News Release

October 16, 2013

New teachers, mentors honored at gala dinner

Seven exemplary educators in Santa Barbara County were honored Saturday night, Oct. 12, at the first “Salute to Teachers” gala dinner at Bacara Resort and Spa.

Three teachers were chosen as Distinguished New Educators and three others as Distinguished Mentors. Capping the evening was a presentation to the 2013-14 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Kelly Choi.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office, Bacara Resort, and Montecito Bank and Trust partnered with Cox Communications to bring the black-tie event to Santa Barbara for the first time. Cox has sponsored a similar celebration for years in San Diego, and the partners plan to make the Salute to Teachers an annual event in Santa Barbara as well.

Other major business partners were Fielding Graduate University, Village Properties, and Anthem Blue Cross.

The Distinguished New Educators, nominated by their peers and chosen by a committee through the County Education Office, were:

  • Cheryl Lastra, Solvang School, Solvang School District
  • Tyler Wilkes, Hollister School, Goleta Union School District
  • Jessica Zambrano, Pioneer Valley High School, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District

The Distinguished Mentors, selected in the same fashion, were:

  • Megan Cotich, La Colina Junior High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District
  • Michelle Poquette, Cabrillo High School, Lompoc Unified School District
  • Amanda Sweigart, Ellwood School, Goleta Union School District

Choi was named Teacher of the Year in May and is a candidate for California Teacher of the Year. She is a mathematics teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, the director and co-founder of the school’s Academy program for at-risk students, and a technology coach for other teachers in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The other six honored educators are all participants in the Teacher Induction Program at the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO), which pairs experienced mentors with new teachers who are beginning to apply what they have learned while earning their teaching credentials.

“One of the most important investments that we can make is to accelerate the support and effectiveness of new teachers,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone. “This was an opportunity to highlight outstanding new teachers and the hard work they do to create bright futures for students, and we’re grateful to the business partners who made the evening possible.”

In addition to a commemorative statuette, each honoree received a cash award from Cox.

As the award winners were introduced, they were featured in short videos that showed them working in their classrooms and speaking in interviews about their teaching philosophies and strategies.

That footage will also be used in a television show that Cox will broadcast at 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on Channel 8 from Nov. 4 through Dec. 27.

For more information about the awards or the event, go to or contact Steven Keithley, SBCEO Director of Teacher Programs and Support, at 964-4711, ext. 5281.

For more information about the SBCEO Teacher Induction Program, go to or contact Ryan Gleason, the program’s director, at or 964-4711, ext. 5426.