PUSD Teachers of the Year

Poway Unified Announces the Selection of Three District Teachers of the Year

Stephen Whittaker, Coleen Montgomery, and Sarah McCracken
Receive District Honors for the 2019 School Year

press release

The Poway Unified School District is proud to announce Ana Collins, Shantel Raquel, and Katie Wu as the three 2019 District Teachers of the Year. These teachers received surprise visits at their schools this morning.
A committee of district and site representatives selected the three District Teachers of the Year based on criteria which included: innovations inside the classroom, contributions to their schools and the District, and commitment to their students.

The San Diego County Office of Education also sponsors a Teacher of the Year Recognition Program, honoring up to six teachers from all of San Diego County.  All three PUSD Teachers of the Year will be submitted for consideration for County Teacher of the Year. 


Stephen Wittaker 2019 PUSD Teacher of the YearStephen Whittaker, Oak Valley Middle School

Stephen is not only a Math, Science, and Special Education teacher at Oak Valley Middle School, he is also the Special Education Representative for the District Committee to pilot and adopt new Middle School Science curriculum, and the Teacher Representative for the OVMS Falcons Foundation (serving as a liaison for teachers requesting financial backing for new and innovative projects). Stephen is no stranger to new and innovative projects, having developed several successful programs of his own.
While working in a classroom for students with moderate to severe needs, he developed and adapted lessons to include and require the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices, thus allowing his students without the ability to verbally communicate at all to finally have a voice in class lessons. As the students progressed, their ability to communicate outside of scripted lessons increased substantially, allowing them to begin accessing their environment without the tether of an adult who attempted to anticipate their needs.

Driven to broaden the impact of effective teaching for students with exceptional needs, Stephen began working with, and training, his fellow teachers so they could encourage students with exceptional needs to thrive in any setting. To accomplish this, he coordinated a team of special education service providers to create a needs-assessment for the teachers at Oak Valley. This helped them recognize the areas in which they could support teachers by providing them with skills and strategies they could use to support exceptional learners in their classrooms. Teachers are now reporting an increase in eagerness, competency, and confidence for working with students with exceptional needs.
Stephen Wittaker 2019 PUSD Teacher of the year
Stephen Wittaker 2019 PUSD Teacher of the Year

Coleen Montgomery, Rancho Bernardo High School

Coleen Montgomery 2019 PUSD Teacher of the YearColeen is a high school English/AVID teacher, teaching a variety of classes – English, Honors Humanities, AVID, and Critical Study of Mass Media. Regardless of the class, she always starts her Mondays with a “Text-of-the-Week.” Students analyze texts such as a Nike commercial or political statements. They then identify the text’s message (summary) and the author’s techniques (strategy). Through this most basic of analyses, students learn that analysis skills are not just reserved for “old’ texts (books) and they appreciate the ways the curriculum is made relevant to their lives. Her students ultimately become savvy consumers of media so that they can thrive in a world where they are bombarded with different messaging.Colleen Montgomery 2019 PUSD Teacher of the Year

Coleen’s efforts to help students connect with one another led her to the Human Library – a world-wide movement that’s “designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.” She has her students sit one on one across from each other and take turns being either the ”Book” or the “Reader”. “Books” tell their stories - their experiences - and then “Readers” have the opportunity to ask questions. Students truly engage with one another, have “a-ha” moments about their classmates’ challenges, and reflect on their own biases. 

Coleen’s students valued this experience so much, they hosted a Human Library at Bernardo Heights Middle School and spent three class periods connecting with students and learning from each other. Through Coleen’s efforts, students learn from one another’s stories, feel valued and safe, and demonstrate respect for each other’s differences.
Coleen Montgomery 2019 PUSD Teacher of the Year
Coleen Montgomery 2019 PUSD Teacher of the Year


Katie Wu 2018 PUSD Teacher of the YearSarah McCracken, Midland Elementary School 

Sarah is a second grade teacher and the school’s GATE Coordinator. Wanting to go beyond giving GATE students additional “challenge” work, she helped to implement her school’s GATE Educational Plans, similar to IEPs, working closely with the principal, counselor and each student’s parents to brainstorm strengths, gather areas to grow, and set targeted, measurable goals for each year.

Sarah McCracken 2019 PUSD Teacher of the YearSarah believes in Aristotle’s quote, “Educating the mind without the heart is no education at all.” She makes an effort, and takes pride in, knowing her students; greeting them, connecting with them, and engaging in their interests. She’s learned that by teaching the heart, you can reach the mind. Sarah recently incorporated into her classroom the idea of blended learning with student choice. You can see this the moment you walk into her classroom. As part of the District’s Voyager program, she has gained a depth of knowledge of how to establish a classroom environment that offers flexible seating, student choice, and technology tools to enhance learning and meaningful feedback. 

During their independent time, students have a choice when it comes to their assignments. Their “playlist” allows them to accomplish pre-determined tasks and assignments that utilize various technology tools, as well as collaborative conversations with their peers. All of this provides Sarah with useful and meaningful feedback. After MAP testing, she sits down with each student and together they set goals for the next trimester. This process is now implemented school-wide and allows teachers to see the personalized success and confidence their students display when they reach their goals. 

Sarah McCracken

Sarah McCracken




The Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is an equal opportunity employer/program and is committed to an active Nondiscrimination Program. PUSD prohibits discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, national origin, nationality, immigration status, ethnicity, ethnic group identification, age, religion, marital or parental status, physical or mental ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression or association with a person or a group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. For more information, please contact: Title IX/Equity Compliance Officer, James Jimenez, Associate Superintendent of Personnel Support Services, Poway Unified School District, 15250 Avenue of Science, San Diego, CA 92128, 1-858-521-2800, extension 2121, jjimenez@powayusd.com. For students, you may contact Title IX Coordinator Jamie Dayhoff, Director of Attendance and Discipline, Poway Unified School District, 1-858-521-2840, jdayhoff@powayusd.com

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POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT | 15250 Avenue of Science, San Diego, CA 92128 | (858) 521-2800