Burbank School District Selects Teri Vargas as Teacher of the Year

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Burbank School District Cabinet Members surprise 'Teacher of the Year' Teri Vargas. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Administrators of the Burbank Unified School District assembled at Huerta Middle School this week to honor Teri Vargas as the district’s Teacher of the Year.

In recognizing Vargas, BUSD Superintendent Dt. John Paramo was delighted to give her the honor personally and said “Teri Vargas is a blessing to our ELD (English Language Development) students. We are lucky to have her in our district.”

Growing up in Burbank and attending Burbank schools, Vargas came back to Burbank and started teaching at Luther Middle School before leaving the district shortly, but returned to Burbank in 2014 and resumed her career at Edison Elementary School before moving to Huerta the next year in 2015.

Huerta Principal, Robin Hatch, praised Vargas, “She goes above and beyond to advocate for them so they receive the attention, resources and support they need to thrive.   She participates in every spirit day and provides a safe space for her students to come during unstructured times.”

Vargas has also been involved in the Burbank community, coaching volleyball, basketball, and softball. She has also volunteered for Burbank Vikings Youth Football and Burbank Raptors Youth Basketball.

Proud of her sports background, Vargas reminisced, “A former 6th-grade student of mine is now a junior playing volleyball at USC.  From watching her play during middle school, it was evident she was going to be a Division 1 athlete.  We were both big fans of USC and at the end of the year I wrote in her yearbook that when she made the volleyball team at USC, I promised to be at her very first game.  I fulfilled that promised, and it was so rewarding to see the joy and excitement on her face when she realized I was there.”

myBurbank asked Vargas a couple of questions about the honor:

Pictured L/R Dr. John Paramo. Teri Vargas, Robin Hatch Principal. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Vargas: I am very grateful, extremely honored, and deeply humbled to be selected as Teacher of the Year.  It is even more special as I am a product of the Burbank School System and I grew up in the City of Burbank.  Having the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of Burbank students, like my teachers did for me, and giving back to the community that helped shape who I am today has been very rewarding.  Being recognized for my passion and commitment to teaching just adds to my excitement of being chosen.

myBurbank: How have students reacted to the news? 

Vargas: The reaction of my current students is a very cute story. My students are second language learners and  when the representatives of the district came into my classroom to surprise me with the announcement that I won, my students had no idea what was going on.  They could sense the excitement but were a little nervous and confused because I started crying.  Once they understood what was happening, and what I had won, they were so very proud of me and showered me with hugs. 

It was also wonderful to have so many of my former students who are still at Huerta stop by my room all day to congratulate me.   Even more amazing to me was the number of my former students (some going back 20+ years) reach out to me on social media to congratulate me and share how I influenced them when I was their teacher.

myBurbank: What special things have you brought to the classroom that have singled you out for this honor? 

VargasAfter 33 years of teaching I still absolutely love what I do.   I work hard to make my classroom a place where learning is fun and a place that my students are eager to return to each day.  I am the teacher that will dress up in silly costumes, take a pie in the face,  get dunked, and do other similar things to motivate my students to do their best. 

Once a student enters my classroom they become my “kid” and I become not only their teacher, but their cheerleader, champion, and that one person they know they can always go to for support.  I try hard to be present in their lives and make them feel seen and heard.   I volunteer to chaperone their dances and other school activities, I attend their choir and band concerts, drive to their cheerleading competitions, and they often invite me to attend their extra-curricular activities. 

(Photo by Ross A Benson)

I continue to follow their endeavors through high school and college.   My years of experience have given me the ability to adapt to any challenge and that was very evident this year as the number of second language learners at my school jumped to unprecedented numbers.  This meant I was teaching larger class sizes of students that were speaking twelve different languages, and met the challenge head on.  I believe this passion and dedication to teaching played a big role in my selection.

With 33 years of teaching under her belt and the love, excitement and dedication to the students as strong as ever, it looks like the Burbank Unified School District gave the honor to the right person.

Besides Vargas, who has been honored as the District’s Teacher of the Year, the District also announced their individual site Teachers of the Year. They include:

2024 Site Teachers of the Year are:

Wendy Thompson – Bret Harte ES

Amanda Pumilia – Disney ES

Marbell Payne – Edison ES

Cagney Branam – Emerson ES

Ana Moen – Jefferson ES

Judith Toscano – McKinley ES

Michelle Fitzpatrick – Miller ES

Alicia Wollerton – Providencia ES

Ellen Craig – Roosevelt ES

Stephanie Carrillo – Stevenson ES

Brandy Ellingsworth – Washington ES

Teri Vargas – Huerta MS

Vicki Thalheimer – Luther MS

Jessica Wertlieb – Muir ES

Arin Movsessian – Burbank HS

Greg Everhart – Burroughs HS

Michelle Otis – Monterrey HS/Magnolia Park School

All will be honored at the April 18 School Board meeting.