Did your teacher receive a visit from the ‘Prize Patrol?’ OCDE names 2018 Orange County Teachers of the Year

Superintendent Al Mijares passes a Golden Apple award to Jim Blackie of Ensign Intermediate School A big yellow school bus filled with camera crews, reporters, Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares, sponsors and others has hit the road this morning, on its way to a half dozen schools to name the 2018 Orange County Teachers of the Year.

We’ll be along for the ride today as the bus travels across the county, stopping at each of the campuses as the entourage dubbed the “Prize Patrol” bursts through classroom doors to surprise six teachers with the award.

All six Orange County Teachers of the Year will be presented with a prize package that includes a number of goodies from local sponsors. Disneyland Resort is kicking in gift baskets that include park tickets and Mickey Mouse ears, and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is presenting each recipient with a tote bag full of prizes.

Finalists will be formally honored at a dinner gala in October at the Disneyland Hotel, where they’ll receive a sizable cash award from the Dr. James Hines Foundation established by Orange County residents Bill and Sue Gross.


8:20 a.m. | Horace Ensign Intermediate | Newport-Mesa Unified School District

Moments ago, the big yellow bus rolled into the parking lot of Ensign Intermediate School, where the first of six Orange County Teachers of the Year, science teacher Jim Blackie, was in the middle of a lesson on space travel. Blackie was left speechless for a few seconds while the entourage surrounded him with gift bags and other awards.

Science teacher James Blackie
“At Ensign, we have a great team,” says science teacher Jim Blackie, who was surprised Tuesday with the news that he’s one of six Orange County Teachers of the Year.

“Someone like myself is part of a team,” he said. “At Ensign, we have a great team.”

Turns out, the science teacher brought in a slime experiment for his Teacher of the Year interview. Panelists got to make slime out of gel and other materials.

“You can say that slime got me this award,” he said.

Blackie, a veteran teacher of 31 years, teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Ensign Intermediate. Blackie’s goal for his classroom is “100 percent engagement, 100 percent of the time.” In a typical 50-minute period, his students work in teams at their tables, collect data for lab projects, annotate science-themed news articles, watch educational YouTube videos and participate in chemistry experiments.

Blackie said his greatest contribution to science has been working to inspire the next generation with a zeal for learning and a sense of wonder.

Over his three-decade career, Blackie has mentored dozens of new teachers and teaching students as part of University of California, Irvine’s Cal Teach program.

He’s also worked with UC Irvine’s Center for Educational Partnerships, where a team of teachers generated curriculum and provided teacher training and materials to implement science-based lessons. His team conducted week-long summer institutes for teachers, Saturday workshops and afterschool training for local school districts.


8:55 a.m. | Edison High School | Huntington Beach Union High School District

At first, environmental science and biology teacher Gregory Paul Gardiner wasn’t sure why more than a dozen people crashed through his Edison High science lab. Then shock took over as he realized he had just been named as one of the county’s best teachers.

Gregory Paul Gardiner with his son Campbell and wife Erica
Edison High School environmental science and biology teacher Gregory Paul Gardiner is joined by his son Campbell and wife Erica after being announced as a 2018 Orange County Teacher of the Year.

“This was a total surprise,” he said, joined by his son Campbell and wife Erica. “I never thought I could win such an honor.”

Gardiner has taught science for the past 18 years, ranging from Advanced Placement courses to classes geared for students with mild to moderate disabilities. And his impact extends beyond the classroom. He’s helped secure his district $82,000 in grant funding to further science education and professional development.

As part of his lessons, Gardiner has taken students to work in the wetlands of the Bolsa Chica Conservancy to restore native plant species. He also served as the founding teacher of the White Seabass in the Classroom Program, which allows students to personally grow, feed, monitor and release seabass. The program has spread to 11 other schools across the region.

On Tuesday, his Advanced Placement environmental science lab featured a half-dozen fresh and saltwater tanks, where students were growing everything from sea bass and trout to corals.

We’re told Gardiner led the conversion of Edison’s shuttered auto-body shop into a pair of Innovation Labs, which students use as aquaculture breeding programs for different fish species. The labs also include a remote-controlled hydrogen fuel cell car project and a coral fragment tank. Gardiner said his goal in education is to inspire the next generation of marine scientists.

“I’m just here for my students,” he said. “I’m here to help them shine through learning.”


9:50 a.m. | College View Elementary School | Ocean View School District

At College View Elementary in Huntington Beach, nine family members of Vincent Saporito joined the Prize Patrol for the surprise visit. They included his wife, his four children, his parents and other relatives.

Vincent Saporito of College View Elementary School
Vincent Saporito, one of six 2018 Orange County Teacher of the Year, says his greatest professional accomplishments include teaching American Sign Language, enabling students to realize their natural abilities and giving peace of mind to concerned parents.

As the announcement was made, the special education and sign language teacher broke into tears. His family members hugged him and told him they loved him.

“I feel so honored and blessed,” Saporito said. “Many, many teachers deserve this award just as much as I do.”

Saporito, the subject of this Orange County Register feature, currently teaches deaf and hard of hearing courses for students in grades two through five at College View, where he’s worked since 2008. Along with helping others learn American Sign Language, he says his greatest professional accomplishments include enabling kids to realize their natural abilities and giving peace of mind to concerned parents.

“What makes me a good teacher is that I care about my students,” he said. “I get to help them learn so they can go on to do incredible things.”

For Saporito, learning American Sign Language at a young age changed how he communicated. He believes ASL is a beautiful and natural language for those who are deaf, and over the course of his career he has taught hundreds of children and adults to sign, helping them prosper in school and in life.

