Yosemite High School Spanish and Political Science instructor Steve Browning has been named Madera County Teacher of the Year by the Madera County Office of Education. He will be honored Oct. 8, at the Ninth Annual “Excellence in Education” gala awards dinner at the Madera Municipal Golf Course.
The “Excellence in Education” program is made possible through a partnership with the Educational Employees Credit Union, and the Madera County Office of Education. Retired Madera County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Sally Frazier, will serve as the Master of Ceremonies.
The program celebrates outstanding achievement and success in education, and the dedication and commitment of Madera County teachers, school administrators, and school employees.
“We are awarding honors to special individuals who demonstrate their passion and commitment to children and their families in our schools,” said Madera County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Cecilia A. Massetti. “We celebrate the accomplishments of educators and instructional staff from throughout Madera County who make a difference on a daily basis.”
“Obviously I am very ecstatic to have won this prestigious award,” Browning said. “I feel honored that the administration nominated me and I beat out all the other teachers in the county. I told my class that I do not think I am a better teacher than the other candidates. I just filled out the application better.”
Best known throughout the county as the coach of the Yosemite High School Academic Decathlon team that has never lost a county title in 22 consecutive years, Browning, 49, led the team to a second-place finish at the state competition three times, twice won the State Super Quiz Championship, and placed second at the state level in the Super Quiz four times.
At the end of school last year, Browning announced he was stepping down as the academic decathlon coach. Biology teacher Carole Calderwood will take over that duty this year.
His last year as coach brought him one of his most memorable decathlon experiences. One of his “C” students on the team had just moved to Oakhurst from Mexico, and won gold medals at the county level in speech and interview.
“The whole team was so excited for him, but not as excited as he and his mother,” Browning said. “The team was witness to a student’s success in a new land in a different language. Just the experience of so much joy and success is more than any monetary reward.”
Browning, a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, with degrees in Political Science and Spanish, and a masters from National University, joined the YHS staff in 1990.
He has served as president and vice-president of the Yosemite Teacher’s Association, has chaired the school’s foreign language and fine art departments, and was the first International Baccalaureate Teacher at YHS.
Often called señor by students and staff at YHS, Browning, by vote of the student body, was named YHS Teacher of the Year for the 1993-94, and 2013-14 school years.
Makes students feel welcome
Browning’s teaching philosophy revolves around making students feel welcome in his class.
“I never want my class to be the one they hate attending, or the class they dread coming to when they wake up in the morning” Browning said. “As a result, I always try to greet them with a smile to show I care about them.”
Now in his 26th year at YHS, Browning feels the biggest change in students over the years has been their growing dependency, and even addiction, to their cell phones. Other than that, Browning said students are still students, and awesome to teach.
“What I like most about my job is being around young, excited students,” said Browning, who is known for his enthusiasm. “The students keep me youthful by sharing their music, dreams, and enthusiasm for life.”
As much joy as he receives from helping send top students to schools like Stanford and Berkeley, his biggest reward comes from hearing the success stories of less fortunate students with little parental support.
“Occasionally I bump into a student or parent in the community and they thank me for all that I did for them even though it was 20 years ago,” Browning said. “Hearing them tell me that I was the only reason they graduated makes me cry after they walk away. Sometimes we do not realize the impact we have on others, but every now and then we are reminded.”
From announcing destruction derbies to coaching Little League baseball and youth soccer teams, to taking in a homeless teenager, Browning has been active in the community.
Upon moving to Oakhurst, Browning founded the High Sierra Four Wheel Drive Club. The club sponsored a mud bog raising thousands of dollars for charities such as Nancy Hinds Hospice, Manna House, and Toys for Tots, Browning said.
Browning also made several trips to Mexico over a 13-year period with up to 48 members of his YHS Spanish Club.
“This trip really connected the students to the world around them as they soon realized they were fortunate to have a home,” explained Browning. “We brought massive amounts of food, school supplies, and shoes to give to the children who lived in a maggot-infested dump.”
He said of all the community service work he has done, his most cherished was allowing a homeless girl with drug addicted parents to live in his and his family’s home for more than two years.
“My wife and I were not prepared for this, but no one else was there for this young lady,” Browning said. “We bought her new clothes, took her on vacations, and made sure she was successful in school.”
When not teaching, Browning enjoys traveling around the the country on his Harley every summer with his wife of 30 years, Jennifer, and spending time with family, including oldest sons Zac, Jesse, and Wesley.
The 2015 Administrator of the Year is Kuljeet Mann, director of student services at Educational Options, Golden Valley Unified School District. Classified Employee of the Year is Kathy Bowerman, computer lab assistant, Wilson Middle School in Chowchilla.