Jose Lopez, a teacher at Santa Monica High School for over 30 years, has been selected as the district’s first Exceptional Latino Educator.

“This is a historic moment,” said school board president Oscar de la Torre. “It’s also a meaningful moment for me. When I was at Samohi [Santa Monica High School], he taught me Spanish. He’s done so much for our district.”

Lopez, who teaches Spanish at Santa Monica High School and is also the high school’s Spanish Department chair, has also served as a soccer and baseball coach for the school.

Additionally, he started the high school’s celebration of DÌa de los Muertos, a Mexican tradition celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.

Outside the classroom, he has served as a club sponsor, event organizer and mentor.

Before he was a teacher, Lopez had a very successful career playing soccer at UCLA, his alma mater in 1973, where he never lost a home game in the four years he played, was a two-time team captain and was the first soccer player to be inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame.

For the Exceptional Latino Educator Award, Lopez was chosen from a pool of nominees by a small committee consisting of interim superintendent Tim Cuneo and several school board members.

The award was intended to be given during Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15th to October 15th, but by the time all the nomination forms were submitted and reviewed and the process was complete, the month had passed, said Sarah Wahrenbrock, assistant to the superintendent.

Next year, the district plans to present the award during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Lopez was recognized at a recent school board meeting, where Santa Monica High School principal Hugo Pedroza introduced him, noting that he has been both “mesmerized and impressed” by Lopez.

“He has a lot of experience,” Pedroza said. “He’s a true Renaissance man.”

Lopez, who said he was initially hesitant to accept the award, thanked the district.

He noted it was a great honor to be selected “and singled out as an outstanding teacher.”

“It was 35 years ago last week that I started working at Santa Monica High School for the boys soccer team,” he said. “I have learned to be a part of Santa Monica. I have had a great relationship with my students and they’ve had a good relationship with me. It’s on their behalf that I thank you for pointing that out.”

School board vice president Jose Escarce, who has two “very different” children who have had Lopez and both call him their favorite teacher, noted it was a “wonderful occasion.”

“I am extremely happy Mr. Jose Lopez was selected as our first recipient of the Exceptional Latino Educator Award,” said Cuneo.

“He is an exemplary educator and has dedicated over 30 years to educating all students.”