The Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation announced its 2015-2016 West County Teachers of the Year Friday, March 4.

This year’s honorees are Nicole Ellwood of Orchard View School, Katya Robinson of West Sonoma County Education Consortium and Walt Hays of Analy High School.

Ellwood has been a special education teacher at Twin Hills for 19 years.  Walk into Ellwood’s classroom and one will see engaged students who respect their teacher. In her classroom, she focuses on helping students discover their strengths, supporting their ability to persevere through challenges and aiding them to become individuals with strong character and morals.

Within and beyond her classroom, Ellwood is constantly looking for new and inventive ways to reach out to students. One way is through community service. She believes students should learn how to give back to their community and so she works to provide service opportunities. One opportunity is the “10 Days of Giving” project that Ellwood started as a way to support families in need. All Twin Hills students are encouraged to donate and participate and, in doing so, learn about both leadership and community service.

Ellwood founded the Twin Hills’ first Rotary Interact Club where students learn valuable leadership and community service skills. She is part of the Twin Hills Leadership Team that led student trips to Washington D.C.

In 2014 Ellwood was named Comcast’s All-Star Teacher of the Year. She took pride in the award but was more excited that Orchard View received $20,000 for her excellence and dedication to her students.

Robinson works at the West Sonoma County Special Education Consortium, an alternative school for those with special needs, located in Sebastopol.  She has a Master’s in special education and has devoted herself to working with children with very special needs in kindergarten through second grade. Since she began, Robinson has brought adaptive and innovative technology into her classroom.  KickStart, Donor’s Choose and Google, items such as standing desks, iPads, Chromebooks, reading books and other mixed media are found in her classroom which are constantly utilized during lessons and by her students.

Three years ago Robinson’s vision to start an innovative sports program for kids with special needs came to fruition. With the help of her connections at Sonoma State University and a community of volunteers, Robinson started the “Rising Stars” program. Located at Sport City in Santa Rosa, Rising Stars gives any child an opportunity to play soccer, free of cost. On the field, children and family members get to play and learn together in fun, equality and compassion.

At Analy High School, Hays is considered a man of many teaching talents, leading Project Make, computer programming and AP computer science. The passion to teach those courses stems from his former life as a personal computer software engineer.

Analy’s use of technology in the classroom can be attributed to Hays’ hard work and dedication to serving both the students and his colleagues. In the numerous leadership roles he’s tackled, Hays has been integral in selecting new textbooks and revised curriculum for the math department. He has coached teachers in the use of technology in the classroom to better link students and parents with their instructors. Hays has been a key leader of the Analy High School Education Foundation, which raised thousands of dollars of support for the school.

In his “spare time” Hays also runs the ping-pong club at Analy, attracting more than 50 students to his classroom at lunch.

The mission of the Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation is to secure and annually distribute funds in the form of grants, scholarships and educational equipment or materials. Philanthropic activities are exclusively provided for the benefit of students in Western Sonoma County. The Foundation was established as an ongoing endowment fund that directs funds each year for educational purposes. For more information visit

~Submitted by the Sebastopol Rotary Education Foundation

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