ESD 105 superintendent Kevin Chase presented the award during a surprise announcement as part of the Toppenish School District’s staff-wide pre-service orientation meeting at the Toppenish High School’s Performing Arts Center on August 22. Corona will serve as one of nine candidates from throughout the state for the 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year award, which is scheduled to be announced on Sept. 19 at Seattle Center’s Experience Music Project / Science Fiction Museum.
A 1991 graduate of Sunnyside High School, Corona wrote in his application materials that he grew up in a family of poverty and once struggled academically as a student who had learning gaps and problems with good attendance. Then he made the decision as a teen to work hard on his schooling in order to turn things around, and ultimately graduated from high school with honors and earned enough scholarships to become the first person in his family to attend college. He eventually obtained his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Washington State University in 1995, and his master of education degree in professional studies and teaching from Heritage University in 2013.
Corona wrote in his application materials: “Being a teacher is something that I always felt I wanted to be. Despite the advice of counselors and teachers who felt I could succeed in engineering, and despite the fact that I knew I could, I rejected those career choices for what I felt would be a more rewarding life.”
Corona began teaching at Kirkwood Elementary in August of 1996. He has been meeting the needs of his 3rd graders by designing literacy center rotations and by conducting individual student conferences in writing on a daily basis. He also developed math centers at the school, and creates and compiles grade-level math homework packets for the Kirkwood’s students. He also serves as a grade-level leader for his colleagues at the school, and has been a mentor for new teachers at Kirkwood. Outside of his role with the school district, Corona has taught adult English classes for the parents of Kirkwood’s students, and assists the youngest learners in the Toppenish community through the Nely’s Daycare licensed child care site he and his wife Nelida have operated for the past 15 years.
2015-2016 Kirkwood Elementary principal Shelby Robins wrote in Corona’s nomination letter: “He has excelled at teaching his students mathematics in the absence of adequate resources. He uses this enthusiasm for math to his advantage by encouraging his students to become competition mathematicians and thinkers. He inspires his students to perform at high levels regardless of their background and has led to higher levels of achievement for his students.”
Fellow Kirkwood 3rd grade teacher Clovis Schut also wrote: “He is a mentor who inspires all of us to create and implement new strategies. Jose advises us on methods to bridge academic language into student-friendly language. Not only does he educate and inspire our students, but he reminds our teaching team to be lifelong learners.”
In describing his connection with the primarily Hispanic and Native American population of children he now interacts with at Kirkwood Elementary, Corona wrote in his application materials: “They are students who, similar to me, have some of the same limitations I had when growing up. Not only do I relate to them, but in a way I feel that I am one of them. I acknowledge that I have the responsibility every year to advance them academically as much as possible and to inspire them to believe in themselves and know they can be successful.”
He added: “Adversity should not be an excuse that impedes growth. It should serve as the catalyst for advancement. As a teacher, I relay to students that one should not quit when things get difficult, but rather persevere.”
Corona is the third educator in the past 10 years from the Toppenish School District to be named the ESD 105 Regional Teacher of the Year, following Madeline Dunn in 2009 and Brenda Marler in 2007.
Corona was one of five candidates from area schools who were nominated and provided application materials for this year’s regional award. The other four teachers under consideration for the 2016-2017 award were kindergarten teacher Lauren Gassaway of Harrah Elementary School in the Mt. Adams School District, language arts teacher Stephanie Garner of Goldendale Middle School, science teacher Theresa Alvarez-Ziegler of Sunnyside High School, and 8th grade science teacher Margaret Carter of Wapato Middle School.
Members of this year’s regional award selection committee were East Valley School District Board member Adam McCracken, Selah School District Board member Kathy Lambert, ESD 105 Board member Wayne Nelson, and Yakima School District Community Relations director Kirsten Fitterer.