Michele Frantz recognized as county Teacher of the Year
Michele Frantz can still remember a piece of advice her father gave her while she was still in high school.
He told her when she chose what she wanted to do for a career, to pick something she would enjoy waking up for each morning.
“I’m so glad he gave me that advice, because now I love what I do,” Ms. Frantz, 47, told the News-Press during a recent phone interview.
Ms. Frantz was honored Thursday in Buellton as the Santa Barbara County 2020 Teacher of the Year. The first-grade teacher at Joe Nightingale School in the Orcutt School District has 24 years of teaching experience, including four years on special assignment, but her journey has been nothing short of remarkable.
After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with her teaching credential, Ms. Frantz took part in the Cal Poly Lucia Mar project, a one-year program in which newly credentialed teachers work with at-risk students and tutor before teaming with a seasoned teacher for the remaining portion.
“It was a fabulous experience,” she recalled. “It was really just a great way for me to prepare my own classroom.”
One year later she became a kindergarten teacher in the Orcutt Union School District. In 2011, she stepped away to become a teacher on special assignment where she helped out with various programs and different grade levels.
Then, in the summer of 2013, everything changed.
Ms. Frantz was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in June 2013.
“Life happens, and it really made me rethink what I was doing,” she said. “I thought about working towards administration, but life has a funny way of working itself out.”
The mother of three spent the next year or so going through chemotherapy and eventually got a mastectomy.
“I just remember going into surgery and feeling so supported and so loved,” she said. “It was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever been through in my life. I was so lucky to work with such amazing teachers. Not only are they amazing teachers but they are amazing human beings.
“It was the Nightingale and Orcutt families that helped me get through.”
After her diagnosis she wasn’t able to fully divulge her condition to her children, who were still attending Nightingale. Ms. Frantz said the teachers and staff went above and beyond to help her kids — whether it was keeping an eye out for them, trying to keep them in good spirits or just offering an extra hug.
“It’s what got me through,” she said.
After receiving a clean bill of health, Ms. Frantz continued on special assignment for two more years. During that time, she was able to reflect on her journey, work with other educators and re-evaluate why she entered the education field.
She is now in her third full year back in the classroom teaching first-grade.
Earlier this year, Ms. Frantz was named the Orcutt Union School District Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year. A few weeks later she was notified that she was a finalist for the county award and in mid-April a panel of judges conducting a classroom observation and interview with Ms. Frantz.
Her class of 27 first-grade students was aware that visitors were coming, but what was typically the noisiest part of the afternoon turned silent when the panel entered. The students assumed they were shadowing Ms. Frantz before taking over their own classroom, and offered advice to the group.
“It was really cute,” she recalled.
Ms. Frantz has received flowers from her colleagues and countless thank-you cards from the nearby community, but perhaps the biggest thrill was having her parents there when she was honored with the district award.
“To have them there to share that moment was pretty special,” she said.
Ms. Frantz will become the county’s designated representative on July 1, when she succeeds the 2018 Teacher of the Year Mandi de Witte. Her nomination for consideration as California’s Teacher of the Year will begin this fall and the state winner will move forward in the competition for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.
While speaking with the News-Press, Ms. Frantz was at a loss of words when asked what the state and national recognition would mean to her.
“This is just such an honor,” she said. “I couldn’t even imagine that.”
Ms. Frantz was one of several educators honored Thursday at an Education Celebration in Buellton. She will be honored again at the Nov. 2 “A Salute to Teachers” in Santa Barbara.
Also recognized at the Education Celebration were the 2019 Santa Barbara Teachers Federal Credit Union Crystal Apple Educator Award recipients.
Crystal Apple winners are chosen for their dedication, instructional and motivational skills, ability to challenge and inspire students, and their ability to interact with students, staff, and community members, according to officials.
The winners in the Certified Support Providers category were: David Ibsen, an adaptive physical education specialist in the Buellton Union School District; and Shauna Juarez, a teacher on special assignment in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.
Elementary teachers recognized were: Mary Cullen, a fourth-grade and extended day program teacher at Robert Bruce Elementary School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District; and Becki Gonzales, a third-grade teacher at Cold Spring School.
Secondary teachers honored were: Elise Unruh, theater and music teacher at both Carpinteria High and Junior High schools; and Peggy Kelly, who teaches English and Introduction to Education at Santa Ynez Valley High School.
Winners in the Classified Employees category were: Theresa Bruhn, of Santa Ynez School in the College School District; and Naomi Sanchez, a teaching assistant at Los Robles High School at Los Prietos Boys Camp.
Education Administrators recognized were: Hans Rheinschild, principal at Oak Valley Elementary and Jonata Middle School in Buellton Union School District; and Dr. Margaret Salah, deputy superintendent and pupil services coordinator for Goleta Union School District.