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April 1, 2011 > Niles Elementary teacher selected Woman of the Year

Niles Elementary teacher selected Woman of the Year

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By courtesy of Jeff Barbosa

Sherea Westra, a second-grade teacher at Niles Elementary School in Fremont, was selected by Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) as his 2011 - 20th Assembly District Woman of the Year. The 20th Assembly District includes all of Fremont, Newark, Union City, Milpitas and parts of Pleasanton, Castro Valley, Hayward and San Jose.

Wieckowski has seen Westra volunteer at a number of events and is aware of her community activism. "She's one of those people who goes out of her way not to get noticed, yet she's always there helping out. She does a variety of activities for the community. My idea of Woman of the Year is, it should be recognizing sort of the unsung heroes," says Wieckowski.

Westra exudes excitement when relating how she was notified of the honor. "Mr. Wieckowski emailed me and then called a few weeks ago while I was away in Tahoe with my family and friends. He told me that he wanted me to be his 'Woman of the Year' and asked if I would accept. Of course I said 'yes,' although I had to have my friend pinch me to believe it!"

The annual ceremony took place on the floor of the State Assembly on March 21. "Taking it all in was remarkable and memorable. I don't do what I do for any recognition, so it was hard for me to share the news," she says.

Completely surprised and shocked to be recognized by a local politician for the work she does in the community, Westra adds, "I never expected an honor such as this, so my shock about it lasted until I walked down the floor of the Assembly. It was so cool!"

Honorees were escorted to a brunch in the basement of the Capitol where Westra met the Secretary of State, Debra Bowen. Then she was taken to the floor of the Assembly; when District 20 was called, Mr. Wieckowski walked her down the aisle to be congratulated and given a beautiful framed certificate. Family and friends watched on from the gallery. Then Westra was able to sit next to Mr. Wieckowski at his seat on the Assembly floor, which he shares with Tom Ammiano from San Francisco. She had a great view watching the remainder of the ceremony from there. "I had a blast. Mr. Wieckowski was a gracious host and then we all went out to lunch at a restaurant close to the Capitol," says Westra.

In 1987, Assemblywomen Sally Tanner and Bev Hansen initiated the Woman of the Year event to celebrate the contributions made by women throughout California. The Legislature invites one nominated woman from each Assembly and Senate district to come to the Capitol and be honored for their accomplishments.

"I am truly honored to represent AD 20 as Woman of the Year," states Westra. "I will continue to serve my community's local public schools as an involved citizen, Board member of the Fremont Education Foundation (FEF), Board member of the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association (FUDTA), and as a Niles teacher."

Among these aforementioned involvements, Westra is the past president of the Fremont Education Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to enhancing the educational programs and opportunities for Fremont schools. She was also a tireless supporter of Measure K, a parcel tax, recently passed by Fremont voters to provide more stable funding for education over the next five years.

Westra is appreciative of the support she has received from her husband, daughter, parents, fellow teachers and associates at FEF and FUDTA. "It [to serve the community] is what I was taught to do as a child by my grandmother. She often quoted JFK - "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Weickowski adds, "Sherea Westra is a great example of an educator who goes the extra mile to help her students, her teaching colleagues and her school district. The people of Fremont are fortunate to have a leader like Sherea who is willing to get involved in projects that will improve the educational opportunities for FUSD students."

Summing up her response to the recognition Westra comments, "There is so much more to be done for the students of FUSD, and I look forward to working with so many other dedicated citizens to make FUSD schools the schools of excellence that they are known for."

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