WATSONVILLE — The Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE) has named a Pajaro Valley Unified School District educator of the year.

Pajaro Valley High School math teacher Ricardo Vasquez, in his third year on the job, said he has known he wanted to be an educator since he was in the seventh grade.

That was when his school placed him in all remedial courses because he was an English learner, but his math teacher saw his potential in that subject.

“He was the first person who bothered to understand me, not just as a student but as a person,” Vasquez said

Later, a high school English teacher moved Vasquez to advanced placement classes, he said.

“Looking back, she knew I could do it,” he said.

At the same time, Vasquez said he noticed his friends, who he said had the same potential, falling behind.

“They weren’t being caught like I was,” he said. “They didn’t have the opportunity to show their potential.”

Becoming an educator, he said, is his chance to stop students like he was from slipping through the cracks, and help them succeed.

In addition to his duties as a math teacher, Vasquez works with six students as an intervention teacher.

In that mentorship role, he stays after school to help them with their studies, or simply plays basketball with them.   

“I tell them, you’re going to do it because I care, and I want you to do better,” he said. “Education is one of those things where it’s really hard to catch everybody.”

Vasquez said he strives to build a sense of community in his class, and opens his door before school and during lunch every day, where various groups of students often come to eat lunch, play games and hang out.

“A lot of these kids think we live in the shadow of PV High,” he said. “My goal is to make PV a home for them.”

Vasquez grew up in Costa Mesa, and then studied math at UC Santa Cruz. He returned to that school to get his master’s degree and his teaching credential.

Vasquez tipped his hat to PVHS principal Alison Niizawa, who “lets me do all these crazy ideas” as he builds his program, he said. He also thanked his wife, who he said puts up with his long hours and occasional weekends with his students.

“When they asked me how many kids I have, I tell them seven,” he said. “One is my biological son, and the rest are you guys.”


In addition to Vasquez, SCCOE Regional Occupation Program Counselor Shari Williams received an educator of the year award, as did Santa Cruz Silicon Valley New Teacher Project Senior Director Cynthia Balthaser.

The honorees will receive a plaque recognizing their service to the county, and their photographs will be highlighted in the COE’s Annual Report.

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