Christine Moreno nominated Karla Keese of Elliot Institute

Why does Karla Keese deserve recognition as “Teacher of the Year”?

To be honest, she deserves this award every year. She is my daughter, Heather’s, teacher in a special needs program at the Elliot Institute.

The Elliot Institute specializes in educating low functioning children with compromised cognitive abilities. Many of the students, including Heather, are autistic and non-verbal. Although, labels like autism can be painted with a broad stroke, each child is unique. Their ability to grasp concepts is limited individually, moving each one forward incrementally. These special children find language confusing and cannot express themselves. They often resort to screaming and tantruming out of pure frustration. Ms. Keese uses pictures, sign language, speech therapy techniques, iPads, tablets, gestures, visual aids, music; in short, every imaginable avenue to aid communication is employed. It is like a daily miracle because she does reach them, and those days add up. The children gain life skills, for example the ability to recognize icons for safely crossing the street. Perhaps, you are thinking, “so what”? It is so insignificant, a typical child could learn that skill in an hour, maybe less, while Heather and her classmates may need months or a year. Nevertheless, it could still save their life.

I shall digress with some background information about Heather. She was a foster child whom I adopted. However, I did not have custody until Heather was five, she is twenty-one now and in her last year of school with L.A. Unified. Karla has been her teacher for a dozen years. Heather’s first five years of life were torturous. Her biological mother never spoke to her, she was tied up in a crib without freedom of movement, and she was given only formula for nourishment causing a severe eating disorder. Consequently, Heather was a tortured soul capable of screaming for hours on end. Today, she is beautiful and mostly calm, although still without functioning use of language and is still quite limited in ability. However, she communicates to get her needs met, loves school, listens intently to stories that are read to her, can type her name on a keypad and grasps many small concepts. This progress is tremendous and Karla Keese deserves credit for enveloping Heather with an immense spirit of gentle determination, patience, and kindness, day after day. Of course, Heather is only one student in the class. Many children have benefited from Karla’s gentle but determined pedagogical expertise.

Please recognize Karla Keese for the Vroman’s Teacher of the Year award.

Morgan nominated Mandy Madnikoff of Polytechnic School

Where do I start with my all time favorite teacher Ms. Madnikoff? This wonderful woman knows each and every student as their own person. I love her so much and am dreading to move on to 6th grade without her next year. She is such a great role model of positivity and doing the right thing. My fellow classmates and I wouldn’t be the same person without her as our 5th grade teacher. She cares about each and every one of us like her own child and is always there to talk. Whether it’s a bully or bad dream, she will always be there to comfort you and give advice. She knows us so well that in class she can recommend a book to someone based off their interest. She even shares many personal stories about herself with us. Every day people will go up to her desk in the morning and ask things like, “How’s Lincoln (her baby)?” or “Did moving go well for you?” And she always answers with a big smile and a warm hug. Also, aside from giving us recommendations, she takes ours. Now every Wednesday night we are both watching the TV show Survivor.

Ms. Mandikoff has taught each and every one of us how to love our lives and never take things for granted. One part of loving our lives, she says, is that you always have to be kind. She uses the quote from Wonder “If given the choice to be right or kind choose kind.” We have a jar that every time we show an act of kindness we get a marble. Once we get 115 marbles we get to spend the whole day at school relaxing, reading, watching movies, and eating popcorn in our pj’s. Ms. Madnikoff has made reading a joy to all of us. We have a little cozy library in the back of our classroom. Almost every day we have something called Squirt (super quiet uninterrupted independent reading time.) During Squirt if you don’t have a book to read she will take you into our library and we will go through tons of books until you find one you like. Also, we have reading groups and we go around in a circle reading and the day after we talk about what we just read. As a class, she reads one book out loud to us as often as we have time. Right now we are reading The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price (a book I recommended). In Ms. Madnikoff’s class there are no boring textbooks. Instead, we watch people singing about historic events. And in writing, to study about old fairy tales, we read one and ask each other questions about the from the character’s point of view. From her warm hugs to her amazing stories Ms. Madnikoff is the best teacher a student could ever have.


