Chawanakee schools set for new year filled with new faces

ttuell@sierrastar.comAugust 13, 2013 

It's time for Chawanakee Unified School District students to grab their books, iPads and MacBooks and head back to school Monday, Aug. 19. There will be a few changes in the district including a new Ag Tech Design building at Minarets High School, iPad implementation into education at Spring Valley Elementary, as well as a number of new teachers at all the district's schools.

Six of those new teachers, along and a volunteer consultant, will be found at Minarets, along with 535 students.

Rich Jacobsen — Ag Mechanics

Jacobson retired from Le Grand High School after teaching there for 31 years, but he is now volunteering his time as a consultant in order to get the ag mechanics program running. Jacobson has been busy setting up the new, nearly 10,000 foot Ag Tech Design building this summer.

"I'm setting it up so that the entire shop will flow with efficiency and at same time so it will be a safe and effective facility to educate the kids in production and fabrication (welding)," Jacobson said.

Because Minarets is a technology based school, it will also be implemented in shop programs. Minarets Principal Michael Niehoff said the new ag building is a high tech facility aimed at being a hands-on place where students can use state-of-the-art tools to learn technology, design and how to build and manufacture objects.

"I'm going to get them set up so that the next generation can really bring it to the program," Jacobson said. "Kids aren't afraid of technology and really jump on it."

The $4.2 million ag building was made possible through a grant from the California State Board of Education designated for career and technical education buildings and a private donation — making the building possible without using any district funds. Minarets applied for the grant the summer of 2009 and was awarded in the fall that same year.

"Our new Ag Tech Design building has been a four-year journey," said Minarets Principal Michael Niehoff. "This facility and the resources within should transform our ag program and our entire school. This is as exciting as it gets."

Shane Hildebrand — Spanish

Hildebrand graduated from California State University Fresno in 2008 with bachelor's degree in Spanish. Not a native Spanish speaker, Hildebrand became fluent in the language while doing a two-year mission for his church in the Dominican Republic. Hildebrand taught Spanish at San Benito High School, then most recently at Mendota High School.

"I enjoy being able to present new material, new subjects, and a new culture to students who have not had the chance to experience it before or even thought about it," Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand says he's excited about implementing technology into the classroom, and that's one reason why he wanted to come to Minarets. One of the culminating projects he is planning is a poetry slam where students will present their feelings on immigration through poetry. Spanish 3 will do it entirely in Spanish, and Spanish 2 will do it in "Spanglish."

Jahmaal Sawyer — U.S. History/World History

Sawyer is interning at California State University Fresno and finishing his teaching credential program. Originally from Utah, Sawyer moved to Fresno 10 years ago as a competitive cheer coach. He graduated from Fresno State in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history, and now is excited for his first teaching job.

"I'm excited about getting them (students) to look at history differently," Sawyer said. "I want them to look at history as something fluid, not something rigid. It's easy to look at it as linear, but I want them to have that desire to look at history with more inquiry ... so they get a more rounded idea of what shapes events."

Perri Potigian — AP English/English 12/ SLE /Social Media & Digital Publishing

Potigian is finishing up her credential program at CSU Fresno. A Fresno native, she received a bachelor's degree in English Education in 2012.

Potigian says she's most excited about bringing everything she wants to the table and implementing technology into the classroom.

"I'm able to create curriculum in an environment where you can try things out and see what works," Potigian said. "I know I have everything I need here, and I can run with an idea. They're very flexible."

Potigian said literature and writing has always been one of her passions, and she is ready to share that with her students.

"This is the school I wanted to be at more than anything, and I am really excited to be here," she said.

Rhonda Myers — ROP Fire Science

Myers, a resident of Fresno, recently retired from Cal Fire. She spent her career in San Marino/Monterey, Fresno, and Madera-Mariposa-Merced, where she spent the last 10 years as a training officer.

"I really enjoyed training, so this was a good fix after retiring to come here and hopefully give something back to these kids," Myers said.

Myers said she hopes to show students exactly what it takes to make firefighting a career, the skills they will need, and other job opportunities such as the U.S. Forest Service.

Jill Gamble — Art 2 and Digital Photography

Gamble isn't new to teaching and taught at Livermore for six years followed by a year at MLK Middle School in Madera.

Gamble attended both California State University Chico and Las Positas Colleges.

Gamble's goals for the year include creating projects that interest and inspire students, encouraging students to step out of their comfort zone and try something new and participate in art contests, and have each student create a blog or website of their work.

Kayla Wood — Ag Earth Science/Ag Biology/Vet Science/FFA

Wood has an associates degree in Animal Science from Modesto Junior College and a bachelor of science in Agriculture Education from CSU Fresno.

Wood's work experience includes National Junior Swine Association President, Modesto Junior College Swine Unit Herdsman, Fresno State Swine Unit Herdsman, Bar-One Farms Herdsman, and Santa Clara County Fair Exhibits Manager.

Wood hopes to get all students interested in agriculture and FFA.

"We're just thrilled to have all these people excited to come to Minarets and be excited about what we have here at Chawanakee," said Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson. "I think people are drawn to some of the freedom we have with project based learning and we're connected with Common Core Standards. You can't put a price on the culture we have at our district. We allow people to have different means of reaching the same set up standards."

Elementary schools

North Fork Elementary is also welcoming new teachers along with 275 children.

The new teachers include:

Gwen Reyes — third grade

Susie Waltner — seventh and eighth grade

Dave Ciccoletti — seventh and eighth grade

Elizabeth Whitcomb — special day teacher

Lani Owen — first and second grade

Angeline DeHart — special day teacher

Back to school night for parents will be held Wednesday, Aug. 28. The time has not been set.

Spring Valley is welcoming three new teachers and 195 students this year.

The new teachers include:

Kyle Kamlade — third and fourth grade

Gerin Ott — middle school math

Ashley Bourdon — special day teacher

For the first time this year, all fourth through eighth grade students will be required to have iPads as part of their education.

School will also begin at 8:30 a.m. instead of the 8:40 a.m., and the school day will end at 2:35 p.m.

Back to school night for parents will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22.

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service