Meet the Former Marine Named Ventura County Teacher of the Year

  • 5/8/2019 3:00:00 PM

The Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) is pleased to announce that Jan-Erik Sand of Isbell Middle School in the Santa Paula Unified School District (SPUSD) is the 2019 Ventura County Teacher of the Year. Sand and his students found out about the honor today when his family, local dignitaries and members of the media made a surprise visit to his classroom. (Video and photos are available here.)


Sand currently teaches an innovative engineering course that uses project-based learning to give students skills and knowledge that will help prepare them for careers in STEM-related fields. Sand says having students learn by doing is particularly beneficial at a school where the majority of students come from low-income households and many have disabilities. “Project-based learning is a great equalizer,” he says. “I observe on a daily basis the meaningful academic communication and collaboration between students with special needs and students enrolled in multiple honors courses, all doing so with equal voice.”


Sand has made it one of his priorities to encourage girls to pursue engineering careers. With many girls losing interest in STEM courses during the transition from middle school to high school, Sand has spearheaded several initiatives to help reverse that trend. These include the creation of after-school clubs and leading an all-girls engineering team in a competition at Naval Base Ventura County.


Sand’s colleagues say he has a unique combination of subject knowledge and teaching style that makes him a standout in the classroom. “I often visit Mr. Sand’s classroom and routinely observe students collaboratively engaged in learning activities,” says Laurie Arnold, SPUSD’s College and Career Coordinator. “The classroom is organized meticulously, with bins of supplies and small tools stowed around the room. Classroom management is a well-oiled machine and the ever-professional Mr. Sand is always enthusiastic, positive, and encouraging to all students. Yet it is not his knowledge of content or work ethic that singularly establish his reputation as a teacher. His ability to connect with students in support of learning is second to none.”


One of his most rewarding moments as a teacher came when Sand got an unusual request from a student who had been born with a deformed hand. The student asked Sand if he could use the classroom’s 3D printer to make a new hand. Sand spent the next six weeks working with the student to design and create a fully functional prosthetic hand that the student now regularly wears to school.


As a former Marine deployed overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sand draws on his military experience to help support teachers who are new to the field. “Teaching, like serving in the military, can no doubt be quite challenging at times,” he says. “When I mentor junior teachers, I often find myself referencing a favorite poster on my classroom wall by multi-billionaire Art Williams. It reads, ‘I’m not telling you it’s easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.’”


Sand has also taught middle school math, science, history and English. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from California Lutheran University and his Master of Education from National University. He was selected as Ventura County Teacher of the Year by a committee that included Kirsten Barajas, last year’s Ventura County Teacher of the Year, and educators from the Ventura County Office of Education. Sand is now eligible to be considered for the 2020 California Teacher of the Year award.  


The dignitaries who were on hand to honor Sand today included Stan Mantooth, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools; Dr. Antonio Castro, VCOE Associate Superintendent for Educational Services; Dr. Ed Cora, SPUSD Superintendent; Ron Briggs, Isbell Middle School Principal; Christine Schieferle, SPUSD Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services; SPUSD School Board Members Michelle Kolbeck and Jeri Mead; and Todd McWherter, President of the Santa Paula Federation of Teachers.


More About the Teacher of the Year Program

The Teacher of the Year program is administered by the Ventura County Office of Education. Candidates are nominated by their district, school or professional organization. A panel of educators selects the winner based on the candidate’s essay, experience and an introductory letter from their sponsor. The first Ventura County Teacher of the Year was named in 1973. Additional information about the Teacher of the Year program, including a list of past honorees, is available by clicking here.