Noah nominated Mr. Brian Jehue of Arroyo Vista Elementary School

I am in seventh grade and throughout my education I have had numerous great teachers, but my overarching favorite was my second grade teacher, Mr. Jehue. He has a plethora of good qualities, including being extremely smart, funny, encouraging, and enthusiastic about learning. He pushed our class outside of our comfort zone and we really enjoyed what we were being taught.

Mr. Jehue cares about each student and makes sure everyone is challenged. One of my fondest memories is when Mr. Jehue challenged my friend Sasha and me to build rockets. Sasha’s did not work but mine soared over the playground fence into a neighbor’s yard! Also, one day during lunch Mr. Jehue gave Sasha and me the task of building a Rubbermaid cart for the janitors. It was difficult but fun. He really fueled our love of learning in a creative and interactive way.

Mr. Jehue also excels at teaching P.E. He made us super excited about getting exercise. The games we played were phenomenal and my favorites were “Dunkin’ Donuts” and “Who Let the Dogs Out.” In “Dunkin’ Donuts”, Mr. Jehue rolled a hula hoop across the grass and we had to see how many times we could run through it before it fell to the ground. “Who Let the Dogs Out” was based on capture the flag and Mr. Jehue played the song while we were playing the game. Even in third grade, I remember joining P.E. with the second graders while I was at recess.

Mr. Jehue is really funny. I remember that every day he wore a different tie, and when parents came to visit and observe our work, he would dress up as a funny character from a movie, such as Chief Bogo from Zootopia, or a giant banana. Even though Mr. Jehue expected a lot from us, he used humor to create a safe, comfortable, and positive learning atmosphere.

Mr. Jehue is always looking for fun and creative ways to help kids challenge themselves and learn to their full potential. As I look back on my past teachers, Mr. Jehue stands out as my favorite.

Tom Louie nominated Isis Gonzalez of Miramonte Elementary School

I would like to nominate Mrs. Isis Gonzalez, a teacher of the third grade at Miramonte Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District, as Vroman’s Teacher of the Year. Isis is much loved and admired by students and co-workers alike, and she has always lifted the spirits of those around her with her cheerful, positive outlook. Although she is very strong in her Christian faith, she never seeks to impose it on anyone; rather, she seeks to set a positive example through her life and work. She has been here for us through some of our school’s most difficult times, and she has always helped to make those times easier.

When I heard of Vroman’s Teacher of the Year, I was uncertain about whom I should pick, so I asked my fourth grade students. By far the majority of them enthusiastically picked Isis, who has been their teacher the year before. In their words:

Bryan, age 9: “We don’t have times tables in their grade, but she taught us anyway because she wanted us to be prepared. You wouldn’t automatically get in trouble, the colors are green-yellow-red-blue, and she would talk to your mom, it’s kind of fair. She gives you four warnings, and if you’re good you can switch back to green, or go back one color.”

Joycelyne, age 10: “When kids were poor she gave them shoes and food. We did the daily news and she would ask us what we did on the weekend. She was nice and pretty. She read stories every morning.”

Itzmin, age 10: “She should be Teacher of the Year because she does the daily news in the morning, and she talks about the news and makes you write about it and think about how you can solve problems in the news. She encourages kids to be good, sit down, do their work and be brave.”

Armando, age 10: “She’s fun. Every morning she shows the daily news. If you get table points you get a pizza party. She teaches the times tables with manipulatives, and whoever gets it first wins, and it’s table by table. On rainy days, she shows cartoons or a movie and if everyone finishes their book reports she shows a movie like Soul Surfer.”

Joseph, age 10: “One time the computers weren’t working and she called her husband who brought a new computer. We all called him Mr. Gonzalez. After we finished a chapter book, we would get a pizza party and watch a movie.”

So there you have it. According to her former students, who are in the best position to know, she is challenging, encouraging, inspirational mindful of her students other needs besides education, compassionate, fair, resourceful, contemporary, relevant and makes learning fun. And that’s in addition to what she has done for our staff. I hope this meets your criteria for Teacher of the Year.

