‘Master motivator’ from OC is one of five California Teachers of the Year

A Santa Ana elementary school teacher has earned the state’s top honor for educators.

Laura Gómez, who has worked at Martin Elementary in the Santa Ana Unified School District since 2006, was announced Wednesday as one of five 2021 California Teachers of the Year.

“I am deeply honored to be one of the 2021 California Teachers of the Year,” she said. “I am very lucky to get to do something that I am truly passionate about — teaching my students.”

Gómez has taught a full-inclusion third-grade class for the last six years. In May, she was one of six local educators who got word they were Orange County’s Teachers of the Year after earning district-level honors.

“I want to congratulate Ms. Gómez for this tremendous honor,” Santa Ana Superintendent Jerry Almendarez said. “This recognition reflects her hard work and dedication to her students, her school and to our overall SAUSD community. Ms. Gómez works to support her students’ academic and social-emotional needs through her enthusiastic and engaging approach to learning.”

The other 2021 California Teachers of the Year are: Jim Klipfel from Saugus High School in the William S. Hart High Union School District in Los Angeles County, Allison Cyr of Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in the Desert Sands Unified School District in Riverside County, Keisa Brown of University Heights Middle School in the Riverside Unified School District in Riverside County, and Nora Wynne from McKinleyville Middle School in the McKinleyville Union School District in Humboldt County.

“In a year that might be the most challenging in all of our lives, these five inspiring teachers have made profound differences in the lives of their students and communities,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said in a statement. “I’m proud that these educators are receiving this prestigious honor for their continued effort to rise above the challenges and connect with students even during unimaginable circumstances.”

Empowering the whole child

According to her county nomination, Gómez has an open-door policy and is committed to educating and empowering the whole child.

“I do not yet have all the answers,” she said, “but for the last 25 years I have made it my business to find out who my students are.”

Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez, one of five California Teachers of the Year, learned during a May videoconference call that she was an Orange County Teachers of the Year.

An immigrant and first-generation college graduate, Gómez has established a culture of reading in her class, curating a library of student-centered books that has expanded based on student requests. Her classroom has been described as a welcoming environment where students feel safe to be creative and take intellectual risks.

Students learn presentation skills through monthly “Chit Chats,” which become increasingly complex and research-driven throughout the year. In math, she employs hands-on manipulatives and other engagement strategies to help children visualize concepts like fractions.

“My approach is centered on each child being ‘seen’ in the classroom, and the value of choices,” she said. “Developing a positive relationship with students cultivates their participation. This is especially true during this pandemic, as we reimagine teaching, engagement and learning with time constraints through a two-dimensional format.”

Gómez is also known for prioritizing community relationships. Before the pandemic, she planned family nights that focused on literacy, math and science. She also organized field trips to area colleges, attended student performances outside of school, developed hands-on science activities for the district’s School Choice Fair, and organized “Mother’s Day Tea” and “Donuts with Dad” activities.

Principal Peter Richardson has characterized Gómez as a master motivator who helps all students succeed, including English learners, GATE students and students with special needs.

“She meets the students where they are and pushes them to progress to their respective next levels,” Richardson wrote in support of her nomination.

Teachers of the Year Finalists

Along with Gómez, Orange County has another educator who was honored Wednesday.

Shelley Romanoff-Andros, who teaches STEM electives like robotics, coding and horticulture and leads the Femineers program at Buena Park Junior High School, was named one of seven California Teachers of the Year finalists for 2021.

Presented by California Casualty and supported by the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972. County offices of education, including OCDE, nominate applicants each year following county-level competitions.

Along with reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, state selection committees evaluate candidates’ classroom environments, presentation skills, teaching techniques and the rapport they have with their students.

The state superintendent annually selects the five California Teachers of the Year, including one National Teacher of the Year nominee. This year, Jim Klipfel of Saugus High School will advance to the national round as California’s representative.

For more information on the program, visit CDE’s California Teachers of the Year webpage.