Springtime in Pleasanton Unified School District is synonymous with school open houses, the dreaded "senioritis" and other indicators of summer vacation on the horizon.
It's also a time of celebration across the district as administrators, parents and others within the community come together to acknowledge the work of local educators.
Earlier this month, PUSD followed school districts across the country in recognizing Teacher Appreciation Week and Day of the Teacher. The Pleasanton PTA Council, in partnership with the district, also honored 17 teachers and classified staff at the 27th annual Excellence in Education awards ceremony, held May 8 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Pleasanton.
"Our Pleasanton teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and other certificated staff make vital contributions to the well-being of our students, school and communities," interim superintendent Micaela Ochoa stated. "We thank you, and appreciate the inspiring work that you do in the classroom, and the countless hours you dedicate after the school bell rings to support our students."
Last month, PUSD also selected its Teacher of the Year -- Village High School's Mario Hurtado, who has taught U.S. history, economics and leadership there since 2012.
As Pleasanton's honoree, Hurtado's name has been submitted to the Alameda County Office of Education for consideration in the countywide Teacher of the Year competition.
"He makes every day meaningful," Village principal Dana Chavez said. "Students look forward to going to his class because he inspires them to learn. He sets the bar high for every student and himself ... when students come out of his class they are different people."
In a recent interview in his classroom, Hurtado said the award meant a lot to him.
"I was surprised, not because I don't think I'm deserving, it's because I'm not doing it for the award," Hurtado said. "I see this recognition as not just mine, but it's for the school and the kids."
"Continuation schools in general have a bad reputation -- this is where the bad apples are, sometimes even the bad teachers," he added. "I'm glad this award was not just given to me, but to an institution like this and students like these."
Hurtado, 36, is wrapping up his fifth year at Village and his 11th as an educator. He first taught at a continuation school in Tracy, then worked at schools in Los Angeles Unified School District and spent a year teaching English in China before coming to PUSD.
Taking the job at Village was a homecoming of sorts for Hurtado. He was born and raised in Dublin and graduated from Dublin High School.
Hurtado's paternal grandfather immigrated to the Tri-Valley from Mexico in the 1930s to work on the railroad. Both sides of his family are from the same town in Mexico, and his relatives are known there for having a longstanding family-run bakery business, Hurtado said.
Growing up and attending K-12 in Dublin Unified helped inspire him to become a teacher, he said.
"My shop teacher was awesome, he was very encouraging, and my Spanish teacher was pretty awesome as well -- I had some really good teachers at Dublin High," Hurtado said. "I remember that quality of being a good teacher."
Hurtado's path toward becoming a teacher took him first to Diablo Valley College, where he earned an Associate of Arts degree before transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles. Hurtado graduated from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in history and Chicano/a studies, later returning to earn his master's degree in education.
After teaching in Los Angeles for several years, Hurtado knew he wanted to return to the Tri-Valley to teach. But first he wanted to get a different perspective on teaching by working in a classroom abroad.
"I wanted to do something different and take a risk and teach abroad," he said. "I wanted to go to a country that I was completely unfamiliar with, where I hadn't traveled to and where I didn't speak the language."
Now at Village, Hurtado teaches Pleasanton high-schoolers with one of his "philosophical bibles" "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire, a man who was exiled for teaching people how to read and write.
"In chapter 2 he says, 'If you treat people like people they're more likely to learn,'" Hurtado said. "He says education is about sharing things that are important and relevant to people."
"Yes it's about standards and learning content, but at the end of the day, education is about transforming your life," Hurtado added. "Education is not just about the grade and requirements and graduation. We're here for a much bigger purpose than that."
Hurtado's students say they appreciate his practice of instilling life lessons into his teaching, along with his hard work and dedication to Village and the community at large. Hurtado organizes monthly trips for students and staff to help serve food to the hungry at GLIDE Memorial Church and is learning to play bass in PUSD's mariachi program. He does this while also managing to make time to complete the homework he assigns along with his students, they said.
"When I first came to Village last year, I was terrified -- I didn't know anybody and I was so shy and failing all my classes," senior Bee Richardson said. "Mario was the most warm and welcome person at this school, and he inspired me to come out of my shell and do great things. I feel because of him I'm 10 times more confident and have someone to go to whenever I need something."
"I knew (the award) was coming," added senior Ivan Ramos. "He does a lot for this school, and he really does care for all his students."
While Hurtado's students say they are inspired by him, he says he has been inspired by the Teacher of the Year award.
"To be only a fifth-year teacher and to get an award like this, it's a very humbling experience," Hurtado said. "But it's also a really great feeling. It's motivating -- it makes me want to work harder."
Excellence in Education honorees
This year's Excellence in Education awards ceremony highlighted the work of 17 Pleasanton teachers and classified staff:
* Jennifer Bell, fourth-grade teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary
* Heather Brillhart, health clerk at Alisal Elementary
* Denise Daniels, hearing specialist at Lydiksen Elementary
* David Fischer, math teacher at Pleasanton Middle School
* Kelsey Foster, fifth-grade teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary
* Duane Habecker with PUSD
* Jaclyn Isaacson, first-grade teacher at Donlon Elementary
* Randall Lomas, math teacher at Harvest Park Middle School
* Tara Martin, fourth-grade teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary
* Laura Moore, kindergarten teacher at Alisal Elementary
* Celeste Nava, second-grade dual immersion teacher at Valley View Elementary
* Paul Perazzo, music teacher at Harvest Park Middle School
* Russell Sato, English and college and career readiness teacher at Village High
* Annette Sodergren, library assistant at Walnut Grove Elementary
* Dick Spicka with PUSD
* Traci Sweeney with PUSD
* Mairi Wohlgemuth, social studies teacher at Amador Valley High.