Stockdale High School graphic arts teacher Matthew Dills and Zephyr Lane Elementary School STEAM teacher Renee Wells were named the 2015-2016 Kern County Teachers of the Year, officials announced Tuesday at an awards reception.

Officials at the county Superintendent of Schools Office, which facilitated the contest, noted that Dills and Wells display a strong focus on Career Technical Education, which K-12 is right now embracing.

Dills' experience with CTE comes firsthand. His teaching interests developed after he spent time designing his own clothing line at the Regional Occupational Center in high school. He later went to the California Institute of the Arts and produced a thesis film using stop-motion animation.

While volunteering at Bakersfield High School in its media arts program, Dills decided to alter his career path and become a teacher.

“Mr. Dills is an exceptional educator who cares about the success of his students and the longevity of the CTE pathway in the district,” Stockdale High Principal Ramon Hendrix said.

Dills has even set up his classroom in a way that challenges his students, KCSOS officials said.

“It’s not a typical classroom; it is a laboratory for creativity. Students in his class are challenged to think critically, creatively and thoughtfully every day from the moment they arrive,” KCSOS spokesman Rob Meszaros said.

Wells, a STEAM teacher at the Fairfax School District, travels throughout the 20 classrooms each week delivering a range of lesson plans from transitional kindergarten to sixth grade.

“She is an effective GATE teacher, STEM teacher, and is just as adept and comfortable with students who are in need of intensive intervention,” Fairfax Superintendent Michael Coleman said. “A tireless advocate for her students, Renee is not afraid to ask the hard questions at times to assure that our program is as effective as possible.”

Wells has been teaching for 25 years, and has always approached the career by having fun and providing students with the tools to be successful, Meszaros said.

The teachers awards were announced during a reception at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, where 53 Kern County teachers nominated for the award by their individual schools received plaques and certificates.

“You are the excellence in teaching,” KCSOS Christine Frazier said. “You’re responsible to care for our most valuable commodity: children.”

Wells and Dills are now eligible to apply for California State Teacher of the Year. Frontier High School Spanish teacher Lanette Cornford has been selected as an alternate if neither Dills nor Wells choose to apply.

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