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Twain Harte kindergarten teacher Susan Sperry, fondly remembered by scores of former students, won this year's Career Achievement Award for Tuolumne County educators.
Sperry was among 14 county teachers honored at an awards ceremony Tuesday night, hosted by the Tuolumne County Board of Education.
One teacher from each public school district - plus teachers from Columbia College, the Community Day School program for expelled students and the Sierra Conservation Center Adult School - got "Excellence in Teaching" awards.
Sperry, 59, has been a teacher for 30 years, 28 of them at Twain Harte School. (The elementary grades are now part of Black Oak Elementary School.) Her colleagues have described her as a leader in early childhood education and a generous person who cares about each of her students.
"Kindergarten has always been my first love," Sperry said. "I remember my kindergarten teacher, and that was my greatest school experience. I feel blessed to share that special year with students and their families."
She named the highlight of her teaching experience as having her own daughter in her kindergarten class. Amy Wahlbrink, now a seventh-grade teacher at Columbia Elementary School, called her mother "Mrs. Sperry" when in class.
"I was used to being stopped and asked if my mom was Mrs. Sperry," Wahlbrink said in a letter of recommendation for Sperry. "The answer was, and is, always followed up with 'so-and-so had her in kindergarten and we love her.' "
Wahlbrink said Sperry has been a role model for her own teaching career. She's even helped shape the kindergarten curriculum in Tuolumne County, according to Twain Harte staff.
Sperry's friend Jalane King, a retired Twain Harte first-grade teacher, spoke highly of her.
"She's just given to her community," King said. "She's given to the world. Think about how many children's lives, and families, you've touched … if you've taught kindergarten for 30 years."
Thirteen other Tuolumne County teachers received awards Tuesday night.
They went to Colleen Whitlock of Curtis Creek Elementary, Carolyn Usrey of Jamestown Elementary, Stephen Sweitzer of Soulsbyville Elementary, Karen Sells of Sonora High School, Steve Roos of the Community Day School, John Reesman of Sonora Elementary School, Jeremy Monn of Don Pedro High School, Richard Krueger of Summerville High School, Michelle Kafka of Columbia Elementary School, Aimee Campiotti of Belleview Elementary School and Carey Bird of Summerville Elementary School.
Columbia College's awardwent to health and human performance professor Josh Bigelow, who retired last year. The Sierra Conservation Center's Adult School chose instructor Dennis Jordan-Curasi.
Award recipients are typically nominated by peers, then selected by a committee of staff members from the Tuolumne County Office of Education. The Career Achievement Award goes to a veteran teacher who has made significant contributions to their school and community.
"I know there are many more deserving teachers out there," said Sperry, who will continue working next year.
She said some good teachers go unthanked and was so touched by her award that she's written letters to her own colleagues, recognizing them for their work.