By Elysse James
Capistrano Unified announced its three districtwide Teachers of the Year on Thursday, Feb. 3 in three uplifting visits to school sites where the teachers were given the great news.
A group of Capistrano Unified School District officials, colleagues, friends and family visited each school site Thursday morning to present flowers, hugs, and support to the newly minted District Teachers of the Year.
The winning educators were selected as their school site’s Teacher of the Year, making them candidates for the award at the District level. These three winning teachers go on to become candidates for Orange County Teacher of the Year, which will be announced later this year.
The Capistrano Unified Teachers of the Year are chosen by a panel that includes the Capistrano Unified Education Association, former Teachers of the Year, administrators from all levels, and Capistrano Unified School District staff members.
The candidates must fill out an application, respond to four essay questions, and provide their resume and two letters of recommendation. In the application, teachers describe their community service activities, personal teaching philosophy, describe the major issues in public education and provide a possible resolution, and describe their greatest accomplishment in education.
The 2022 Capistrano Unified Elementary School Teacher of the Year is:
Karen Kauo, Castille Elementary School
Castille Elementary School Principal Shari Nelson describes Karen Kauo as a teacher who inspires students and in and out of the classroom to be lifelong learners and to give back to this community.
The principal’s characterization is among a list of values Kauo integrates into her teaching and among the many factors considered in naming Kauo the Capistrano Unified School District’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year for 2022.
Kauo, who is Teacher of the Year for the second time, was given the honor with the entire student body, administrators and members of the board of trustees looking on.
This school year, Kauo is a multitiered support specialist and has been teaching kindergarten through fifth grade at Castille for the past 25 years.
“Surprised? Yes,” said Kauo upon receiving the award. “Honored and humbled? Definitely. Teaching in the district at the school 26 years, you see so many amazing teachers and you think, they are so awesome. I can only hope to be as wonderful as they are.”
Kauo is currently a member of the Instructional Leadership Team and is a Canvas Ambassador.
Outside of her job, she is the Head of Communications/Administration for the South Coast Lacrosse Club, the owner of Perfectly Grown Classroom, and CFO/Communications of a family woodworking company.
Kauo has been the teacher advisor of the school’s Environmental Club, Reading Counts Coordinator, Elementary Teaching Assistant Principal, and was on the School Site Council. She also has been the director of a summer science and invention camp called Camp Invention.
“She is always moving 100 miles a minute,” Nelson said. “Pedal to the metal, with student achievement in mind. She makes it look easy. She appears to be on cruise control, yet she is always leading the pack around every bend, always pushing herself and others with one goal in mind: student success.”
A parent of former students of Kauo’s wrote: “She has a gift of being able to connect to each student in her classroom, making them feel safe, supported and understood. As a result of such a loving environment, students dream big and perform to the best of their ability.”
District Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte said Kauo “constantly and consistently inspires students inside and outside the classroom to be lifelong learners and to give back to this community.”
She displays a willingness to “jump and do whatever has to happen, teaching whatever class (she) is needed to each year.
Capistrano Unified Education Association President Joy Schnapper pointed out that the district has 2,100 teachers. Schnapper told Kauo, “you are one in a million.”
Kauo described the current and former teachers at Castille as being like family.
“It has been a family since day one,” she said. “Castille is truly a wonderful place to be.”