It’s the kind of problem every county should face – a pool of teachers that is so deep, selecting only one for top honors seems too difficult.

The solution to the problem was to create a new category of recognition: Santa Barbara County Distinguished Educators Award, which was given to two local educators in a June 2, County School Board meeting.

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Honored were Kathy Bibby from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School and Randy Hohimer of Vandenberg Middle School.

“We created the Distinguished Educators award as a means of paying tribute to the successes and the dedication our truly outstanding teachers display every day,” said superintendent Bill Cirone. The county is only able to name one teacher to represent them for the State Teacher of the Year award. That honor went to Desa Madarino of San Marcos High in May.

Kathy Bibby is an agriculture and biology teacher at Santa Ynez where she has taught agriculture and biology for 21 years. She is also the advisor to the Future Farmers of America (FFA). She says her lifelong interest in agriculture came from growing up around livestock rather than from schooling, as classes in the subject were not offered when she was in high school.

“Teaching agriculture is enormously rewarding,” she says. “I am in the unique position to have many students enrolled in my courses for all four years of high school.” She particularly enjoys having the opportunity to watch her students grow “from shy, uncertain freshmen into confident seniors that have definite career goals.” “Ms. Bibby does so much for everybody. I don’t think she gets recognized enough,” says Brandon Bennett, one of her current students.

Kaitlyn Enticknap agrees, touting Bibby’s greatest qualities – her organizational and motivational skills. The students say whether it comes to the raw materials, the information or the emotional support a student needs, Bibby always has it on hand when and where they need it. They see her as always there for them. “She motivates me by seeing the potential in me,” says Enticknap.

“Being there” for her students is just part of what Bibby does – from supporting them when they think all is lost, to pushing them when they think their limit has been reached. “It is my job as a teacher to find the special talents that students possess and make them believe in themselves,” she says.

“She has a never-say-never policy, pretty much,” says Enticknap, who says when they get down Bibby makes them cowboy up. In addition, Bibby makes sure that her students support their community in much the same way she supports them by having students collect and donate to a wide variety of organizations and causes. She has worked on the Oak Tree Restoration Project and helped to develop the Blue Jacket Bonanza – a program that helps students unable to afford FFA uniforms to exchange a number of community service hours for their blazers.

Bibby believes that it is important that people know where their food and fiber come from and thinks that adding agriculture to the school’s curriculum is vital. It is for this reason that she is willing to put in so many hours writing, updating and submitting quarterly reports for grant proposals which have landed her program extra federal and state dollars.

Those dollars helped to create a program that is a standout in the county, but she didn’t think anyone but the kids noticed. She was totally surprised by the nomination, she says. The fact she teaches a subject that is more vocational than mainstream made her assume that she was out of the running for such awards. Just like her co-winner Hohimer, she isn’t in it for the awards.

Despite the more hands-on nature of the subjects she teaches, Bibby nonetheless incorporates into her curriculum many 21st century skills that the school is moving toward. From use of the school’s computer-driven plasma cutter, to the transferring and collecting of data to new problem solving techniques, students are hands-on with technology as well as with the plants and animals found on the school farm.

Bennett didn’t get a chance to participate in Bibby’s Ag Government class where students participated in an online stock market game. But, he says, “I watched some of my friends go from not fully understanding what it was all about to really getting into the stock market and how it works.”

“The profound impact Kathy Bibby has made on countless Valley students resonates deeply within our school and community,” says principal Mark Swanitz. “I can’t tell you how many former students I have met who sing her praises and give her credit for turning their lives around.” He says that there are “quite literally many hundreds of successful adults in our community and beyond who owe no small measure of their success to her.”

A stalwart and reliable professional, Swanitz finds Bibby to be organized and thorough – able to see the big picture beyond her own sphere of influence. Just as importantly, he says, she is open to compromise, always willing to step up, even when others are not.

“Ms. Bibby’s uncanny ability to connect with students from all walks of life and at all ability levels in inspiring,” says Erica Flores, a former student.

As the two honorees described their programs, there was much overlap in their approaches and philosophies. Not surprisingly, therefore, there was commonality in the accolades lavished on them.

Hohimer teaches seventh and eighth grade Special Day math and science classes. He conducts educational outreach at the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve and is a chess club advisor. Outside the classroom, he served for several years as the AYSO soccer coach for his daughter, Sierra.

Sierra, who attended the awards ceremony, was a bit shy when it came to being interviewed, but noted without hesitance that her dad is a pretty good coach, who both helps with her homework and mom around the house. All in all, she says, her dad is as great at home as he is in the classroom.

Hohimer was hesitant to take credit for his award, repeatedly noting that it is a reflection on all the other professionals he works with. It is his team approach that the nominating committee emphasized. The ultimate goal, says Hohimer, is to have students be as much an active part in their own success as their teachers are.

“I firmly believe that students need to understand that education is not a passive activity. They themselves are the central figure in determining their ultimate success. We guide, provide instruction, mentor and provide materials, but in the end, they are the ones who must learn.”

Much of his philosophy, Hohimer says, he acquired from his own peers and mentors at the school, and from them has developed and promoted the idea that in life there are always possibilities. It is those possibilities and not disabilities that should provide the focal point for teachers.

Each recipient was given a large, framed certificate to hang on their walls, but each made clear that the real reward comes in the successes of their students. But if you were to ask the students of either they would say, as Bennett did, “It’s really an honor and a privilege to have had a teacher like that.”