Local chambers of commerce honor 31 exemplary Westside teachers

By Bonnie Eslinger

The 18 winners of this year’s Eddy Awards were nominated by their peers

The 18 winners of this year’s Eddy Awards were nominated by their peers

Two recent events hosted by local chambers of commerce honored Westside teachers who, according to their peers, exemplify selfless dedication in the classroom.

More than 300 people gathered on May 13 in the ballroom of the Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel for the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce’s annual Teacher Eddy Awards. The chamber fêted18 educators working schools from Westchester to Del Rey with trophies, goodie bags and words of praise.

“Our teachers have a really tough job: they have the responsibility of building young minds,” said LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce President Christina Davis, adding that business organizations should recognize teachers because they “educate our future workforce.”

The following evening, the Venice Chamber of Commerce celebrated 13 area educators during a more intimate gathering of about 90 people at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice. Award recipients received red apple trophies and certificates from local public officials, including state Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D- Marina del Rey).

Venice High School parent Kristen Duerr, the night’s mistress of ceremony, said the contributions of teachers to their students and school communities is invaluable.

“What you do is beyond words and picture frames,” Duerr said.

For each teacher-of-the-year events, the participating public and private schools chose the winners.

That made the award extra special, said Stephannie Shariff, a Kentwood Elementary School teacher honored with an Eddy Award.

“I feel very grateful; it’s your colleagues that are recognizing you,” Shariff said. “They’re the best evaluators.”

Celebrated as a pioneer of using technology in the classroom, Shariff said she understands why some teachers aren’t as quick to use computer tools for teaching.

“There’s such a long learning curve and there are so many kinks that sometimes it takes an hour and a half to do a 10-minute lesson,” Shariff said. “But they need it to get a 21st century education.”

Eddy Award winner Lester Tracy, a special education teacher at Carousel School in Westchester, said the secret to teaching his elementary-aged students was mindfulness.

“Pay attention to the students, that’s No. 1. Find out where they’re at. Get them comfortable. Once they’re comfortable you can start to challenge them,” Tracy said.

One of the joys of teaching, Tracy added, was the occasional unexpected surprise. A few weeks back, a “supposedly non-verbal” student began counting using the sign language that was being taught in the classroom.

“That’s one of the main reasons I love it,” Tracy said.

Venice awards ceremony honoree Valerie Neri-Munoz, a teacher at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School, said she appreciated even verbal recognition for her work.

“We don’t get in here for the big bucks,” she quipped.

Principals at the participating schools introduced their winning teachers at the Venice event.

Beethoven Street Elementary School Principal Althea Ford said teacher Corby Arthur brought a passion to her work that her students embraced wholeheartedly. A recent science project headed by Arthur had students bringing numerous live spiders
to school.

“They get so deeply into what they’re learning,” Ford said. “I asked the custodian to please discard a spider, and the students brought protest [saying] ‘Please save the spiders.’”

Arthur said she didn’t much like spiders either, but “what I like is getting students excited about things.”

When honoring Westminster Avenue Elementary School teacher Daniel Shear, Principal Barry Cohen read a note from one of Shear’s students.

“Mr. Shear is a great teacher because he cares about our learning, our happiness and our safety. He always tries to makes learning fun and cool. He also barely sits down. He’s always up checking on our work. He’s always on our trips and arranges them. I wish he could always be my teacher,” Cohen recited, eliciting a chorus of “aaaaaah” from the audience.

The LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce 2015 Eddy Awards winners:  
•    Lester Tracy, Carousel School, Westchester
•    Kevin Melbourne, Cowan Elementary School, Westchester
•    Kathy Cheatham, Goethe International Charter School, Del Rey
•    Stephannie Sharif, Kentwood Elementary School, Westchester
•    Ralph Quinones, Loyola Marymount University, Westchester
•    Christian Mounger, Otis College of Art and Design, Westchester
•    Dina Paskalev, Paseo del Rey Natural Science Magnet, Playa del Rey
•    Sherry Mohazab, Playa Vista Elementary School, Playa Vista
•    David Han, St. Anastasia School, Westchester
•    John Caulfield, St. Bernard High School, Playa del Rey
•    Caitlin Mitchell, Visitation School, Westchester
•    Joseph Starks, Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets, Westchester
•    Debbie Merrill, Westchester Lutheran School, Westchester
•    Sam Innes, Westchester Secondary Charter School, Westchester
•    Carlos Penate, Westport Heights Elementary School, Westchester
•    Kaitlin Lester, Westside Neighborhood School, Del Rey
•    Leslie Huey, WISH Charter Elementary School, Westchester
•    David March, Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet, Westchester

Venice Chamber of Commerce 2015 Wave Awards winners:
•    Corby Arthur, Beethoven Street Elementary School, Mar Vista
•    Christian Londono, Boys and Girls Clubs of Venice, Venice
•    Carol Chen, Broadway Elementary School, Venice
•    Valerie Neri-Munoz, Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School, Venice
•    Marina Ramey, Ecole Claire Fontaine, Venice
•    Jamie Trinh, Mark Twain Middle School, Mar Vista
•    Sara Nowakowski, Neighborhood Youth Association, Venice
•    Christina Simons, Venice Arts, Venice
•    Cris Vicente-Aguilar, Venice High School, Venice
•    Meg Rehrer, Venice Lutheran School, Venice
•    Julie Levi, Walgrove Avenue Elementary School, Mar Vista
•    Daniel Shear, Westminster Avenue Elementary School, Venice
•    John Garner, Westside Global Awareness Magnet, Marina del Rey