SUSD teachers return to their own elementary school classrooms

From left to right, Kimberly Corona and Karen Haas teach a 2nd grade class together at Rosedell Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Haas was Corona's fifth grade teacher at Rosedell. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal
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For many residents of the Santa Clarita Valley, bonds to the city and its community run deep.

The same is true for many of SCV’s best teachers who found their passion for education sitting in classrooms throughout the area’s five public school districts.

In fact, five elementary school teachers from the Saugus Union School District have found themselves back at the schools they once attended, teaching in classrooms they once sat in and working alongside educators they once admired.

Dan Kurtz teaches math to his fifth-grade class at Highlands Elementary School in Saugus on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Debbie Rocha, president of the Saugus Teachers’ Association, said these teachers know the community and return to the district because of the family environment it provides.

“The Saugus School District is still small enough to be a family environment, at each site, and district-wide,” Rocha said.  “We take care of our colleagues and have weathered some tough issues including RIF- reduction in work-force at least twice in my career. Working where you went to school is another connection that ties you to the community.”

These five SUSD teachers knew they wanted to give back to the district and to the community they cherished so much.

Kim Corona, Rosedell Elementary School

Kimberly Corona of Rosedell Elementary School teaches her 2nd-grade class on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

For Kim Corona, a second grade teacher at Rosedell Elementary School, teaching in the Saugus District was always a family affair.

“My mom is a teacher and my aunt was a teacher so it kind of ran in the family and came naturally to me,” Corona said.

After she graduated college, earned her teaching credential, got married and moved back to SCV, Corona applied for a position in the Saugus District where her mom was still teaching.

“I first got a job at Bouquet Canyon Elementary and actually that was the same school my mom was teaching at,” she said.  “When that school closed I had the opportunity to move to Rosedell.  It was close and some of students from Bouquet were being transferred over here and I knew some of the families.”

Kimberly Corona helps a student from her 2nd-grade class at Rosedell Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Now, Corona has been teaching at her former elementary school for eight years, a memory she often shares with her students on the first day of school.

“I have lots of good memories and I remember all of my teachers all the way through.  I went here from kindergarten to sixth grade,” Corona said.  “I always tell them about that on the first day of school and my own kids go here as well.”

When Corona first joined the Rosedell staff she worked alongside her fifth grade teacher, who is now a substitute, and a kindergarten teacher who taught at the school when she was young.

And although she does not teach in a classroom she once sat in, she still shares memories with her students from her time at the elementary school.

“It’s all so different now from when I went here.  It was retrofitted and they did a remodel,” Corona said.  “I get very nostalgic and I think it’s special to have the roots that go that deep and to share that experience with my students and it connects me to them.”

Dan Kurtz, Highlands Elementary School

Dan Kurtz reads with his fifth-grade class at Highlands Elementary School in Saugus on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Before he began his nearly 14 year career in the Saugus District, Dan Kurtz, a fifth grade teacher at Highlands Elementary School, wanted to specialize in sharks.

But, after he worked as a second grade teacher’s aide for his former teacher Pete Bland in high school, Kurtz knew he wanted to become a teacher as well.

“I was TA for his class and absolutely loved it.  I really got along with Pete and I really saw myself following his footsteps,” Kurtz said.  “My mom was also an office manager in this district.”

After he earned his teaching credential, Kurtz decided to return to the Santa Clarita Valley and, particularly, the Saugus District.

“I really favored the Saugus District,” Kurtz said.  “I connect well with the kids here in Santa Clarita because I was one of them.  So I really understand how they’re growing up, what they’re experiences are, what they aren’t exposed to and what they are exposed to… I can bring that into the lesson.”

He also wanted to work in the district because of its integration of technology in the classroom with Chromebooks and Flat Panels and because of its diverse student makeup.

Now, the fifth grade teacher is back in his elementary school, working with his former third grade teacher Mara Kavanagh and teaching students in his second grade classroom.

“You think it would be crazy but it’s really not that impactful because the school has changed so much so it’s really different that it used to be,” he said.  “The only thing that’s really unique is the three walls so we have the open pods.  To me that’s kind of normal where for others it’s not.”

Kurtz said he loves watching students gain confidence in themselves and their learning throughout the day.

“I also want to teach because I’ve had some really amazing teachers that really went out of their way and they really helped shaped the person I am today,” Kurtz said.  “I want to be like them and give the students the same experiences I had.”

Robyn Ortiz, Skyblue Mesa Elementary School

Robyn Ortiz, a fifth grade teacher at Skyblue Mesa Elementary School. Courtesy of Robyn Ortiz

When Robyn Ortiz was a student at UCLA, she discovered her desire to work with children as an elementary school teacher.

“My mother was a teacher for 39 years, with 25 of those years in our [the Saugus] district,” Ortiz said.  “I listened to her stories of struggles and successes, and when I was offered an opportunity to work with her students as part of a literature class at UCLA, I realized how precious children are to me and how life-changing this career can be.”

