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Local educators honored at annual Teacher of the Year luncheon
Teacher of the Year Hughson
The 2024 Stanislaus County Teachers of the Year (pictured left to right) are Raman Kang, La Rosa Elementary (TK-3rd grade division); Nancy Barajas, Fairview Elementary (4-6th grade division); Aaron Salazar, Ustach Middle (7-8th grade division); and Dave Zylstra, Hughson High (9-12th grade division) (Photo contributed).

The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Modesto Rotary Club honored a pair of local educators at the 25th annual Teachers of the Year finalist luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Modesto on Tuesday.

Winning the honor of the county Teacher of the Year for the high school category was Hughson High School’s David Zylstra, a math instructor of 27 years. Joining Zylstra as one of 12 county finalists was Eva Márquez Lear, a Spanish teacher of 19 years at Pitman High School.

Teacher of the Year Pitman
Eva Márquez Lear, a Spanish teacher at Pitman High School, was named a finalist for the Teacher of the Year contest (Photo contributed).

“It’s an honor to partner with Modesto Rotary for 25 years to recognize outstanding teachers – each who helps inspire and shape the lives of students in our county each and every day,” said County Superintendent of Schools Scott Kuykendall. 

Zylstra has taught almost every math course available at Hughson High in the past three decades, according to the Hughson Unified School District. This year, he is teaching Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Math 1 and a new computer coding class he started last fall.

“The allure of shaping young minds and imparting knowledge to the next generation fueled my passion for education,” he said. “The profound impact teachers had on my own life inspired me to pursue a career in teaching, driven by the belief that education has the power to improve lives.”

Lear shares similar objectives in her classroom. She believes the ability of speaking two languages can open doors for students and allow them to appreciate other cultures.

“My favorite part of being a Spanish teacher is being able to share my language and culture with my students and to teach them that knowing two languages.” she said.

“Being nominated for Teacher of the Year is incredibly humbling and validating. This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication I've poured into my teaching over the last 19 years and it’s heartening to know that my efforts are being recognized and appreciated by my peers, students and community. It's an honor to be considered among such talented and dedicated educators, and it motivates me to continue striving for excellence in the classroom every day.” 

Local educators were nominated by public and private school principals throughout the county. A selection committee composed of Rotarians and educators narrowed the nominations through a paper screening process and then visited the classrooms of 24 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the 12 finalists and choosing four winners. Also being recognized as Teachers of the Year were ​​Raman Kang from La Rosa Elementary School in the Ceres Unified School District (TK-3rd level), Nancy Barajas from Fairview Elementary School in the Modesto City Schools District (4-6th level) and Aaron Salazar from Ustach Middle School in the Sylvan Union School District (junior high level).

The four selected as Teachers of the Year each received a $1,000 cash award from the Modesto Rotary Club Foundation. Mocse Credit Union also sponsored the event and provided funding for the awards.

Two of the four Teachers of the Year will now be selected through an interview process to represent Stanislaus County in the State Teacher of the Year Program. One state winner will then proceed to the national competition. State winners are expected to be announced in September.