Colleagues say Saporito is results-oriented, and he treats deaf and hard of hearing students as English-learners rather than disabled. As such, his methods leverage the strategies often associated with dual-language instruction.

Saporito has taught American Sign Language at multiple colleges and universities, and he also works to promote sign language and deaf culture throughout College View Elementary School. Working with other teachers, administrators and parents, he has taught weekly ASL classes for each grade level.


10:38 a.m. | Leo Carrillo Elementary School | Garden Grove Unified School District

The Prize Patrol arrived at Leo Carrillo Elementary in Garden Grove during a Cinco de Mayo assembly, which turned into an impromptu celebration for sixth-grade teacher Carlos Primiani.

Carlos Primiani is named an Orange County Teacher of the Year during an assembly at Leo Carrillo Elementary School
Carlos Primiani was announced Tuesday as an Orange County Teacher of the Year a during a Cinco de Mayo assembly at Leo Carrillo Elementary School. Primiani has been lauded for his use of technology to enhance and enrich learning.

In the middle of the assembly, Superintendent Mijares took the microphone and announced to the students and staff that Primiami was an Orange County Teacher of the Year.

“Everything I do is inspired by the people I’m with, not only the students but the teachers as well,” Primiani said. “Teaching has always been a calling, a need in society to help children. Winning this award seems like a foreign concept.”

A teacher since 1993, Primiani is a strong proponent of using technology to enhance and enrich learning.

When he began his career at a neighborhood school with a large percentage of students from low-income families, he personally connected his classroom to the Internet so his students could engage in new ways. Over time, he was asked to train other teachers to implement technology.

As a result of these successes, Primiani was tapped for various leadership roles, allowing him to build instructional technology programs at numerous sites. In 2013, he returned to the classroom, teaching fifth- and sixth-graders at Leo Carrillo in Westminster. There, Primiani found he could use iPads in innovative ways to excite students about assignments, including writing and video production.

Primiani has dedicated his life to students who face challenges in their lives, and he believes children need to see a connection between school and the outside world in order for their work to be purposeful. As such, he encourages his classes to follow real-world issues and to advocate on behalf of causes that move them.

“I work with a population who often needs to be reminded that there is a greater purpose beyond assignments and homework,” he says.


12:03 p.m. | El Dorado High School | Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District

At El Dorado High in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, English language development teacher Tiffany Badger was in the middle of a lesson about the debate over police shootings when the Prize Patrol arrived.

English teacher Tiffany Badger from El Dorado High School
Tiffany Badger, an English teacher for 14 years, including the last seven at El Dorado High School in Placentia, is Orange County’s fifth Teacher of the Year for 2018.

Badger said she thought there was some sort of drill before her principal and Superintendent Mijares told her about her award.

Her students cheered as she grinned uncontrollably.

“It’s so humbling to be considered among the county’s best teachers,” she said. “It’s almost a little embarrassing. I can’t believe this is happening.”

Badger has taught English language arts for the past 14 years, including the last seven at El Dorado High, where she’s focused on helping English learners become fluent.

Recently, Badger has also promoted global citizenship among her students after participating in the U.S. Department of State’s Teachers for Global Classroom program, which sends teachers to learn about different countries’ education systems with the goal of having them bring back an international perspective to their own classrooms. Badger spent two weeks in Morocco last year.

She now encourages her English learner and AVID students to collaborate digitally with secondary students in Morocco and Malaysia. The students share lessons that take on topics ranging from the environment to gender equality.

Badger also works with the district’s Joya Scholars program, where she mentors, tutors and helps organize college visits for students from high-poverty neighborhoods. She regularly takes her English-learner students on tours of Fullerton College and Cal State Fullerton so they can learn about financial aid, the DREAM Act and other resources to help them attend college.


12:58 p.m. | School of Continuing Education | North Orange County Community College District

At the North Orange County Community College District’s School of Continuing Education, the entourage made its final stop of the day.

Barbara Bennett, School of Continuing Education, North Orange County Community College District
Barbara Bennett has taught adult students with intellectual disabilities for 38 years, serving the School of Continuing Education North Orange County Community College District.

Special education teacher Barbara Bennett, working on the school’s Anaheim campus, laughed and her eyes welled up when Superintendent Mijares told her class their teacher was a Teacher of the Year.

Students shouted “She deserves it!” and “She’s the best!” as she received her Golden Apple trophy, the sixth of the day handed out to area educators.

“I look at my students as if they were my friends, my colleagues and my peers,” she said. “Their success is my success. I love my job.”

Bennett has taught adult students with intellectual disabilities for 38 years, serving the School of Continuing Education’s campuses in Anaheim, Cypress and Fullerton. Along with her work in the classroom, she’s written course curriculum and developed collaborative partnerships that have led to greater independence for thousands of Orange County residents.

When she began her career in the late 1970s, legislation guaranteeing the educational rights of individuals with disabilities was relatively new, and many schools and community organizations were still determining instructional strategies.

Bennett says she was mentored in college by educators who taught her to employ repetition and, whenever possible, “teach the skill in the environment where it will be used.” For example, her money management classes include a field trip that gives students an opportunity to make purchases.

Those who teach students with intellectual disabilities serve as instructors, advocates, mentors and counselors, according to Bennett, who manages these roles with humor and enthusiasm. She says she strives to set realistic performance expectations, including respect for others, appropriate social interaction and personal responsibility. As a result, her students complete challenging coursework and gain valuable job skills.