Teacher of the Year | Sierra High’s Zapata selected as TOY finalist | SierraSun.com

Teacher of the Year | Sierra High’s Zapata selected as TOY finalist

Katie Fagundes
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Sierra High School teacher Jill Zapata has been selected as the ninth Teacher of the Year finalist.

Zapata was praised for her ability to inspire her students. Nominators described her determination to reach all students and help them become successful at school.

“She has taught me things I have never been able to understand at any other school, and she shows she really does care for her students by sitting with us and taking time to really explain what she is teaching,” wrote one student.

Sierra High School principal Jane Loomis was proud to hear of Zapata’s nomination.

“Mrs. Zapata is an energetic and dynamic teacher,” said Loomis. “She is compassionate about teaching and learning and her students rise to her expectations.”

“This is such a great honor,” said Zapata. “I am thrilled at this recognition and excited to share my teaching experiences.”

On April 22, program sponsors Charlie Riley, owner of Truckee Hometown SEARS and Michael Gelbman, publisher of the Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza presented Zapata with a finalist award certificate and gifts from program sponsors.

“We are excited to recognize teachers that represent the many programs TTUSD has to offer students in the community,” said Riley.


Coming from a long line of educators, Jill Zapata always had a feeling she would become a teacher. When she was a high school junior, Zapata remembers noticing her peers in the classroom as they studied Shakespeare. While she was enjoying the nuances of the text, the students around her were bored. It was then she realized she wanted to be a high school English teacher.

After a bumpy start, Zapata eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Sacramento. She moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University’s credential program. Zapata chose the program at SFSU so she would have the opportunity to work with at-risk students.

After receiving her teaching credential, Zapata taught in some of San Francisco’s most difficult schools for eight years.

Zapata then moved to Wellington, New Zealand where she attended the English Language Institute at Victoria University and earned her Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) diploma and a master’s degree in applied linguistics.

Zapata has spent the last 12 years teaching in Truckee Tahoe Unified School District, including Cold Stream Alternative, Truckee High School and Sierra High School.


Zapata feels she has found her home at Sierra High and hopes to teach there until she retires. Zapata especially enjoys working with students who have not always been successful at school. She enjoys small classes and designing individualized instruction.

“I enjoy working with the at-risk student population,” said Zapata. “ …Working to create a place where they can be successful.”

Zapata’s students have felt the effects of her hard work and determination.

“I came to Sierra High School later this school year, it was my last school and I figured all the teachers would throw me out, just like each school I had been to before,” wrote one nominator. “But, Mrs. Zapata really opened my eyes to learning and made it fun; I actually get excited to go to school because she will teach and teach in all these different ways until I understand.”

Zapata is very grateful a student took the time to nominate her.

She is honored to be recognized and thinks the Teacher of the Year program is great for the community. Zapata feels fortunate to work in a community that shows so much support for its schools and teachers.

The community and students at Sierra High School are fortunate to have Zapata.

“I’ve never had a teacher who, regardless of the many times I disappointed them, believe in me so thoroughly,” said one student. “This kind of encouragement has made me an overall more responsible and productive person; every school needs someone like Mrs. Zapata.”


The Truckee Hometown SEARS-Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza Teacher of the Year award is made possible by the following sponsors: Mountain Hardware & Sports, Tahoe Truckee Brokers, Tahoe Dave’s Skis and Boards, The Office BOSS, Sierra Nevada College, McDonald’s Truckee, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Resorts. Next time you are in one of their stores, businesses or resorts, please be sure to thank them for their generous support of the Teacher of the Year program and their commitment to recognizing outstanding teachers in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee community.

The Truckee Hometown SEARS-Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza Teacher of the Year committee would like to thank this year’s nominators for sending in letters and emails supporting teachers. The Teacher of the Year will be announced in June.

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