Sebastopol special ed teacher named Sonoma County Teacher of the Year
Students in Katya Robinson’s special education class at Park Side Elementary in Sebastopol were listening to meditative music and working on mindfulness Wednesday morning when education officials appeared with balloon and flowers. They were there to announce Robinson had been selected as the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year.
“I would like to thank all of my students. I couldn’t be teacher of the year without you guys,” said Robinson, 38, of Santa Rosa.
Her students applauded. “Aww, that’s so sweet,” said Verona Mitchell, a 9-year-old student from Forestville.
Steve Herrington, county superintendent of schools, broke the surprise news to Robinson and her class. He said reviewers at the county Office of Education were impressed with the teacher’s thoughtful, child-centered approach to serving her students. Robinson’s class, part of the West County Special Education and Student Services Consortium, has nine students with moderate to severe conditions.
“Katya gives her students and their families both hope and a plan of action to reintegrate students back into general education,” Herrington said in a statement.
Kathyrn Davy, consortium director and Robinson’s supervisor for 15 years, said the teacher goes beyond being passionate about the job — she lifts the bar and empowers her colleagues and students.
“Teachers like Katya who are so elevated in their thinking, they elevate us,” Davy said.
Robinson mentors and coaches behavioral assistants. She regularly reaches out to Sonoma State University, her alma mater, to recruit early childhood teaching candidates and students in compassion and philosophy classes with community service hours to complete to volunteer in her class.
“She always has two or three SSU students in tow, and it gets other teachers thinking, ‘I’d like that, too.’ It raises the bar,” Davy said.
Robinson was the first teacher in west county to use online program to collect behavior and academic data and keep track of student progress to inform her teaching decisions, Davy said. Her lessons promote digital literacy, and she employs sensory materials and standing desks.
Robinson said her teaching style is similar to Waldorf classrooms in that she aims to make learning feel natural.
Asked what challenges she faces as a teacher, Robinson didn’t hesitate to say it’s the politics of education, increased demands and classroom sizes and the stripping away of a teacher’s creative approach.
“Teachers right now are not empowered to follow their own vision, when it comes to teaching with all the standards and all the politics,” she said.
Amanda Reece, a speech language pathologist at the West County Special Education Consortium, said Robinson’s classroom is inviting not just for students, but for staff, too.
“Katya is incredibly collaborative with support staff and specialists in her program,” Reece wrote in her recommendation letter to the county.
Eryn Donovan, a behavioral assistant in her class, said she appreciates Robinson’s modern approach to teaching and her fun, energetic personality.
“I’m glad I could learn from one of the best teachers in Sonoma County,” Donovan said.
Outside the classroom, Robinson years ago created the Epic Stars Community Soccer program to provide a free place for special-needs athletes countywide to play with peers of similar abilities.
Robinson will receive a $3,000 check from the Community First Credit Union during a ceremony in September, as well as have the chance to compete statewide for the California Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a little bit surreal, especially when you spend all your time trying to focus on the kids…,” Robinson said. “But it’s nice to be honored.”
You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.