South Valley teacher nominated for award

Carmen Kotto's class at South Valley Middle School gathers for a photo in the classroom.

Eevery weekday morning before the official start of school, 26 students at South Valley Middle School in Gilroy take extra time to make sure their shirts are tucked in, their belts are adjusted, and their sweaters are straightened. Why? Because they know their teacher, Carmen Kotto, expects the best from them.
Kotto has taught sixth grade math and science at South Valley for the past eight years. In addition to her normal class schedule, she also teaches a 7 a.m. intervention-level class for students who are at least two years below grade level. All students attending this morning school class do so voluntarily, just as Kotto volunteers her time to teach them.
“That is where I can make the biggest difference in my students’ lives,” Kotto said.
The statistics prove her statement to be true. Kotto’s students have improved more in math in the past six years than any other intervention class in the entire Gilroy Unified School District.
Kotto’s fellow teachers are equally aware of her success. She was nominated for the Comcast Sports Net All-Star Teacher award, which can earn the winning teacher’s school $20,000. The award ceremony will take place at AT&T Park on July 8. Fellow South Valley teacher Patricia Torres-Pedroza submitted Kotto’s nomination.
“Carmen is the very definition of an all-star teacher,” Torres-Pedroza said.
South Valley Assistant Principal Patricia Mondragon said the funds would greatly benefit the school.
As a teacher, Kotto said she belongs with sixth-grade students. She admits she’s strict but teaches from her heart.
“Every one of my students knows that I love them and will do what it takes to get them to succeed,” she said.
Her students unanimously agreed.
“We work harder,” student Jason Reyes, 12, said. “She gives us extra homework so we can get better. It’s actually pretty fun; she makes it fun.”
Teaching them to have a goal, as well as a true desire to achieve it, is a vital element of Kotto’s teaching style. Each school year Kotto asks her students to envision their dream job, dream house and dream car.  The concept of long-range goals provides a positive motivation for her students.
Josiah De Santiago, 11, never considered college before attending the morning school class. Now he plans to go to college in Oregon or San Jose. “I’m proud of myself,” De Santiago said.
Fatima Morales, 11, another of Kotto’s students, feels she now has an advantage because she’s learned a lot of things. Her ultimate goal is to become a lawyer and defend the injustices of people and countries.
Kotto’s determination and dedication to fill as many gaps as possible for her students are just a few reasons her supporters say she deserves the All-Star Teacher Award. Student Leslie Ruiz, 12, gave her own reason.
“She’s the best person I know in the universe,” said Ruiz with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.
The voting period for the competition ends June 1. To vote for Kotto, go to