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HANFORD — It’s not every day that a single high school can lay claim to the county’s top teacher and administrator. Hanford High School Principal Cheryl Hunt and teacher Carol Smith were named the 2012 Administrator of the Year and Teacher of the Year, respectively, at the Kings County Office of Education Excellence in Education program this month.

“We were all surprised,” Smith said. “Not that we won, just that we were even nominated. Because first you have to be picked as the finalists from your district.”

Nominees for teacher, administrator and employee of the year came from school districts across Kings County. The nominees had to secure letters of recommendation and write out their philosophy on education. Somehow or another, all three finalists from the Hanford Joint Union High School District came from Hanford High School.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened,” Smith said. “Our employee of the year was a finalist also, Connie Soares. It worked out great because our names all start with C. Here at the school it’s citizenship, communication and critical thinking. And we all start with C so the kids made a poster with the three Cs.”

Hanford High teachers have now won the honor 15 times in the last 30 years, more than any other school. The school also received both of the teacher and administrator awards in 2007.

Both women attributed the high school’s success to a sense of community among students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Hunt, herself a Hanford High graduate, got her start in education 18 years ago at Corcoran High School. In 1998, she got a chance to teach at her alma mater. After earning her master’s degree and administrative credential, she became assistant principal and finally principal in 2007.

“When I was hired as the principal, one of my number one goals was to not be a principal that the students didn’t know, in my office all the time,” Hunt said. “So I make a concerted effort every week to make sure I’m out on the grounds, that I’m at the sporting events, choir performances, drama performances — so the kids know I’m here to support everything that they’re doing.”

Smith has spent her entire 32-year career with the same district, teaching special education, at-risk students and mathematics. She said she developed her teaching philosophy when she became a parent.

“And then I realized what’s most important to me is to treat everybody’s child the way I want my own child to be treated,” she said. “I think: What would my kids like and what would I like? I do not like anyone to waste my time. If they’re there and they bothered to get up — which is difficult for teenagers — and they got to class, I need to value their time and make it worthwhile.”

Hunt said she sees education as a way to serve others.

“It’s all about serving our students in the best way possible and make those connections with students so that they’re able to be successful and achieve the goals that they set for themselves,” Hunt said.

With a background teaching chemistry and biology, Hunt said, her approach is more hands-on. Teachers need to be aware that students are constantly active.

“They have everything at their fingertips. If you’re just one who is just going to stand there and lecture the whole time, you’ve lost them in the first 10 minutes,” Hunt said. “Teachers who have been teaching a while, who may not have had that concept, have had to get on board.”

As a teacher, Smith said the most important part of her job is keeping students engaged. Instant communication makes information easier but has shortened attention spans, she said. One of the biggest compliments she gets in her class is when a student is actually disappointed that class is over.

“I teach algebra, and that’s very important,” Smith said. “But it’s the thinking skills that they need. They may never go out and actually figure out X, Y and Z. More importantly, it’s the citizenship and personal responsibility. So algebra is the class, but they’re learning so many other things besides algebra. These kids are going to run my country when I’m retired, and I want them to do a good job.”

Also recognized at the Excellence in Education ceremony was the Classified Employee of the Year, Olivia Muñoz, who serves as Kettleman City Elementary School’s migrant aide.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2458 or meiman@HanfordSentinel.com.

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