In just her fourth year teaching at Wilson Elementary School, Ger Thao has received special accolades from her peers by being nominated as an exemplary teacher which puts her in the final round for the honor of Butte County Teacher of the Year.
Thao was interviewed by a panel to help determine the winner of this high honor with the State honoree being announced at the Chico Heat baseball game in Chico June 2. Thao received VIP tickets to the game along with 40 tickets to Wilson Elementary to help support and honor her for this accomplishment with 500 seats dedicated to educators in Butte County.
On this evening, Butte County's first Teacher of the Year will throw the opening pitch at the game held in Nettleton Stadium, after being chosen from 13 teachers nominated by their districts, offices or schools.
While attending Chico State Thao went on to finish her student teaching in Dublin, Ireland. She taught a kindergarten class there four months before coming back to graduate at Chico State in 2010 with her Bachelors and in 2014 with her Masters.
She taught four years at Yuba City Unified School District sharing a classroom with Penny Michaelis. There, she spent her first year as a second and third grade combination teacher, her second through fourth years as a first grade teacher. She now teaches second through fifth grades sharing the classroom and duties with Michaelis still. Thao is an ELA Intervention Specialist, or Reading Teacher.
"We work so well together. We have a great relationship with the kids and have similar teaching styles. We know each others routines and expectations,"Thao stated. She also explained if one happens to be sick the other can cover in this their eighth year working as colleagues.Though both applied separately, it was former Wilson Principal Tracy Allen who saw the potential in hiring both and the two left after signing a contract with Yuba City and having their classroom ready.
Thao was tired of driving from her home in Oroville to Yuba City and decided she needed a change.
Gridley Schools are like home to Thao as she got her start here in kindergarten attending McKinley for first and second grades, Wilson third through fifth and on to Sycamore before spending two years at Gridley High before moving to Oroville with her family and graduating from Las Plumas High in 2006. While at Sycamore she played basketball and volleyball.
Thao received most of her education in Gridley and even attended Gridley's prom instead of her own in Oroville. While at Gridley High she played the flute under Director John Haeberle's instruction.
Wilson teacher Pam Wolf was Thao's third grade teacher and now the two work together.
Thao aways knew she wanted to be a teacher, following in her father's footsteps.
"I had amazing teachers in Gridley and I always knew I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up," she explained.
Thao had just received her tenure in Yuba City when she applied for the Gridley job but she is very happy she made the move.
"I feel all the teachers deserve this award for the work they do," she stated.
Wilson Elementary had never had an ELD coordinator before, only at the district level and Thao feels fortunate to have been hired for this position.
Wilson Principal Darcy Pollak asked Thao to take the training to learn the ELPAC testing which is completely new and Thao agreed.
She had always had Englisher learners in the classroom but never specifically with all the students learning to read. It is part of her job to monitor the students even when they have been reclassified to another classroom as English Proficient. If the student is not English Proficient the two teachers decide what to do to help them.
Students at Wilson are tested each year in English Proficiency and tested on listening, speaking, reading and writing. There are 148 students on the campus who are English Learners. The English Learners can be anywhere from Level 1 to Level 5.
Level one is beginning, Level two is early intermediate, Level three is considered intermediate, Level four is early advanced and five is Advanced. To be English Proficient, Thao explained a student must be at Level five and based on teacher input.
Thao comes from a large family, all primarily in Oroville which includes her parents, nine siblings and 19 nieces and nephews. The Thao family spends a lot of time together which is going to be tough on Thao as she is leaving Wilson School in June and Oroville in August as she heads to Hawaii to start on her Doctorate work in the fall which is a five year program.
Michaelis is quick to point out she will miss Thao, her teaching partner for the past eight years but she is excited for her as she heads to this new adventure.
"I'm so excited about this new journey. I am going to learn more to become a better educator," she said.
Thao received a fellowship which means her tuition, room and board and books will be covered the first two years.
"I'm going to miss my friends and family," she stated as she thought about the big jump she was making on this her first one-way trip ever.
"Gridley is still home to me," she explained.