Friday, November 27, 2015 • 11:05

Huge award for VC teacher

From left to right: VCHS Principal Ron McCowan, Crystal Rienick, Superintendent Lou Obermeyer, and School Board President Don Martin honored Rienick last week. Photo by Michael Crane
November 21, 2013
A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson reads:"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," posted above Crystal Rienick's white board. It's a mantra she's taken to heart over the course of 15 years teaching in Valley Center.

"I use that quote as an excuse in case administration comes in the room or any school board members and sees me jumping on the table, because we're enthusiastic!" said Rienick.

Her passion in the classroom is one of the reasons Rienick was selected as a 2014 San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a 2014 California State Teacher of the Year finalist. At the meeting of the Valley Center/Pauma Unified School District School Board last Thursday, Rienick was recognized for her incredible achievement.

"She's always engaging with students, whether it's the whole class or they're working on a project and she's moving around engaging one on one with students," said Valley Center High School Principal Ron McCowan in a video honoring Rienick. "It's really that student engagement that makes her a special teacher."

Rienick first came to the district in 1998 while she was still working toward earning her teaching credential. She taught 7th grade English and Gifted and Talented at Valley Center Middle School for nine years before coming to VCHS. This is her sixth year at the High School, where she has taught English in grades 9-11 and AP Language and Composition.

Although several teachers from our district have been selected as San Diego County Teachers of the Year in the past, Rienick is the first to be honored as a finalist at the state level.

"I can claim that for now, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time because our teachers are so amazing," she said. "I couldn't really wrap my brain around why they would pick me."

Each year VCPUSD gets to nominate one teacher in the district to be considered for the County's Teacher of the Year award. After Rienick was selected, she had to through an extensive application process that included writing seven essays and a nerve-wracking interview before last year's winners. Rienick was one of only five teachers to be selected as San Diego County Teacher of the Year.

Crystal Rienick accepts her San Diego County Teacher of the Year award at the "Salute to Teachers" ceremony presented by Cox Communications. Photo courtesy of Crustal Rienick
"It totally blew my mind," she said. "I told my students when to watch it because it was on live TV, and I said, 'but don't expect me to win or anything because these teachers I've been talking to can fold origami cranes with their toes and they're adopting orphans out of their garage.' They're ridiculously awesome people. I didn't think I had a snowball's chance, so I was absolutely shocked, not only to be a finalist, but to above and beyond be one of the winners."

Rienick was also fortunate enough to be selected as one of 11 finalists for the California State Teacher of the Year. In addition to being honored at a banquet in Sacramento this February, Rienick was given a tablet from Sony, money for her classroom from Cox Communications, and recognized on the field at a recent Padres game.

The county award also carries with it the responsibility of being an education ambassador for the next year.

"We communicate with the community as far as what's going on in education today, the strengths of education, and the changing face of education," she said. "Right now is a really important time because there's a lot going on."

Rienick is enthusiastic about the transition to the Common Core State Standards. She is especially excited about the emphasis on 21st century skills, face-to-face collaboration, and the fact that teachers of all subjects will share the responsibility of teaching literacy.

"It's not just an English classroom thing," she said. "Teaching our students to access the content through literacy — that teaching has to be taking place in all of our classrooms."

A San Diego native, Rienick attended San Diego State University where she graduated with her teaching credential. She currently lives in Carmel Mountain Ranch with her husband of nine years, Jameson, who works at the San Diego County Office of Education. In her free time she rides competitive dressage on her Friesian horse.

Rienick loves studying literature with her students because of all they learn about culture and people, but she views her job as more than just teaching a curriculum.

"The main word is connection. We are the connective force behind education," she said. "I think the one thing I would like my students to leave with is a feeling of self-worth, a feeling that they do matter, that they do have a future, that it's worth it to try hard and achieve their goals, and to set those goals high.

"I truly enjoy what I do. I enjoy it when the lightbulb goes off. I enjoy it when I can kid around with a student," said Rienick. "We have a good time. Just don't let that get around because I know fun is strictly forbidden in school."

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