Teachers of the Year to be honored at Saturday’s Red & White Ball

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Before heading off for the next chapter in their lives, each member of Sonoma Valley High School’s class of 2014 was asked to reflect on their education and to choose a favorite elementary, middle and high school teacher. For the first time, the three teachers with the most votes, at each level of schooling, will be honored at the Sonoma Valley Education Foundations’ Red & White Ball on Saturday, Sept. 6.

For that annual event, the Plaza will be awash in red and white, with almost 1,000 revelers expected to turn up for the Ball. Dinner tickets have been sold out for months, though a handful of $30 dance tickets are still available.

“It is a special night for the entire town,” said Laura Zimmerman, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation which sponsors the event. “We come together to honor all of our teachers, students, volunteers, everyone who makes the Sonoma public schools so special. And it is a particularly fitting night to honor some of Sonoma’s most beloved and treasured teachers, as chosen by their students.”

The 2014 Teachers of the Year are Dave Neubacher from El Verano Elementary School, Kathy Eschleman from Adele Harrison Middle School, and Andy Gibson from Sonoma Valley High School.

Gibson has been teaching at Sonoma Valley High School since 2011, and is a graduate himself, in the class of 1997. He keeps busy far beyond teaching 150 students history each year. He was elected chair of the history department and he has also coached freshman football and track and field. He is one of the school’s lead teachers on the Common Core implementation, and he co-headed the high school’s recent, successful accreditation process. As the first week of school came to a close, Gibson admitted he was thrilled to be back in the classroom. “I love my subject area,” he said, “and I love sharing it with my students.”

The award means a lot to him. “I am humbled by the honor and it is especially meaningful, coming from the kids,” he said. “They’re telling me that I am doing a good job.”

Eschleman has taught middle school for the past 21 of her 32 years in education. In addition to teaching eighth grade English, she teaches in two of Adele’s signature programs – the multi-age program and AVID. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a global program dedicated to closing the achievement gap with a specific curriculum that supports the preparation of students for college and career. It is offered at Adele as an elective. And the multi-age class is an optional, projects-based, holistic instructional program used nationwide, that Escheleman brought to Adele in 2001. She currently teaches an AVID elective class, eighth grade English and social studies projects for Adele’s unique multi-age program, and was one of the creators of that program at Adele in 2001. “I really enjoy this age group,” explained Eschleman. “Middle schoolers are a work in progress.” She said she loves coming to work every day, and this year she looks forward to diving deeper into the Common Core curriculum, as “it is a great way for kids to learn.”

Dave Neubacher is a much-beloved fifth-grade teacher at El Verano Elementary. Over the past 38 years there, he has taught every grade level, and is renowned for sharing his passion for environmental science with his students. Each year, the class picks a major innovative science project to complete together, an activity that has won teacher and class numerous awards. Prized among them are four Jiminy Cricket Environmental Challenge trophies, a national competition that Neubacher and his students won in 1996, 1997, 2003, and 2005, earning each class a complimentary trip to Disneyland. “Most of the kids have never been there and it makes them feel good inside,” he says with deep affection.

In 2010, they won Disney’s statewide competition, earning $1,000. Neubacher let the students decide how to spend it, so they had a pizza party, adopted a polar bear, paid to have 25 trees planted and bought butterfly larvae that they raised and released in the school garden.

Neubacher says he connects with his students far beyond the scope of their classroom interaction. “I keep in touch with my former students. I go to all their home sports games and I take an interest in them beyond just their life in school, “ he said. “This is more than a job to me – I love every minute and every part of it. And being honored like this by former students is the greatest compliment a teacher could ever hope for.” He lives near El Verano, all three of his children attended the school and both of his grandchildren are currently students.

Last year, almost $100,000 was raised at the Red & White Ball and distributed to the Engineering Design and Technology Pathway and freshman teams at Sonoma Valley High School, as well as to district preschool programs, Exploratorium Science in all local elementary schools, the Summer Reading Academy, art instruction for elementary students, the School Garden Project, and the Teacher Support Network volunteer program at Sonoma Valley High School

Red and White Ball funds were also shared with the PTOs at each school and the Sonoma Valley High School Boosters Club.

Dave Martin’s House Party Band, The Cork Pullers and El Verano’s Valley Vibes youth orchestra will perform at the Ball. The dinner buffet will be provided by Big Jim’s BBQ. One lucky raffle ticket holder will win a new bright red 2014 Chevy Spark 2LT. This year, the live auction will be replaced with a Fund-A-Need and a Wine Wall Raffle.

Since 1993, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation has raised more than $5 million for the public schools of Sonoma Valley.


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