Kern’s Finest Teachers, Classified Staff Honored at Ceremony Tuesday

Tuesday May 7, 2024

It was an evening to remember Tuesday as hundreds gathered for the first-ever Kern County Education Champions of the Year awards dinner held at Hodel’s. The event was hosted by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) and sponsored by Valley Strong Credit Union. In the past, KCSOS has honored classified and certificated employees of the year separately.

“Because the success and well-being of our students is dependent on everyone within the educational system, we felt it was time to merge our efforts, honoring classified and certificated employees together in the same event,” said Malaika Bryant, KCSOS’s director of educator development.

During the ceremony, 59 teachers from every corner of Kern County were recognized for being named Teachers of the Year at their respective school districts. After being vetted by the selection committee, whose members screened multiple nomination documents and performed site visits, Stephanie Holladay, Cattrice Toles, and Charles Wallis rose to the top and were named Kern County Teacher of the Year finalists. The trio can now apply for the California Teacher of the Year program.

Eight Classified Employees of the Year were also recognized, including Alan Button and Tony Cervantes from KCSOS, Maria Vilchis De Bruno, Sherry Gonzalez, and Martha Garcia from the Lamont Elementary School District, Nora Cortez from South High School, Tami Weslow from Cato Middle School, and Rita Banks from Delano High School. 

Teachers of the Year finalists and Classified Employees of the Year honorees were each awarded a $500 cash prize.

Teachers of the Year

For the past 11 years, Stephanie Holladay has dedicated herself to perfecting the art of teaching. Whether instructing transitional kindergarteners or 2nd graders, she consistently stands out for her commitment to excellence and highly innovative approach to teaching.

Through her tireless efforts, she has transformed the traditional classroom into a family atmosphere, likening her students to a busy hive of bees. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a chorus of welcoming voices, as the students proudly declare, “Welcome to our hive.”

“This is my passion, and my joy is the students that I share this carpet with every day,” Holladay said.

With exceptionally high expectations for all her students, she fosters an environment where everyone is encouraged to reach their full potential. Beyond academics, Mrs. Holladay is known for efficiently working with students on developing crucial social skills, creating a well-rounded educational experience.

Stephanie Holladay

Holladay’s journey into teaching began later in her career, inspired by the dedication and compassion of the educators who shaped her own children’s lives. She says she is grateful to be able to share knowledge and learning with so many other students in her community. The selection committee was impressed with Holladay’s passion and teaching style, describing her as having the “wow” factor in her classroom. Many committee members commented that they would love to have her teach their own children.

“Every day is an opportunity to learn, and every day is an opportunity to serve,” she said.

Holladay’s impact extends beyond the classroom walls. She is dedicated to fostering strong partnerships with parents to ensure each student receives the support they need to succeed academically and personally. And, as a true advocate for the teaching profession, Holladay hopes to inspire others to take on the mantle of teaching.

“I would encourage those who have a heart for helping others, those who see the goodness in children. I would encourage them to take a chance to jump in and start their journey as an educator because they will be filled daily with gratitude,” she said.

Cattrice Toles instills hope in those who often lack it, encouraging students to stay on a positive path even when their environment tells them the opposite.

Known affectionately by her students as “Swaggy Teacher” for her unique style in both fashion and education, Toles is a restorative classroom teacher at Rafer Johnson Community Day School within the Bakersfield City School District. Throughout her six years in this role, she has represented what many students need in a teacher today: innovative, compassionate, empathetic, kind, but also strong, encouraging, and honest.

Toles started her career as a teacher’s aide and activity leader, providing reading intervention for kindergarten through fifth graders. In the afternoons, Toles coached various sports and helped students with homework. She often found students commenting on how talented she was at explaining concepts, which motivated her to pursue substitute teaching and then her teaching credential.

With a decade of experience in education and a multiple-subject credential with a specialization in mathematics, Toles is a versatile and accomplished educator. Her teaching career has taken her to various schools, including Curran Middle School and Emerson Middle School, before she found her way to Rafer Johnson Community School, working with at-promise students. As a restorative classroom teacher, Toles has adopted a ‘No Excuses, Just Solutions’ mantra, a testament to her strong and encouraging nature.

Toles’ educational approach is also deeply influenced by her personal experiences. She grew up during challenging times and was raised by a single mother who worked tirelessly to provide for her. Her exposure to adversity shaped her empathetic teaching style, enabling her to connect with her students on a profound level, particularly those who have experienced trauma.

“As I reflect on the pivotal stages of my life, her unwavering presence stands out as a beacon of inspiration and support,” said Dakota Colbert, a former student of Toles. “At 22, having transitioned through two distinct life stages, Ms. Toles remains a steadfast figure in my life. Despite the chances and challenges of growth and evolution, she consistently extends her hand, welcoming me into her realm of mentorship.”

Becoming a classroom teacher was not in his plans. But after serving six years in the U.S Army and later working with incarcerated youth in Los Angeles County, Captain Charles Wallis found his calling at Rosamond High School. In 2019, he was instrumental in starting the school’s California Cadet Corps program.

“My motivation to teach is to enable my students to become life-long learners, leaders, and community builders that will change our world for the better,” Wallis said. “I have one of the best jobs in the world teaching Cadet Corps.”

The skills developed in the program go beyond core academics. Through daily activities, weekend events, and summer training, Cadets learn lifelong skills such as resilience, teamwork, discipline, and respect, as well as physical wellness and mental agility, and citizenship.

“Education is more than just information, it has to be transformational,” Wallis said. “For those who accept such a challenge, you will not experience a better feeling than not only seeing students success in the classroom, but in life.”

Captain Charles Wallis

Wallis has embraced this challenge whole-heartedly and says his greatest accomplishments are the students who have needed special attention and mentoring.

“Classroom instruction has great importance,” he said. “But personal conversations and meaningful discussions seem to have the most lasting impact.”

As an instructor in the California Cadet Corps program, Wallis says he provides students a safe place to fail. It’s common and expected. More importantly, though, is when students try again until they can achieve their personal and program goals.

“In this atmosphere of grace, failure is never final,” Wallis said.  

Beyond his commitment to the Cadet Corps, Capt. Wallis extends his passion for mentorship onto the baseball field. With an impressive record of six league championships in eight seasons as head coach, he not only imparts athletic skills but also cultivates values of teamwork and perseverance.

In the words of one of his students, “Captain Wallis is not just a teacher or coach; he’s a mentor, a role model, and a guiding light for all of us.”

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.