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HANFORD — Growing up, though she did well in school, Catherine Koelewyn said becoming a teacher was not on her radar. It wasn’t until her husband suggested it that she realized she could help others in the way she always wanted to.

“Teaching is not just teaching, is it?” Koelewyn asked, and was met with nods from the crowd at the Civic Auditorium on Wednesday night. “There is so much more that we put into our day as educators.”

Koelewyn was named Kings County Office of Education’s teacher of the year at its 2018 Excellence in Education awards ceremony. The 37th annual awards ceremony also named an administrator and employee of the year.

“I am honored to stand among these great educators, support staff and administrators, and I am humbled to be counted as one of them,” Koelewyn said.

Koelewyn has worked in the education field for 14 years and is in her fifth year as a fifth-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary School in the Pioneer Union Elementary School District.

Koelewyn said her philosophy of building relationships first with students in order to bring about their efforts in return is what she works on with her students on a daily basis.

“We work our fannies off in those classrooms to build relationships in order for students to feel loved, wanted, validated; and until that happens, they will not buy into us, our teaching or their own desire to learn,” Koelewyn said.

Koelewyn said she often refers to her job as her “mission field”. She previously told the Sentinel that her favorite part about teaching is when her students have that “aha” moment and they get to celebrate together.

She said her most proud moments are when she can connect, through hard work, to those students who have mentally and emotionally checked or have no desire to make an academic effort. She said when she makes that connection of trust with them, they pour into her, their education, and most importantly, themselves.

“Hopefully along the way, among the academic standards we present and help them master, they will learn important and lasting lessons of the heart and soul as well,” Koelewyn said.

All of the nominees were acknowledged at the ceremony and finalists were recognized with a video.

Administrator of the Year

The winner for Administrator of the Year was Loretta Black, principal of Cinnamon Elementary School in the Lemoore Union Elementary School District. Black started her career in education in 1996 as a teacher and has also been an assistant principal and learning coordinator, and is currently finishing her sixth year as principal of Cinnamon Elementary.

Black previously told the Sentinel that her favorite part of her job is watching the students grow and reach their goals. She also said she is proud of the hard work that the district’s teachers, staff and administrators have accomplished to make sure students are learning at high levels every day.

Wednesday night, Black said she was honored by the award and felt fortunate to be in the field of education for over two decades and being able to work with other wonderful educators.

“People that go into education are just the best,” Black said.

Black said she is thankful to have a lot of support from the district and everyone at Cinnamon Elementary comes to the school in the morning ready to do whatever it takes for the students.

Employee of the Year

Lionel Garza, custodian at University Charter School in the Lemoore Union Elementary School District, was named employee of the year. Garza has worked at the school for over 10 years as a custodian and was described as the epitome of the word “service”, in both his job and the community.

Garza previously told the Sentinel that the entire school has embraced him as an important part of the school, oftentimes interacting with the students in their classrooms. He said he enjoys being a positive role model and mentor and making a difference in the kid’s lives.

Garza thanked the school district and all administrators, teachers and staff for being a part of the team and trying to help the students together. He especially thanked Principal Crescenciano Camarena and the teachers who let him be a part of their lesson plans.

“I am very blessed to have this job,” Garza said Wednesday night. “I will continue to do my best and try hard to make a difference.”

Special Recognition

Tim Bowers, Kings County Office of Education superintendent of schools, was also recognized at the ceremony. Bowers, who started as a substitute teacher with the office of education 30 years ago, will retire in June from the position he’s held for eight years.

Bowers, who received a standing ovation from the crowd, said growing up he never thought he would be a teacher, let alone an administrator, and thanked everyone for their support.

“There have been numerous people that have propped me up, that have pushed me forward [and] that have helped me continue,” Bowers said. “I appreciate the love and I respect all of you.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or

News Reporter

News reporter for The Sentinel

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