Lucia Mar school district honors Nipomo High teacher, Harloe library tech

Nipomo High School English teacher Nathan Shields, with outgoing Principal Michelle Johnson.
Nipomo High School English teacher Nathan Shields, with outgoing Principal Michelle Johnson. Courtesy photo

Two Lucia Mar Unified School District employees — an energetic English teacher and a dedicated elementary library technician — were recently honored for their passion and commitment to students.

Nathan Shields, an English teacher at Nipomo High, was named the district’s Teacher of the Year, and Trina Clark, a library technician at Harloe Elementary, was recognized as the Classified Employee of the Year.

Shields, 35, has taught English for eight years at Nipomo High, where “he’s always seeking out a new and better way of doing things,” outgoing Principal Michelle Johnson said.

“He’s hilarious, he is warm, he loves to tell stories,” Johnson said. “He’s always trying to increase the engagement and participation level in his classroom.”

Shields enjoys watching his ninth and 10th grade students experience “ah-ha moments” when they become passionate about a subject.

In one lesson, students break into groups and choose a weighty subject, such as depression or cigarettes, to research and then share with their peers. He calls the exercise “step out of apathy.”

Shields said his fellow teachers “challenge me and push me and put up with me.”

“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “I am better because of the people that I work with.”

Clark started volunteering in Harloe Elementary School’s library when her two children were in second and fourth grades.

She started working there the following year after the previous library technician announced her retirement and urged Clark to apply — these jobs are few and far between, she said.

That was 13 years ago. Clark’s children are grown up, but she’s still there six hours a day, teaching children how to research information and write a bibliography, and organizing two fundraisers a year to buy new books.

Her goal is “to instill in children a true love for reading and a life-long quest for learning.”

During the recession, Clark’s hours were cut — though outgoing Principal Jim Empey restored some of them by using school money — and funds for books were reallocated for other uses. Clark said her fundraisers net about $3,000 a year for new books.

Lucia Mar no longer has a librarian to oversee the schools, so library technicians around the district rely on each other for resources and support, she said.

“If you ever come here in the morning you’ll see kids using computers that they don’t have at home,” Clark said. “There are kids finishing homework. There’s a group of fifth-grade girls who have a book club and read out loud to each other. That’s what the job’s all about.”