Sadie nominated Ms. Dawn Rangel of Odyssey Charter School

Ms. Dawn, my teacher, deserves this award for many reasons. So many that I could not say all of them in a book the size of Harry Potter.

One very important reason why Ms. Dawn deserves this award is because she is respectful. I had been afraid to make mistakes in almost every subject. She explained to me and others who were feeling like I was that it’s good to make mistakes because then you learn and that she didn’t mind if we made one.

Another very important reason why Ms. Dawn deserves this award is because she is kind. When I didn’t understand a math lesson, she took me aside privately, during quiet time, and helped me which she does with everyone when they don’t understand a math lesson.

A third very important reason why Ms. Dawn deserves this award is because she makes learning fun. For example, in readers’ workshop last year we got to draw out the scene we were working on as well as write it. Another example is that we get to do math on the computer as well as learn it from her!  Now do you see why she deserves this award?

Because she is respectful kind, fun, and so, so much more!

Marsais nominated David Clark of Aveson Elementary

I think you are a very good teacher. You are a nice teacher. You are helpful to the kids at Aveson. You have taught me how to read better. You taught me how to write better too.
So I feel like you deserve this award.


Natalia nominated Ms. Ashley Nava of Jackson Elementary STEM Dual Language School

I think she should be Teacher of the Year because she taught me how to speak more Spanish.
She also taught me how to do math really fast.

Jean Hooper nominated Lila Vick Schob of Altadena Elementary

I would like to nominate Lila Vick Schob for Vroman’s Teacher of the Year. Ms. Schob is a special education teacher at Altadena Elementary, where she has worked for six years. Prior to that, she taught at Loma Alta Elementary in the PUSD. Ms. Schob is remarkably versatile, resourceful, and enthusiastic. I should know—I have volunteered with her at the Pasadena nonprofit, Club 21, a clearinghouse and teaching organization which supports families who have children with Down syndrome. Ms. Schob has boundless energy and expectation for her students.

We volunteer to support learning in a program called Every Child a Reader. Ms. Schob has endless strategies for reaching students of all ages. Both students and parents draw to her and respect her work. She takes the practical and makes it magical. She dreams up assignments to enliven what could seem mundane – counting money; mastering social skills; crafting stories on the iPad. All the while, Ms. Schob is simultaneously mentoring volunteers. These volunteers are Azusa Pacific University students, fellow teachers, or teen helpers form local high schools. Each follows her lead, which means students are consistently being treated with dignity, with high expectations, and with firm kindness. Ms. Schob balances the tasks of individualizing and group instruction seamlessly.
The students thrive under her direction.

Ms. Schob is as original as Mrs. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus. That is, she sees the potential learning value of what could be complex. Then she counter intuits that complexity and renders it accessible to all children. This is a demanding pursuit. Translating challenging information and bringing it to all so that they can understand and access it is tough stuff. And in addition to her classroom job, she also tutors young adults and serves as a resource instructor for Club 21. You would have to search high and low to find a teacher as devoted to her craft as Lila Schob.

Shahe Mankerian nominated Miss Armig of St. Gregory Hovsepian School

The gods of education have a wicked sense of humor; they purposefully bestow upon every individual only one great teacher. Ask anyone, “Who’s your favorite teacher?” and the answer always comes in haste, always a single name, always with an honorary prefix Mr., Mrs., Miss, always accompanied with a wistful smile. One of my favorite teachers was/is Miss Armig. She teaches History at Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena. However, I would be doing a disservice to Miss Armig if I simply label her as the History teacher. She is a motivator, a lifelong learner, a rebel, and a friend.

I met Miss Armig when she was still a miss and a Matossian. I interviewed her nine years ago in my new office with a new position. I needed a middle school History teacher, and she walked in with that eager uncertainty. A novice myself, I mistakenly judged a complex book by the cover. Armig resembled a preadolescent student as she sat at one of the sagging, maroon armchairs. I flipped the pages of her curriculum vitae, thinking, she’s demure, diminutive, and definitely inexperienced, yet she demanded my attention with the steadfast capability of the tyro giants of this profession.

