2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Janis Leach

2016 Teacher of the Year Janis LeachToday we’re following along as the Orange County Department of Education announces the county’s five Teachers of the Year for 2016. The “prize patrol,” comprising a yellow school bus carrying OCDE administrators, media and sponsors, is surprising most of the winners in their classrooms.

Disney is presenting each teacher with a prize package including park passes and merchandise, and the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is giving each a $500 check, along with a lunch bag and pen set. Finalists will be honored at a dinner gala in November at the Disneyland Hotel, where they’ll will receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross.

We now bring you the next teacher honored this morning, Janis Leach.

Teacher Janis LeachFlanked by Tustin Unified Superintendent Dr. Gregory Franklin, Tustin Public Schools Foundation representatives and district and county officials, county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares paid a visit to “Leachville,” better known as the classroom of Mrs. Janis Leach, to deliver the next Golden Apple.

“I’m just speechless right now,” the standout teacher said shortly after 11 a.m. as cameras clicked. “Thank you. It’s very, very overwhelming.”

Mrs. Leach teaches a second- and third-grade combination class at Arroyo Elementary School in the Tustin Unified School District.

As the self-proclaimed Mayor of Leachville, she has created a classroom environment based on the social science standards on community studies. Her students are “residents,” responsible for their “homes” – also known as their desks – and they proudly put in a hard day’s work to make the community of Leachville successful. This model has created a feeling of belonging and true connectedness for the students, and parents report that their children learn a sense of responsibility through the experience.

Mrs. Leach believes rigorous learning environments increase student engagement and achievement. She is credited with bringing new mathematics instruction to her classroom and school, and she’s lauded for her use of technology in her teaching.

“Wherever there is student engagement, rigorous learning and innovative technology you can expect to find Mrs. Leach,” one colleague wrote.

As for Janis Leach, her message is simple yet profound. “We simply need to do what we want our students to do,” she says, “have high expectations for ourselves, push our thinking, trust and try.”

It wasn’t long before her class broke into their well-known Leachville cheer. Leach told students that they played a big role in her recognition.

“I really think a lot of it is because of you, my fabulous, amazing students, who push me to make learning fun,” she said.