Merced’s top educators honored

Charlotte Okamura, 61, special education employee at Harmony Elementary School
Charlotte Okamura, 61, special education employee at Harmony Elementary School Merced County Office of Education

The Merced County Office of Education honored a Merced preschool teacher and a Delhi special education employee at a Tuesday night ceremony as the county’s top educators.

The Excellence in Education program, formerly known as Teacher of the Year, has two categories: one for teachers and one for other school employees. The ceremony was at the Merced Theatre, where the honorees and guests enjoyed short video clips and a dessert reception.

Out of eight nominees, Nancy Xiong, a preschool teacher at Franklin Elementary in the Merced City School District, was chosen as the top teacher in the county.

Xiong, 34, has been a preschool teacher for a dozen years. She currently teaches two sessions with 16 students each.

“I don’t do it for awards or recognition,” she said in a statement from MCOE. “I want to make a difference in someone’s life. But when you get recognition it’s pretty validating.”

Xiong, born and raised in Merced, is a Golden Valley High School grad and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State in 2004.

She said the first month of school is the most important for the little ones.

“It’s trial and error, and that’s what makes it interesting,” she said. “You think of new things to get little brains engaged as much as you can. What worked for your classroom last year probably won’t work this year.”

Charlotte Okamura, who works with special education students at Harmony Elementary in Delhi, took home the top honor out of six school employee nominees.

Okamura, 61, has worked for Delhi Unified for 33 years. She started at Schendel School and worked at Delhi Middle School before working at Harmony.

She primarily works with 12 students, kindergarten through sixth grade, focusing on reading, math and writing. She’s also the coordinator for the Homework Club and the Glow of Life community service project.

“I have loved my job since the first day,” Okamura said in a statement. “I would work for free. I love making kids smile. I’m just a people person.”