Paso counselor honored as teacher of the year

Keppi Serpa
Keppi Serpa

While Keppi Serpa often deals with students who have gotten in trouble, she said she always looks for positive qualities in the children she sees.

“Every child I see has incredible potential,” said Serpa, an elementary school counselor for the Paso Robles Public Schools. “I look for whatever talents I can find, no matter what difficulties they’re having.”

It’s that commitment to the positive that led peers to vote Serpa the Paso Robles teacher of the year.

“I’m not a teacher, and I’m teacher of the year,” Serpa joked. “So that makes sense.”

Technically, teacher of the year can be awarded to either counselors or teachers. While many counselors are accredited teachers, Serpa is not. The Madera native is a therapist, who contracted with Paso Robles schools before joining the staff full-time 10 years ago.

While she isn’t technically a teacher, Serpa does teach. Once or twice a year, she offers parenting classes, talking to adults about things like discipline, helping with homework and dealing with siblings. She also teaches children in the classrooms about things like boundaries, bullying and having positive attitudes.

As counselor in the district, she works at all six elementary schools, typically seeing up to 60 students a week. In addition to that, she has brought Cal Poly athletes in to speak to students, painted school benches, delivered Christmas presents to needy families, organized a lunchtime soccer league and hooked kids up with bikes at the Sheriff’s Department.

“I guess I have a lot of energy,” said Serpa, the mother of a 14-year-old boy who has gone through the Paso schools.

Her favorite thing about being a school counselor?

“It’s such an awesome job to be able to hang out with kids all day,” she said. “I’ve become part of the journey with them.”

Suzanne Williams, a fourth-grade teacher at Pat Butler Elementary School, said Serpa has a knack for working with young children and helping them cope with their problems.

“She really is amazing with them,” said Williams, who had seven students see Serpa this school year. “I have incredible success stories.”

When Serpa helps students, Williams said, she helps the learning environment of the classroom, which lets the teacher be more effective.

While some of the students have stories about difficult home lives, Serpa maintains a positive attitude, Williams said.

“She is always smiling and always supportive.”

Mike Teeple, a locksmith at the support services facility, was named classified staffer of the year.

State award for paso science teacher

Mark Fairbank, a chemistry and physics teacher at Paso Robles High School, was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for California.

Fairbank, who has taught in Paso Robles for 26 years, was one of two California teachers — and one of 103 nationwide — to get the award this year. The award comes with $10,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet President Obama.