After she earned her teaching credential, Ortiz knew she wanted to return to her home district and teach alongside educators who inspired her.

“It means I can honor the education – both social and academic – I received as a student by passing those lessons on to my own students,” she said.

Ortiz found herself at her former elementary school when Skyblue Mesa’s former principal hired Ortiz due to her experience teaching upper-grade students English at Sierra Vista Junior High School.

“Initially, I had expected to teach at Skyblue for a couple of years and then transfer to Highlands so that I could teach with my mom; but I never found the ‘right’ moment to leave behind the students, colleagues and families at Skyblue I’d grown to love,” Ortiz said.

Robyn Ortiz poses with her fifth grade class at Skyblue Mesa Elementary School. Courtesy of Robyn Ortiz

The fifth grade teacher also felt connected to the school due to the memories she had on the elementary school campus and the events Skyblue Mesa still held for its families.

“I reminisced about my own experiences enjoying ‘after-school time’ back at school, eating ice cream and playing with my friends and my sister,” Ortiz said.  “I think those memories are also a part of the reason I stayed here.”

She also was excited to see her former fourth grade teacher, Maggie Chesnutt, at the school when she returned to Skyblue Mesa.

“Since I was teaching 6th grade at the time, I never had the chance to teach with her directly, but it was still heartwarming to sit with her during staff meetings,” Ortiz said.  “I also never got over calling her ‘Mrs. Chesnutt,’ even as her fellow colleague.”

Katherine Solomon, Emblem Academy

Monica Tatlock, right, and Katherine Solomon pose for a picture in front of Emblem Academy. Christina Cox/The Signal

Since she was a child, first and second grade teacher Katherine Solomon has had a special bond with Emblem Academy.

“My mom served on the PTA and later became the school’s librarian.  She retired just a few years ago from the district,” Solomon said.

Solomon also got her start in education at Emblem Academy when she began volunteering in her sixth grade teacher’s classroom when Solomon was in seventh grade.

“She was going back to teach kindergarten and asked for some help,” Solomon said.  “I ended up assisting her each year until I became a teacher.”

During this time, Solomon also worked in several afterschool programs at Emblem Academy when she was 18 years old.

This work at Emblem and alongside former teachers inspired Solomon to return to the classroom as a kindergarten teacher herself.

“I had amazing teachers who were always encouraging and passionate about what they were teaching,” Solomon said.  “Working with the best kindergarten teachers that I have ever met truly inspired me to want to teach kindergarten.  After I was hired by Saugus I taught kindergarten for the next 10 years.”

Today, Solomon still keeps in contact with her sixth grade teacher who introduced her to kindergarten teaching.  For her, the staff at Emblem feels more like family than colleagues.

“I feel very proud to work at Emblem.  As our principal, Mr. Baker, says, ‘Emblem is the best-kept secret in Saugus,’” Solomon said.  “I can’t wait for my baby girl to attend Emblem in the future.  I wouldn’t want her to go anywhere else.”

Monica Tatlock, Emblem Academy

Monica Tatlock, right, and Katherine Solomon pose for a picture in front of Emblem Academy. Christina Cox/The Signal

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Monica Tatlock knew she wanted to be a teacher from a young age.

“Each of my elementary school teachers clearly loved what they did,” Tatlock said.  “As I got older, I started helping in my mom’s classroom whenever I could, observing how she made each lesson engaging for her students.”

After graduating from college and earning her teaching credential, Tatlock decided to return to the Saugus District as a teacher at James Foster Elementary where she remained for 12 years.

In 2013, when it was announced that Emblem would reopen as a STEM school, Tatlock applied to transfer to the elementary school.

“The idea of teaching at my former school was intriguing… I spent the formative years of my life learning and making memories at this school, and it definitely impacted my desire to return and be a part of educating children,” she said.  “Also, the opportunity to work with Jon Baker as my administrator again was a huge selling point.  Jon had been the principal at Foster years prior and his passion and enthusiasm are contagious.”

When the school opened, the fourth grade teacher was reunited with several familiar faces and former peers that enrolled their own children at Emblem Academy.

“I was not surprised at how many of us ‘flew back to the eagle’s nest,’” Tatlock said.

Tatlock is also working with her former classmate Katherine Solomon and alongside her former fourth grade teacher Tiffany Desmond.

“She was, and still is, a hard-working, friendly, inspirational teacher,” Tatlock said.  “Three years ago, I was her daughter’s fourth grade teacher.  Two years ago, she was my daughter’s third grade teacher.  I am proud to work alongside her at Emblem.”

As she works around the Emblem campus, Tatlock said she often thinks about how the physical campus, classrooms and playground has changed since she attended the school in the 1980s.

“However, the same spirit is still there.  The students, staff and families still have that same Emblem pride,” she said.  “I am proud to still be an Emblem Eagle, this time as one of those adults that can impact future generations.  The staff collaborates to create a positive learning environment where student learning is the focus, and I love being part of that.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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