TCOE announces 2021 Excellence in Education award winners

Winners include technology director in Dinuba, special ed teacher in Tulare and head custodian for the Tulare County Office of Education

TULARE COUNTY – As the 2020-21 school year, and the pandemic, begin winding down, the Tulare County Office of Education is gearing up to celebrate those who kept students connected, engaged and safe throughout a challenging and ever-changing situation.

Last week, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire surprised three school employees, telling them they had been selected as 2021 recipients of Excellence in Education Awards. The winners are Administrator/Manager of the Year Michael Akins of the Dinuba Unified School District, Teacher of the Year Manuela Silveira of the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE), and School Employee of the Year Jeff Lemos of TCOE.

“During our presentations, it was heartwarming to hear each of the winners try to deflect the attention to other members of their teams,” said Superintendent Hire. “This speaks volumes about the character of these individuals and their care for their colleagues and those that they serve.”

Earlier this year, Tulare County school districts nominated 28 educators in the three categories—Administrator/Manager, Teacher, and School Employee of the Year. A selection committee of Tulare County business and education leaders individually reviewed and scored each nominee to determine the winners. Superintendent Hire is hopeful that the award winners, finalists, and nominees can be properly celebrated at an in-person awards breakfast in November.

Administrator/Manager of the Year

Michael Akins
Dinuba Unified

Director, Educational Technology and Instructional Program Analysis
Dinuba Unified School District

Michael Akins has been an employee of Dinuba Unified School District for 27 years, serving as a special education teacher, regular education teacher, and an educational coach for technology integration. For the past 17 years, he has served in district leadership as director of Instructional Program Analysis & Educational Technology.

Supporters refer to Akins as “the MacGyver of Dinuba Unified.” His passion for finding creative solutions to technology integration was more than evident this year as he served on the district’s COVID Task Force. He was a key player in seeing that all students had a Chromebook ready to start distance learning in the fall. To support teachers, he helped plan and implement a three-day virtual technology conference, followed by individual coaching sessions.

Akins is committed to the district’s vision to end generational poverty through education. To aid in this vision, he works closely with district departments, including college and career readiness and the high school counselor teams, to provide them with valuable data to support their students and continuously improve their efforts. He also contributes his expertise to outside organizations, including the Tulare Kings College and Career Collaborative.

Teacher of the Year

Manuela Silveira
Maple Elementary

Special Education Teacher
Maple Elementary AcCEL Program
Tulare County Office of Education

Manuela Silveira is a special education teacher with an extraordinary work ethic. She works with children in grades 3-8 at Maple Elementary in Tulare. Her career in special education began when she was a junior at neighboring Tulare Western High School and volunteered as an aide at Maple Learning Complex.

For the past 34 years, she has worked to develop happy, independent students, focusing on increasing their communication skills and abilities to take care of themselves. She believes that communication skills are key to their personal success. She regularly consults with a TCOE speech and language specialist, brainstorming ideas to support her students. In her work with students, she says, “The number one need is for them to know that I love and care for them. Once we establish this, everything else starts to fall into place.”

A parent of one of the students in her classroom said, “Where most would see deficiencies, Mrs. Silveira has seen potential.” The parent praised her for the progress she has helped her daughter realize—achievements that include walking, talking, and learning, despite contrary diagnoses from doctors.

School Employee of the Year

Jeff Lemos

Lead Custodian
Tulare County Office of Education

“Calling Jeff dependable would be an understatement,” said one supporter. “His character sets the example of how a TCOE employee should carry themselves.” Jeff Lemos is the lead custodian for the Tulare County Office of Education’s three main sites in Visalia—the Doe Avenue Complex, the Liberty Complex, and the 90,000-square foot Mooney Boulevard Administration Building and Redwood Conference Center.

Lemos schedules the full- and part-time custodians, and works alongside them to maintain, clean, and sanitize all three sites. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has developed protocols incorporating state guidelines for social distancing and disinfecting. He constantly asks his team for feedback, giving them a sense of pride in their important work.

Lemos’ “baby” is TCOE’s 24,000-square foot Redwood Conference Center. With movable walls, the center can be configured in dozens of ways—from smaller rooms for trainings to one large room for special events. Jeff developed the capacities for every configuration, whether they are set for classrooms, banquets, or student performances. He personally meets with event coordinators utilizing the conference center to develop plans to best meet their needs. Prior to the pandemic, the conference center annually welcomed over 30,000 visitors.


In addition to the winners, the selection committee chose two finalists in each category. The finalists in the 2021 Excellence in Education Awards program are:

Administrators/Managers of the Year

Exeter Unified School District

Tulare County Office of Education

Teachers of the Year

Tulare Union High School

Alila Elementary
Earlimart School District

School Employees of the Year

Exeter High School

Wilson Elementary
Dinuba Unified School District

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