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Teachers, Principal Win $10,000 Amgen Prize for Excellence


Five Ventura County teachers and a principal in Port Hueneme have won this year's Amgen Award for Teacher Excellence, which includes a $10,000 cash prize for each.

"What an emotional day it's been for me," Camarillo High School's Heidi Resnik said Friday. "The kids told me today they have such a huge level of respect for me. But it's because I have respect for them."

Resnik, an English teacher, and the others learned of their selection Thursday and will receive the awards at a dinner May 9 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

Other winners are teachers Janet Doman of University School in Thousand Oaks, Margaret Flippo of Mary B. Perry High School in Camarillo, Kathleen Suskauer of Maple Elementary School and Russell Walker of Los Primeros Structured School in Camarillo.

Amgen, which has given its educator awards for the past 10 years, also gave an award to Deborah DeSmeth, principal at Parkview School in Port Hueneme.

"There are no Pulitzer Prizes for teachers," said Barbara Bronson Gray, Amgen senior manager for community affairs who heads the foundation that provided the award. "For each of these people, there are hundreds of nominees who are very impressive, and it says a lot about Ventura County teachers."

Gray said nearly 1,000 teachers from across the county were nominated by parents, teachers and students. To date, the Newbury Park-based biotechnology giant has doled out $750,000 in awards to 75 teachers throughout the United States. In Ventura County, 52 educators have been honored, Gray said.

She said three independent judges chose the six winners based on written statements submitted by their supporters. Public and private school teachers and administrators are eligible for the award, Gray said.

Two decades after she was a cheerleader at Rio Mesa High School, Resnik said, leading teenagers to new intellectual challenges is what gets her going everyday.

"Put me in with second-graders and it's not me," said Resnik, who teaches English and Mexican-American literature at the high school. "Teenagers are so beautiful. They are just waiting to grow and waiting to blossom."

Before many of Resnik's students got her high-energy dose of instruction, they came through Walker's history class at Los Primeros Structured School a few miles up the Ventura Freeway.

Friday afternoon, the 49-year-old Ventura resident was being cheered by those who nominated him for the award with a luncheon at the school.

A teacher for 25 years, Walker said the Amgen honor is validation for his decision to teach, which came at the expense of a promising career as a concert pianist.

"It makes you realize that what you are doing is invaluable," Walker said. "And it reminds you you made the right career choice."

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