LEMOORE — Applause erupted and dozens of teenagers flooded the stage Thursday night at West Hills College Lemoore’s Golden Eagle Arena when they learned their favorite Lemoore High School ceramics teacher, Mario Gonzalez, was named Kings County Office of Education’s teacher of the year at its 2017 Excellence in Education awards ceremony.

Not only did Gonzalez, a 22-year teaching veteran, have a large crowd of students at the ceremony to support him, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of his peers when his name was announced.

Gonzalez was described by Master of Ceremonies Kopi Sotiropulos as having a great rapport with students by keeping them engaged and excited to learn. Sotiropulos went on to say students want to be in Gonzalez’s ceramics class because he has “energy and compassion for every person he comes into contact with.”

Gonzalez previously told the Sentinel he loves teaching because he considers the job the ultimate opportunity to get students out of their comfort zones and provide them with all the tools they need to become confident, motivated, inspired and well-rounded individuals.

When Gonzalez’s name was called, he said he wouldn’t accept the award unless the real reasons he was nominated and selected were there as well, so his students piled on stage with him as he gave his acceptance speech.

Gonzalez thanked the school, the district, his principal, Rodney Brumit, and his family. He thanked his students, but also thanked their parents and all the parents in the audience for the hard work they do in raising children.

“Probably one of the highlights in my career at LHS is I had four children come through the program, and I had them in class for four years each,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez wore a large blue puzzle piece around his neck during his speech in support of Autism Awareness Month. He also pointed out the fact that he and his students wore either black or white clothing, saying it was a reflection for seeing the world in black and white only, devoid of labels and preconceptions.

Administrator of the Year

The winner for administrator of the year was Alfred Guerrero, principal of Reef-Sunset Middle School. Guerrero has worked in education for 14 years, and has been principal at Reef-Sunset Middle School for the past three.

Guerrero previously told the Sentinel there are certain communities where someone feels like they belong, and for him, it’s in Avenal. He said he loves being an administrator because he affects hundreds of students every year on a daily basis.

“The beauty of being at Reef-Sunset Unified School District is they allow me to be me,” Guerrero said in his video package. “Very rarely do you get an opportunity to work for a community like that; and for that I’m indebted, and I’m grateful to be a part of this team and a part of this family.”

When Guerrero received his award on stage, he said nothing had prepared him for the honoring and humbling experience. The Stratford-born principal said he was honored to be nominated in Kings County because for him, this is home. He thanked his school’s staff, his family and the Reef-Sunset School District for taking a chance on him.

“Friends, colleagues and family — all of you have influenced me in my journey as an educator,” Guerrero said.

Employee of the Year

Head groundsman at Corcoran Unified School District, Mark Burden, was named the employee of the year. Burden started his career at the district 35 years ago and takes care of the outside maintenance of all the school district’s sites and sports fields.

Sotiropulos described Burden as someone who makes time for anyone who needs his help, goes above and beyond in his work, and is the go-to person to get the job done well.

Burden previously told the Sentinel he enjoys seeing the happy faces of the students when their sports fields look nice, and he feels good when they have a nice lawn during graduation. He said his proudest moments have been watching his four children go from kindergarten to graduation at the schools he maintains.

“If your school is beautified, if a student walks on campus, I feel the student feels good about going to school,” Burden said in his video package. “Hopefully that reflects [in] classroom time.”

The tables of Corcoran Unified School District employees cheered wildly as Burden’s name was called to receive the award. Burden thanked his wife, children, the school district employees and staff, and his fellow groundsmen.

“If it wasn’t for the grounds guys that I have, I couldn’t do what I do today,” Burden said. “So I thank them a lot.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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