Teachers of the Year
Meet Hughson’s 4 nominees for county Teacher of the Year

Four Hughson Unified instructors have been nominated to be Teachers of the Year at their grade levels as part of an annual countywide competition.

The nominees are math teacher David Zylstra of Hughson High, math instructor and athletic director Jayce Jepson of Ross Middle School, English teacher Claudia Vasquez of Fox Road Elementary School and second-grade instructor Kristyn Perino of Hughson Elementary School.

Each year, dozens of teachers are nominated in four grade levels from public school districts across Stanislaus County. A selection committee composed of members of the Rotary Club of Modesto and educators will narrow the nominations through a paper screening process, and then visit the classrooms of 24 semifinalists before trimming the field to the 12 finalists (three at each of the grade levels).

The winners will be announced May 7 at a joint luncheon hosted by the Rotary Club of Modesto and the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Hughson has an enviable track record when it comes to Teacher of the Year nominees. Two other district instructors have been honored in recent years -- Janette Schmidt of Fox Road Elementary, who was the recipient of the Jane Johnston Civility Award in 2022, and Crystal Case of Ross Middle School, who was named Teacher of the Year in 2019 at her grade level.

Here is more on each of this year’s Hughson Unified nominees:

David Zylstra, Hughson High School

Principal Loren Lighthall describes Zylstra as “an amazing teacher” who “does a great job of connecting with kids from all backgrounds” and “has a gift for teaching higher math” like AP Calculus. This year, for the first time, Zylstra is introducing students to basic concepts of computer coding in a fun elective called Programming JavaScript/Game Design. He is also the math department chairman.

“Even though he has been teaching for decades he is constantly improving his craft and reacting to new information and trainings,” Lighthall said. “He is committed to personal development and staying current with educational trends. He has a passion for math and is able to communicate to kids why they need to learn math and how it will help them as they progress in life.”

Zylstra said he knew from a young age he had “a calling to work with students.

“The allure of shaping young minds and imparting knowledge to the next generation fueled my passion for education,” Zylstra said. “The profound impact teachers had on my own life inspired me to pursue a career in teaching, driven by the belief that education has the power to improve lives.”

Jayce Jepson, Ross Middle School

Jepson teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math. Principal Mary La Rosa describes his teaching style as “engaging and effective” and said his passion for math is contagious, “creating an environment where students grasp the concepts and develop a genuine interest in the subject.”

“During our all-school intervention time, Mr. Jepson’s class is one of our most popular classes to attend,” La Rosa said. “I genuinely believe this is because he provides a safe learning environment for all students. His classroom is often open during break and lunch for students to play various board games.”

La Rosa also praised Jepson for his work as the school’s athletic director as well as a coach on the Academic Pentathlon team, which has finished first in the county five of the past six years.

“His ability to inspire, motivate, and instill a love for learning sets him apart as an exceptional educator,” she said. “His positive influence extends beyond academic achievements, shaping the character and future of the young minds under his guidance.”

Jepson said his parents – both of whom were teachers – provided inspiration and positive role models when it came time to choose a career.

“Growing up, my family and teachers instilled in me a simple truth. The truth is that education is the most important investment that somebody can make into themselves and into their future,” Jepson said.

Claudia Vasquez, Fox Road Elementary School

Vasquez works with students whose first language is not English. One of the many things that sets her apart, according to Principal Jeff Persons, is the consistent progress and growth her students make. “This is a result of her innovative instruction, deep caring, and unwavering attention to their needs and success,” Persons said. “She is constantly discussing the needs of her students and celebrating their successes.”

In addition to the impact Vasquez has on the Fox Road fourth- and fifth-graders she works with, she also is a resource for those on Hughson Unified’s other campuses.

“Her phenomenal dedication transcends our school as she serves as the district coordinator of English Learner programs and facilitates all ELPAC testing, redesignation, program monitoring, parent outreach and district professional development on effective instructional strategies,” Persons said.

Vasquez, herself, was an English learner many years ago after her parents immigrated with her family to the United States from Mexico.

“When I first started school in California I knew very little English,” Vasquez recalled. “It was definitely a challenge, but with the help of dedicated teachers and hard work, I was able to learn and excel academically.  As education opened many doors for me, I decided in college that I wanted to do the same for my community. I decided that through teaching I could affect the lives of many students who experienced similar challenges as I faced.”

Kristyn Perino, Hughson Elementary School

Perino has taught second grade for 11 years, providing her not only with the experience to help her students succeed, but also the kind of perspective that veteran educators accumulate.

“Many teachers have high expectations for their students, but figuring out how to turn those expectations into achievement is exactly what Mrs. Perino does,” praised HES Principal Megan Reisz. “She truly understands that all means all and it does not matter what each student brings to the table, as she works hard to build relationships that lead her to helping each student find their own success.”

Those relationships are more than just teacher to student, Reisz said.

“Families of students from her class from years back continue to seek me out to share the invaluable experience with their child in Mrs. Perino’s class was one of the best,” Reisz explained. “Parent volunteers keep coming in, long after their child has been in her class. Classroom paraprofessionals request to be placed with her, as they get to be a part of the instrumental work that she does. She builds and keeps strong relationships and lets all know that she will be their ‘forever’ teacher.”

Perino took a non-traditional route to becoming a full-time teacher. She began volunteering in classrooms when her own children were young. Later, she became a paraeducator. She thrived in that role for more than two decades before she decided to get her teaching certificate.

“I worked alongside some of the best educators in the profession at Hughson Unified School District,” Perino said. “I discovered that teaching was an integral part of who I was and made the decision to return to school knowing that by doing so, I would be instrumental in making a difference in the lives of children.”