Firebaugh High's 'Coach Mag' named Teacher of the Year

The Fresno BeeNovember 7, 2012 

Three men were recognized as Fresno County's top educators Wednesday night at the Saroyan Theatre during the County Office of Education's annual Educator of the Year Awards Ceremony.

William Magnusson, 52, was named the county's top educator and Teacher of the Year. Magnusson -- known as "Coach Mag" to players and students -- is in his 27th year at Firebaugh High School, where he teaches wood shop and coaches football and wrestling.

The two other nominees for the award were Nathan Whittington, a Sanger High biology teacher, and Tami Frediani, a fifth grade teacher at Maple Creek Elementary in Clovis Unified.

"It's an honor to be here and be recognized by everyone," said Magnusson, who added that he was "out of my comfort zone" because he was wearing a tie instead of a whistle around his neck.

Magnusson credited the award to his teaching methods and his wife, Debbie, who helps him balance his work in and out of the classroom.

"She's half of me," he said. "I wouldn't be able to do it without her."

Magnusson said he "coaches in the classroom and teaches on the field," because students are not always as motivated to learn in the classroom as they are on the field.

He will represent Fresno County at the California Teacher of the Year Awards competition early next year.

Edward Gomes, principal at Yosemite Middle School, was named Administrator of the Year.

Gomes was recognized for improving the school's student performance, which was at an all-time low and earned the school the dubious distinction as one of the top 66 worst schools in the state. He also lowered the school's rate of suspensions and expulsions, which were at all-time highs before his transfer from Jefferson Elementary.

Gomes said his formula on how to change schools was simple -- hiring the best possible staffers.

"It's putting amazing human beings in front of kids," he said. "Working with kids and teachers on a daily basis is just fantastic -- those are the real awards. This is just the icing on the cake."

The two other administrators nominated for the award were James Bushman, head of school at University High, and Wilma Hashimoto, associate director for Early Care and Education at the Fresno County Office of Education.

Salvador Cisneros, 51, an instructional aide and coach at Burrel Union Elementary in Riverdale, was named the county's School Employee of the Year.

Cisneros was chosen because of the unique way he inspires students to succeed.

The lower half of his left leg was amputated because of a tumor more than 20 years ago. Since then, he's been able to use that to motivate his students.

"I can challenge them to succeed," he said.

Other nominees for School Employee of the Year were Sergio Contreras, a custodian from Firebaugh, and Lea McCrillis, a Sanger Unified bus driver.

Contreras received the Bruce Barnett Award for his dedication and hard work.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6165 or

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