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San Juan Unified's board recognizes 2020 Certificated Employee of the Year and Teachers of the Year

2020 Teachers of the Year and Certificated Employee of the Year San Juan Unified educators Mary Hankes, Diane Boyd and Svetlana Popov were honored at the Sept. 10 district board meeting. Hankes, a Child Development Permit Teacher (CDPT) at Thomas Kelly Elementary School’s Discovery Club, was named the 2020 Certificated Employee of the Year. Boyd, an English teacher at Mesa Verde High School, and Popov, a mathematics teacher at Rio Americano High School, were selected last spring as the district’s 2020 Teachers of the Year. 

Hankes has worked at multiple Discovery Clubs throughout the district. She creates connections with her students and parents, believing it will lead to an environment where children can be more emotionally and socially supported.

“I make a point of trying to connect with each child every day, even if just for two minutes,” said Hankes. “Getting to know the families helps me to know the child.”

As recognized 2020 Teachers of the Year, Boyd and Popov, along with 15 other regional educators, went on to be recognized by the Sacramento County Office of Education in August. Over the course of the school year, Boyd and Popov will be among those 15 teachers to be honored at events hosted by the Sacramento Kings, Republic FC and River Cats.

As part of the process to decide which teachers would advance to the state Teacher of the Year competition, Boyd and Popov were interviewed by the Sacramento County Office of Education about their teaching styles.

Boyd helps students understand literature by encouraging them to make modern-day  connections, thereby teaching critical thinking skills. She encourages students to gain confidence in sharing their opinion but to back it up with evidence from texts, documentaries and podcasts.

“It’s nice when they finally gain that confidence and that ability to stand up and share what they believe in,” she said. “But I also teach them that they have to have factual evidence to back up whatever it is that they’re saying.”

Professional development is a strong component of Boyd’s teaching strategies. She often brings to her students what she learns to test out new ways of presenting the material.

“It’s exciting and it’s great and it keeps me focused and it keeps me energized and always learning,” she said. “You know, we preach to students, ‘You have to be lifelong learners,’ and I tell my students that all the time.”

Boyd motivates students to improve and participate by helping them to realize they have a voice.

“As far as just getting that kid who doesn’t want to participate to participate, just being relentless,” she said. “You just can’t give up. You just have to keep asking.”

Just as Boyd teaches critical thinking skills in her English class, Popov has a similar approach while teaching math. Popov explains that approaching math equations by taking the time to solve them, is much like how people solve life problems. 

“I cannot predict all the problems that they might experience in life,” she said. “What I’m teaching them right now is look at this big math problem. We didn’t know how to solve. We didn’t see the answers. Nobody does. But if we chunk it up, step by step, pretty soon, oh my gosh, in a few more steps, we got to the answer. So that’s how life works.” 

Popov likes to motivate students by teaching mental math tricks in order for them to realize they too can excel in math.

“Math is not an ice cream to like or dislike,” she said. “It just has to be understood because it’s going to help you in life a lot to make your life actually easier. That’s the whole point of math.”

Popov obtains her most valuable professional development in the classroom as she gets to know her students, understands what their struggles are and devises new strategies to help them.

“I get the most professional development from my own students,” she said.

Popov hopes the honor she has received will encourage her students to strive for success and reach their potential.

Both teachers have gone above and beyond to demonstrate their outstanding efforts in education and were nominated by their students, fellow colleagues and community members for this districtwide award.

The rigorous process for this program included meeting a specific set of qualifications and competing against more than 50 San Juan Unified nominees in order to be named Teacher of the Year.