From the start, Miss Armig took pride in being an alumnus of Hovsepian School, the very PreK-8 school I was taking the helm of as the Principal. After graduating Hovsepian, Miss Armig had cruised her way through Pasadena High School, and then four years at California State University, Northridge, attaining a M.A. in History with high honors. It didn’t take long for the interview to evolve into a charming conversation about Alice in Wonderland (her favorite book), The Little Prince (my favorite book), The Beatles (our favorite band), the Woman’s Suffrage, the Beat Poets, and finally the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Needless to say, I hired Miss Armig. It didn’t take long for her to gain the respect of her students and parents. She was loved. Her classes shifted paradigm for all teachers in our school. In order to have engaging classes, teachers visited Miss Armig’s classroom to get ideas. She became the queen of differentiated instruction and cherished students with special needs. She became the queen of learning. History, for example, was taught with music, preferably jazz. Black and white movies became a norm. In order to expand her pedagogical repertoire, Armig embraced additional classes like English, Film and Art.

What else did Armig do? She redefined the Student Council into a project-based leadership team. They advocated community service and raised money for the Children’s Hospital, spearheaded toy drives for the local police and fire departments, and organized annual dance-a-thons to aid the children of Armenian and warring Syria. She singlehandedly reestablished the school’s dilapidated library. Along the way, she married our awesome math teacher, Baron Zare, and she became a Mrs. I believe Mrs. Arming, like all great teachers, channels abundant love for learning, children, and change. That’s why nominating Mrs. Armig became an homage to all great teachers.


Jossalyn Emslie nominated Betty Cole of Westridge School

Ms. Betty Cole has taught generations of students at Westridge School over a career that spans 35 years at the same location, so that she has taught the children of former students.

Ms. Cole has taught students from grade 7 through 12, though she has been primarily an upper high school teacher. Her primary courses have been AP European History, AP Art History, and Ethics; but over the years she has also taught U.S. History and AP U.S. History, Cultural Studies, Revolutions & Dictatorships, and China & Japan. Ms. Cole has developed and then taught courses in Public Policy & Participation, Global Issues, Third World Issues, and Comparative Religions.

Outside of the classroom, Ms. Cole developed the school’s Community Service Curriculum, following her commitment to fostering a connection between the school and the community year round, so that it became normative for students at all ages and grade levels to have long-term service interactions with their community. Year after year, she organized the Pasadena-area CROP Hunger Walk, Ox-fam Hunger Banquet, Earth Festival and Earthworks Projects for all grade levels, Alternative Holiday Marketplace, and the EPIC environmental club. She helped to develop the curriculum for the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFS) Peace Studies Program.

Ms. Cole also turned her passion for nonviolent conflict resolution, peace education, and global issues toward the school faculty, and led the Westridge Federation of Teachers as President through decades of campus changes.  She is a published author and conference speaker on topics related to peace studies and inter-religious dialogue.

Betty Cole has molded and influenced, and is beloved by, generations of students at Westridge. The keynote speech from the Westridge Ranney Award Winner for Distinguished Alumna of the Year (a member of the class of 1983) specifically mentioned Ms. Cole in the following way:

“I remember the day, in Betty Cole’s class, when we were challenged to imagine ourselves having a very different formative experience by playing a game in which education and opportunities were assigned in a game of random chance. My friends were disturbed, even angry at the unfairness of having their imaginary futures limited by happenstance without the chance to overcome by hard work and merit. It was Betty Cole who taught me so much.”

Personally, I remember studying with Ms. Cole in 2 challenging Honors classes as a high school senior, where we had tough topics and tough discussions; and she taught my daughters, 29 and 33, years later to challenge themselves in the same way to tackle tough concepts in several courses. I loved her passion, her thorough knowledge base, and her unwillingness to make issues “nice” or “easy” when they were hard, teaching her students to have confidence that they could tackle “hard” while also teaching and modeling intellectual fairness and compassion.