Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Makes First Two 2020 Teacher of the Year Surprise Announcements

Two desert-area educators will compete for California State Teacher of the Year along with two unnamed Riverside County teachers awaiting surprise visits later this week

INDIO & PALM DESERT – Jodi Fecera, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Palm Desert Charter Middle School, and Tom Buck, a digital media career and technical education teacher at Indio High School, both started their school days on Wednesday, May 29, as they would any other. Ms. Fecera was testing a new cookie recipe with her students and had just loaded the ovens with these sweet treats while Mr. Buck was preparing to record the morning’s news for the campus YouTube station.

Both teachers, who work in the Desert Sands Unified School District, were surprised by Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Judy D. White, who entered their classrooms with an entourage of colleagues, cameras, and family members with the news that they had been selected as the first of four 2020 Riverside County Teachers of the Year.

Jodi Fecera stands with Dr. Judy D. White, Scott Bailey and other colleagues

Jodi Fecera (center), a family and consumer sciences teacher at Palm Desert Charter Middle School, is named a 2020 Riverside County Teacher of the Year during a surprise visit from Dr. Judy D. White, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools.

The first surprise took place inside the French bistro-style room that serves as Jodi Fecera’s Foods and Hospitality classroom. Students in her class learn practical lessons that they will use both in and out of the kitchen for the rest of their lives. Experiencing new challenges, exploring their creative potential, and collaborating as a team, are just a few of the lessons that are cooked up for Ms. Fecera’s middle school students every day.

“Ms. Fecera has a recipe for student success that includes dedication, creativity, curiosity, kindness and fun,” said Dr. Judy D. White, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. “You can see how engaged and excited her students are in her classroom as they learn lessons in the kitchen and lessons in life.”

“This is a complete surprise and I’m honored to be recognized by the county. I’m fortunate to impact future generations by doing something I love – while this is a happy interruption, we also need to check on our cookies!” Ms. Fecera said with concern that the cookies in the oven may burn while the surprise activities continued.

The second surprise took place inside the Indio High School studio of Mr. Tom Buck—just as the daily broadcast of the school’s news report was set to begin. The surprise took place live on the air for the entire school to witness as it happened.

Tom Buck with Dr. Judy D. White and Desert Sands USD administrators

The second surprise visit was at Indio High School where Mr. Buck, the career and technical education teacher for IMPACT, learned he is also a 2020 Riverside County Teacher of the Year.

“I am honored to receive this recognition, and want to acknowledge my school and district peers for supporting my teaching. We truly are a family,” Mr. Buck commented. “I’m so thrilled to help students who may not have had a place to belong, to find a place to belong while making a positive impact on the world through digital media.”

“Through Mr. Buck’s video production class, he is able to make all of his students see that they are superstars. It doesn’t matter what role they play in the broadcast – whether talent, crew, director or anything else. Each student knows his or her role and is able to contribute to a high-functioning digital media team,” Dr. White said.

Mr. Buck is the career and technical education teacher for IMPACT—the Institute of Media Production Arts and Creative Technology. Mr. Buck began his educational career as an English teacher, but shifted to helping students develop skills in filmmaking, graphic design, audio production, broadcast, animation, and leadership in preparation for postsecondary education and careers in the arts, media, and entertainment industry sector. IMPACT serves more than 200 students each year with the focus on teaching digital literacy. Student-led productions continue to receive local, state, and national recognitions year after year.

The final two 2020 Riverside County Teachers of the Year will be announced later this week. Once named, the four teachers of the year will represent Riverside County in the 2020 California Teacher of the Year competition where at least one Riverside County teacher has been selected as a California Teacher of the Year in five of the last six years:

  • 2019 – Dr. Angel Mejico, El Cerrito Middle School, Corona-Norco USD
  • 2018 – Dr. Brian McDaniel, Painted Hills Middle School, Palm Springs USD
  • 2017 – Shaun Bunn, Ethan A. Chase Middle School, Romoland School District
  • 2016 – Michelle Cherland, Carrillo Ranch Elementary School, Desert Sands USD
  • 2014 – Jessica Pack, James Workman Middle School, Palm Springs USD

In May of 2020, the newly-named teachers of the year will be honored at the Riverside County Office of Education’s annual Celebrating Educators luncheon.

The Riverside County Teachers of the Year are selected from nearly 20,000 educators in the county. The rigorous application process requires candidates to spend time reflecting on, and carefully defining, their teaching philosophy. The county teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the county. Applications are then submitted to the Riverside County Office of Education, where an outside selection committee reviews the applications on each district candidate and selects semi-finalists. The selection committee then conducts interviews and on-site classroom visitations to select the final four candidates before the county superintendent announces the Riverside County Teachers of the Year.