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Kristine Clarke (center) was named an Orange County Teach of the Year. Photo: CUSD
Kristine Clarke (center) was named an Orange County Teach of the Year. Photo: CUSD

By Matt Cortina

Kristine Clarke, a science teacher at Dana Hills High School, was named Orange County Teacher of the Year on May 11 in a surprise ceremony.

Clarke was first honored as the Capistrano Unified School District High School Teacher of the Year. While Clarke was teaching in her classroom, a cadre of school and district officials gathered ahead and then surprised her with the award. CUSD Board President Amy Hanacek, Board Clerk Martha McNicholas, Superintendent Kirsten Vital, Capistrano Unified Educators Association President Sally White and Dana Hills Principal Jason Allemann were among those who honored Clarke, who has taught at Dana Hills for 11 years.

“You engage students in real and authentic ways in the classroom and that clearly has a lasting impact on their lives,” Vital told Clarke in the classroom. “It is an honor for me to be here to share this news with your students. Your experience, your accomplishments and your heart for teaching make you deserving of this great honor.”

“You are truly a classroom innovator offering your students a relevant education in whatever science class you teach and a pioneer in creating a new course,” Hanacek said. “You create learning experiences for your students that are obviously meaningful in so many ways and the respect that you have from those students and appreciative parents is obvious and warranted.”

Clarke has led “CSI-type murder investigations” as well as hands-on global warming research, according to a press release from the district. Clarke’s work in the classroom won the school a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation Research in Institutions program, which enables biotechnology students at the school to do college-level laboratory work in conjunction with California State University, Fullerton.

The Dana Point City Council also honored Clarke at its May 17 regular meeting.

Clarke will represent CUSD at the Orange County Department of Education Teachers of the Year program where four teachers will be selected to move on to the California Department of Education Teacher of the Year contest.

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