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An A for Effort

O.C.'s 5 Teachers of the Year Exemplify Commitment


It would take an orchard of apples to honor these folks.

The Orange County Department of Education tonight will recognize five teachers for their stellar classroom work, innovative teaching approaches and unusual commitment to students at the department's 27th annual Teacher of the Year banquet at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

The five, selected in May from public schools and community colleges, will each receive $15,000 and are candidates in the statewide competition sponsored by the state Board of Education.

The honorees' accomplishments include helping launch a charter school, using personal injury as a lesson in overcoming adversity, and treating students with trust and respect.

"They instruct our children with 150% effort," said Felix Rocha Jr., a member of the county school board. "They are dedicated and shining examples of what a good teacher is in this day and age."

The finalists bested 41 others, who will share a $25,000 award. All were nominated by their district or school administrators.

The winners are Sheila P. Hillinger,Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo; Dorothy "Dottie" Kimble, Wagner Elementary School in Placentia; Dorothy LaLonde Stout, Cypress College; Robyn Rae Tunstall, Santiago Middle School in Orange; and Edlynn Zimmerman, Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton.

Robyn Rae Tunstall

Santiago Middle School, Orange


Tunstall, a seventh-grade history teacher, is credited as the driving force behind the school's conversion to a charter campus last year.

The charter, the first in Orange County, allows the school to operate independently of the district, setting its curriculum and budget under the auspices of a governing board comprising teachers, staff and parents.

As part of the charter, which Tunstall helped write, students must sign contracts that require them to wear uniforms. Parents also sign the contracts, agreeing to involve themselves in their children's education and volunteer at least 12 hours a year to the school.

"I was the one who pushed for it when the charter school movement began," said Tunstall, 53, who serves as the curriculum manager on the Santiago Middle School Board of Governance. "If we don't reform ourselves, someone will reform us."

The board in the past year has hired 17 teachers, reduced class sizes and added four classrooms and a seventh-grade science lab.

Edlynn Zimmerman

Sunny Hills High School, Fullerton


A tough student who routinely had arrived tardy for class, disrupted lessons, treated staff and students disrespectfully and wore a snarl under a thick layer of makeup taught Zimmerman a lesson 11 years ago about reaching her pupils.

Zimmerman, a 14-year English teacher, tried various disciplinary techniques, but they failed to change her troubled student's attitude until one day when the girl agreed to meet her during the lunch break. The two began sharing lunchtime together frequently to talk about life and dreams for the future.

The conversations proved to the student that Zimmerman cared about her and, in turn, the girl became motivated to take class seriously.

"Caring is a very definite key" for motivating students to learn, the 49-year-old teacher said. "If I don't show that I care about my students, they're not going to care about what I say about English."

That care is shown off-campus as well. She treated 12 students to a pizza lunch Tuesday for their involvement in a class project.

"I use different learning techniques, and I personalize the strategy," she said.

Dorothy "Dottie" Kimble

Wagner Elementary School,



Temporarily paralyzed after a 1983 skiing accident, Kimble struggled to regain walking ability. She still has minor disabilities, but her triumphs speak by example to her fourth- and fifth-graders at Wagner Elementary School in Placentia.

"What I did was model that we have to work with what we have," said Kimble, 54. "I'll be good at some things, and [other] things I'll have a problem with."

Through many years of recovery, her classroom dedication never dimmed.

"My enthusiasm for teaching is the same today as when I started as a 21-year-old in 1963," she said.

Kimble seems to have passed the teaching gene onto her daughters, Coreen Kimble, 26, and Jennifer Fletcher, 24, who teach in Orange County schools.

Sheila P. Hillinger

Trabuco Hills High School,

Mission Viejo


Sheila P. Hillinger is exuberant.

You can hear it on the phone. You can feel it in the classroom.

But most of all, you can see it in her students.

"She's the kind of teacher that makes you take a look at yourself," said John Gilmour, 17, a senior in her debate class. "She makes you look at what you believe."

Hillinger, 41, said the teacher-of-the-year title is a byproduct of dedication.

"We don't teach for this kind of award," said the 18-year veteran. "Recognition is such an honor, but it's not the motivation. You just want to be effective with the kids."

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