Dave Zylstra
Hughson High School’s Dave Zylstra chosen as Stanislaus County Teacher of the Year

Dave Zylstra, who has spent 27 years as a math instructor and department head at Hughson High School, was honored as the 2024 Stanislaus County High School Teacher of the Year on Tuesday.

The announcement came during a luncheon celebration at the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom in downtown Modesto hosted by the Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Rotary Club of Modesto.

Zylstra was nominated for the award by Hughson High Principal Loren Lighthall, who said Zylstra “has a gift for teaching higher math” like AP Calculus and “does a great job of connecting with kids from all backgrounds.”

“Both of my kids who attended Hughson High have had him for three years, so I know firsthand how amazing he is,” Lighthall said. “You can’t run schools without teachers like Dave Zylstra.”

Zylstra was one of three finalists in the high school portion of the event out of an original group of 11 nominees. The other finalists were from Pitman High in Turlock and Ceres High. Teachers of the Year also were announced in three other grade levels – TK-3, 4-6 and 7-8.

A video showing each of the finalists in their classrooms was played before the winners were revealed. One of Zylstra’s students praised him for “helping you out no matter what question you have.” Another complimented him by saying “he makes it fun for us and makes sure we understand the material.”

Zylstra has taught almost every math course available at Hughson High in the past three decades. This year, he’s teaching Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Math 1 and a new computer coding class he started last fall.

“Even though he has been teaching for decades he is constantly improving his craft and reacting to new information and trainings,” Lighthall said in his nominating letter. “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 his job allows him to combine his passions of “math and working with youth.”

“The allure of shaping young minds and imparting knowledge to the next generation fueled my passion for education,” he 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.”

Zylstra earned a plaque and a $1,000 award from the Modesto Rotary Club Foundation. He also will be a nominee for the statewide Teacher of the Year award.

He was joined at Tuesday’s luncheon by his wife, Dolores; sons, Zach and Nathan; Hughson Unified Superintendent Brenda Smith; Assistant Superintendent Carrie Duckart; and Lighthall.

“We’re very proud of Dave, the work he does in the classroom and the difference he makes in his students’ lives,” Smith said.

Zylstra becomes the second Hughson Unified instructor in the past six years to be named Teacher of the Year, joining Crystal Case (2019) of Ross Middle School.