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Venice High Teacher Named One of Top Educators in County

Venice High School’s Hazel Kight Witham recognized by LA County Office of Education

By Chad Winthrop

A Venice High School Teacher has been named by LA County as one of the top teachers of the year.

Ten educators were announced Oct. 1 as the 2020-21 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year, representing the best of the profession in the state’s largest honors competition for K-12 educators.​

LACOE Superintendent Debra Duardo presented the outstanding educators in a virtual ceremony broadcast on social media.

“During this time of extraordinary challenges to our school communities, it is especially important that we pay tribute to our outstanding teachers who, in the face of a pandemic, are bringing care, compassion and ingenuity to their virtual classrooms,” Duardo said. “I am truly impressed by their innovative practices and the partnerships they are building to keep students learning and thriving.”

The winning educators, comprised of seven women and three men, teach a range of grades and subjects at a diversity of school locales, including: Azusa, Baldwin Park, Burbank, Gardena, Los Angeles, Norwalk, Palmdale, Pearblossom, Redondo Beach and Santa Clarita.

Hazel Kight Witham of Venice High School, who has been teaching for 19 years, was among these teachers.

In addition to teaching English Language Arts to 10th and 12th graders, Witham coaches spoken word poetry at Venice High School and has had her work published in a variety of literary journals. One of her greatest joys is listening to her students’ stories and nurturing community in a classroom of readers and writers.

“The thing that has kept me going every day of these last 19 years…is the community and the family that a school becomes. I could not do this work without the incredible network of fellow teachers and support staff, administrators and the students themselves. This is the most community-minded work. You know we really create a family on the school campus,” Witham said before going on to reminisce on her early days of teaching. “My colleagues that were first-year teachers with me in those early years, we would have lunch every day and we would share just the horrors of the school day. Of how we didn’t understand how to reach a kid, or we made just a mistake, and we would just process the work together. So the thing that has kept me going and motivated me is just the family of fellow colleagues and the overall school community. It’s really just a magical place to be.

Judged as the county’s top public-school teachers for this academic year, the 10 educators serve as standard-bearers for the teaching profession and their 72,000 classroom colleagues countywide. Each will receive a cash gift of $1,000 from the California Credit Union, the program’s main sponsor. Additional sponsors include Presenting Partner Arizona State University and Lakeshore Learning.

The 10 were selected from a field of 48 teachers representing 44 districts who participated in the 39th annual Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year competition, organized by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. All participants were recently selected as teacher(s) of the year by their respective school districts.

In addition to being interviewed, contestants submitted essays, lesson plans and other materials to judging panels comprised of peers. At all levels, “TOY” contests are designed to focus public attention on teaching excellence and to honor exemplary dedication, compelling classroom practices, positive accomplishments and professional commitment.

The 10 Los Angeles County winners automatically advance with other county titlists from around the state to the California Teachers of the Year competition this fall. The state is scheduled to announce its five co-winners in October. But only one of those state co-winners will be chosen to represent California in the National Teacher of the Year contest next spring.

The Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year Program is the largest local competition in the state and nation, and is part of the oldest and most prestigious honors contest in the U.S. for public-school teachers.

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