Being named Ventura County Teacher of the Year is one of the biggest honors local educators can ever hope to receive. Every year, a group of top education officials from the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) sneak onto the winning teacher’s campus to surprise them with the award, accolades and congratulations.
Usually the revealing moment happens in a classroom. This year, however, the surprise came at a school faculty meeting at Newbury Park High School, where Debbie Dogancay has been teaching for 22 years. Her friends and colleagues said she’s highly deserving of the honor.
“Debbie is an excellent teacher and advisor, not to mention a wife and a mom of two amazing kids,” said NPHS Principal Steve Lepire. “I don’t know how she does it all. Debbie always has a great attitude and never seems frazzled despite her heavy workload and many responsibilities.”
In addition to teaching 11th and 12th grade chemistry, Dogancay is a longtime student government advisor and coordinates the school’s International baccalaureate program, a rigorous two-year, pre-university curriculum for high-achieving students.
Dogancay said teaching is a complex and rewarding profession that involves much more than simply relaying information to students.
“There has to be more to that knowledge than just a disconnected patchwork of facts,” she said. “Students need to see connections between certainties to build enduring understandings, and knowledge needs to be rooted in the real world to construct a meaningful conceptual framework.”
Teaching methods need to evolve along with fast-changing technology faced by both students and educators, Dogancay noted. “Because we now live in a world with artificial intelligence, we need to assess in real-time, face-to-face, to know that our students are the voice behind their writing.”
VCOE officials said that Dogancay did not originally intend to have a long-term education career when she started out, but she realized making a difference in students’ lives was important to her. Dogancay said sometimes she feels like she’s learning from her students even as she’s teaching them.
“I see teaching as a calling in a way, and I find that the more I put into it the more I get out of it. I genuinely want to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Dogancay said.
Ventura County began recognizing outstanding teachers with the award in 1973. Candidates for Ventura County Teacher of the Year are nominated by their district, school or professional organization. The nominees write essays about their experience teaching, and the winner is selected by a panel of educators.
Now that Dogancay has been selected as the 2023 Ventura County Teacher of the Year, she is eligible to be considered for the California Teacher of the Year award. Three Ventura County educators have won the statewide competition in the past with the most recent in 2003.
Newbury Park High School, nphs.org.
Ventura County Office of Education, www.vcoe.org