Honored as he is to have been bestowed the title of 2013 Teacher of the Year in Nevada County, David Lawell also felt uncomfortable knowing so many teachers who are hardworking and deserve acknowledgement.
“In all honesty, at first, I was pretty uncomfortable with the recognition,” Lawell said. “Working as a teacher, you are surrounded by colleagues who have dedicated their careers to enhancing the lives of students; and they work tirelessly to do so.”
Eventually, Lawell became more accepting of the honor.
“I have found more pride in the sense that I am representing the efforts of all those individuals in education, and I am thankful to be part of a district that has enabled me to provide a program for students that is a bit different from the traditional classroom,” he said.
Lawell has been a teacher at Lyman Gilmore Middle School in Grass Valley for nine years. He developed his work ethic and teaching style not only from working with children at a day camp but also working manual labor in the summertime, which, he wrote in an essay, gave him “occupational toughness” as well as “an ability to understand the families of the children he would teach.”
Lawell’s classroom includes traditional desks as well as a working area to build sets and get hands-on experience making things useful in the real world.
“When you walk into Dave’s classroom, in addition to student workspace, there are well-organized tools, table saws, bicycles hanging from the wall and this week there are student-made small buildings in progress,” Lyman Gilmore principal John Baggett wrote in his letter of recommendation for the award.
Lawell said he took a camp director position at a declining summer camp and, with the help of his wife, revived the camp with new programs and achieved accreditations. After leaving the camp due to increase in business and management tasks, which involved less time with the children, Lawell took a position at community day school at Lyman Gilmore, where he unfurled his real passion — teaching.
Lawell teaches a class of students with challenging needs, including the risk of not graduating, in a program called the Academy. He said he uses a different kind of teaching method, which involves hands-on experience with problem-solving techniques.
“The main thing they have in common is that they are looking for a different school experience for their eighth-grade year,” Lawell said. “Most of them are also kinesthetic learners, so the project-based presentation in the Academy meets their educational needs in a fashion that engages and interests them.”
In order to assess student progress, Lawell recorded reading levels, grade-point averages and any observations gathered from previous teachers and checked for discrepancies, such as dips in achievement or test scores related to GPA.
He said he pinpointed the factors inhibiting student achievement and would set goals for the student during the first two weeks of school. He would then offer up peer tutoring and an assessment test to check for student understanding of lessons.
“If we don’t have an 85 percent understanding on any concept or question tested, we all loop back and revisit the concept,” Lawell’s essay said.
“Reteaching is the part I love, where I may take them over to the workshop or come up with an analogy to approach the concept from a different perspective.”
By recording the data Lawell said he can view progress and compare seventh-grade scores to eighth-grade scores, and the data is shared with colleagues for re-teaching strategies. Lawell also fosters trust with his students by making positive phone calls to parents.
“The students and I have a deal,” Lawell said. “If they are doing their best in the classroom, I will do my best to get them more trust and independence at home.”
In addition to teaching, Lawell is also a wrestling coach that leads the largest team in the county, according to Baggett.
“The Lyman Gilmore wrestling team serves our 4th-8th graders and Dave organizes a monumental tournament that fills all three gyms at Nevada Union and brings hundreds of families to our community from other countries,” Baggett said.
The judging for teacher of the year includes review of the written application, a site visit to the school and classroom and an interview with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) or his designee, according to the California Department of Education website.
According to Judy Nielsen, Nevada County superintendent secretary, the judges usually choose a teacher who has overcome a challenge or form of adversity.
“The judges lean toward someone who has overcome an obstacle,” Nielsen said.
During his senior year of high school, Lawell’s father died from cancer, a clear challenge to overcome. The loss badly affected Lawell’s brother who dealt with the grief in a more reckless way, which Lawell wrote said his attempts to help could not amend.
“I’m fairly certain one of the main reasons I’m working with adolescents who are on a hard path is due to the helplessness I felt during this time,” Lawell wrote.
In order to help the students in the Academy, Lawell creates situations where students have to work together to solve a problem, building a sense of community and leadership.
“The basic concept is presenting a group with a challenge that they will complete together, or fail together. They problem solve as a group until they come up with a solution,” Lawell said. “Adolescents really need experiences that promote respect for the individual, while moving their community toward success.”
Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson wrote in his letter of support that Lawell is an impactful teacher who was meant for the job.
“He is a teacher who embodies all that is excellent in the finest of educators,” Fredrickson said, “and is a man who was destined to be an individual who makes a positive impact on the lives of children.”
Baggett said Lawell brings a positive light to his classroom’s challenging students.
“He manages some of the most challenging behaviors and situations with great skill,” Baggett wrote. “He looks for a learning opportunity in every situation and brings such a positive light to his students and classroom.”
Nevada Union High School
Craig Zetterberg has been teaching for 20 years and has taught social studies for five years at Nevada Union High School, as well as water polo. He teaches grades 10-12. “I strive to be a true difference and teach about life while doing my best to serve as a positive role model,” Zetterberg’s introductory letter said. “I have observed firsthand how Mr. Zetterberg motivates his students to learn by integrating technology, enlisting teamwork, and instilling perseverance in his classroom,” wrote Marianne Carta, Nevada Joint High School District superintendent. “He understands that building a trusting and caring relationship with students is the key to raising academic performance.”
Vantage Point Charter
Maggie Montre has taught independent studies at Vantage Point Charter of Ready Springs School District for over seven years. “(Students) may have had a bad experience with school or maybe a home life that no student should have to endure. I work hard to earn the students trust and respect. Every student needs hope and encouragement on how to fulfill their dreams,” Nordstrom’s introductory letter said. Colleague Tammy Fincher recommended Montre and wrote that she is an asset to the school. “Her positive attitude, care and concern for students, willingness to go above her job description, and dedication to her job make her highly qualified to be teacher of the year,” Fincher said.
Cottage Hill Elementary
Carolyn Ferrero of Cottage Hill School, part of Pleasant Ridge Union School District, has been teaching for 15 years and currently teaches fifth grade.
“Having been a student within the district that I now teach in, I understand deeply the levels of challenge that face a student living within a rural community and how higher education extends learning beyond the confines of county boundaries to a world of opportunity,” Ferrero’s essay said.
Cottage Hill Elementary School Principal Heiden Veneman said Ferrero quickly adapted and became a vital part of the school after moving from middle to elementary school. “She adapted quickly and easily and became an integral part of our school community,” Veneman said.
Williams Ranch School
Darla Draper is a teacher at Williams Ranch School of Pleasant Valley Elementary school district. “An important aspect of education is that all children be included in enriching experiences,” Draper’s introductory letter said.
Debra Sandoval, superintendent of Pleasant Valley Elementary School District, said Draper is an inspirational teacher with a passion for teaching. “Watching Ms. Draper teach is like watching a carefully planned, dynamic, and successful event providing a rich, seamless educational experience for every child,” Sandoval’s recommendation said. “Her zest for teaching and her obvious empathy for her students motivates them to work hard and to not be afraid to try something new.”
Clear Creek School
Carla Nordstrom has been teaching at Clear Creek School for 36 years. She teaches sixth and seventh and eighth grade English. She was nominated Teacher of the Year in the Clear Creek School District, but chose not to participate in the county-wide contest.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.