Novato special education teacher gets top county honor

A special education teacher who pushed to offer vulnerable students in-person support early in the coronavirus crisis has been named “teacher of the year” by the Marin County Office of Education.

Cindy Evans, who teaches a class at San Jose Middle School in Novato through the county office, received the honor in a surprise ceremony Tuesday morning.

“It’s been a horrible year, but at least we can bring in the parents and the students to be here,” said Evans, 51, of Terra Linda, addressing about a dozen colleagues, students and parents outside the school entrance. “The amount of work that you all are continuing to do to make this happen is enormous — I thank you so much.”

Evans evokes the highest ideal of a teacher “who gives it her all,” said Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools.

“In our county we have close to 3,000 teachers,” Burke told the group. “Cindy gets to represent all of them, all the good that they do for so many of our children. Our community owes such a debt to these amazing teachers.”

A formal recognition will take place at the annual Golden Bell Awards ceremony, which is scheduled for May 20.

Laurie Carvajal of Tiburon, whose daughter Caroline Williams is one of Evans’ students, said she credits Evans’ teaching style — and the in-person classes — with a rise in her daughter’s mood and enthusiasm after a slump over the summer.

“She’s focused,” Carvajal said of Caroline, 11, who suffers from multiple ailments that do not allow her to access distance learning. “Her brain is on now all day.”

She said Evans is able to keep each student engaged and “encourages conversation — even though physically distanced — between the students.”

Kristi Dahlstrom, a co-director of special education for the Marin County Office of Education, said Evans is “willing to do whatever it takes on behalf of our students. She’s just top-notch.”

Evans, a teacher at MCOE for 12 years, was instrumental in setting up a pilot program at the San Jose Middle School in the spring to test coronavirus safeguards after schools went into lockdown and distance learning on March 16.

“In this unprecedented situation where schools were forced to implement mandated distance learning for the first time in history, Cindy recognized the detrimental impact it was having on her students and volunteered to be a part of a pilot program that would allow students to return to a safe and re-imagined classroom environment,” Burke said. “These students have been engaged in-person learning since that decision was made.”

Burke said she has submitted Evans’ nomination for consideration at the state level.


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