-create innovative and powerful educational opportunities that completely redefine the learning experience for at-promise youth. Her role functions as a site administrator for six Watsonville-area alternative education programs.

The unique opportunity of leading six court and community schools has deepened her expertise in restorative practices, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed approaches, and multi-tiered systems of support. Cristal’s 12 years of experience as an alternative education educator not only reinforces her commitment for meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of all students, but has allowed her to collaboratively build supportive, strengths-based and equitable learning environments with all school community stakeholders. Alongside her lifelong dedication of inspiring and serving others, she has the same level of passion for training at CrossFit Watsonville, exploring new food establishments, and traveling to attend music festivals all over the world.

2024 Community Partner of the Year

Recipient: Woodstock’s Pizza

For over a decade, Woodstock’s Pizza has employed Santa Cruz County Office of Education students, providing valuable work experiences for those in our Special Education Department. Each year, three to five students participate, learning essential skills like following schedules, completing tasks, cleaning, and customer service. Woodstock’s not only facilitates training and work opportunities, but also rewards students with free pizza or other items for each shift worked. General Manager Travis Coon has even hired some students after they completed their education. Woodstock’s Pizza is a true community partner, accommodating students’ schedules and transportation needs while demonstrating leadership in providing opportunities for students with disabilities to work and pursue their dreams.

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