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Hammarstrom selected as SJ Teacher of Year
Sierra High Schools band director Richard Hammarstrom, Jr. and 2014-2015 county Teacher of the Year, flanked by a representative of Premier Community Credit Union and San Joaquin County Office of Education Deputy Superintendent James Mousalimas, right, are shown in front of a giant facsimile of a check for $1,000. The money was the cash prize that came along with Hammarstroms San Joaquin Teacher of the Year award. - photo by Photo Contributed

He was first in Manteca Unified. Now he is the number one in San Joaquin County.

Just several days after being bestowed the title of district secondary school Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015 school year, Sierra High School Band Director Richard Hammarstrom, Jr. was honored with the same title by the San Joaquin County Office of Education. Along with the recognition was a cash award of $1,000 from Premier Community Credit Union.

The announcement that came from the county about the award described Hammarstrom as a “passionate educator who helps students reach their potential.” From his professional peers at Sierra High, “integrity, compassion, diligence and teamwork” are just four of the words that they claim are synonymous with the teacher who has been with Manteca Unified for quarter of a century, 16 of which were at Sierra High teaching marching, concert, and jazz band.

“I knew in high school what I was going to do. I knew I loved music…. I had some chances to teach… I enjoyed it. I loved working with people. I put those things together with music, and it’s been life-changing,” he commented after he was presented with the county award.

Earning the “respect, admiration of students, parents, his peers and administrators, constantly going above and beyond for students” – whether that involved “providing life experiences by taking students to other countries, states, and colleges, or simply finding an instrument for a student who cannot afford to rent one,” embody everything that shows the utmost dedication, passion, caring and inspiration that have endeared Hammarstrom to all his students through the years.

They were qualities that prompted Sierra High Principal Steve Clark to comment, “I have often left his class thinking how fortunate the kids are to have a teacher who gives them every ounce of energy that he has, every day. The greatest compliment I can give Richard is the hope that my own three children will have teachers who are just as passionate, caring and inspirational as he is.”

Hammarstrom’s heavily red-lettered days during the 2013-2014 school year attest to all that dedication and caring for his students. During that time alone, the Timberwolves’ band went to more than 100 events. Late this spring, when he was interviewed by the Bulletin for a story in the paper, he was in the San Francisco Bay Area with 46 of his band students, plus six chaperones, and his wife Eileen. The long weekend field trip was an annual spring educational experience for his students. The Jazz Band was scheduled to perform at San Francisco’s Pier 39 that evening, followed the day after by a stop at Six Flags in Valley where the band gave a performance.

If anything, Hammarstrom has more reason than before to salute his wife with his county award. Making a short comment after receiving his school district Teacher of the Year plaque, he raised it in salute saying, “Babe, this is mostly for you because you talked me out of resigning.”

He said those words after noting that seven years ago, he had written a letter of resignation to the Sierra High principal. Before he handed in the resignation letter, however, he let his wife read it.

“You can’t do that,” was Eileen’s immediate reaction.

Hammarstrom later explained his reason for wanting to give up teaching at the high school level – to spend more time with his family. His plan was to continue teaching band in the elementary level where he hoped he would be able to cut down on his busy weekend band-performance schedule.

In the end, his dedication to the Timberwolves’ high school band was reciprocated a hundredfold. In a clear show of love and appreciation for the band director, his students and their parents and friends banded together and formed Hammers for Life. The Hammers in the team’s name is not for their band director. It was for his wife who was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Hammers for Life is the team’s fund-raising name for the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Hammarstrom’s wife said not that many people knew about her husband being named top high school teacher of the year in the county because “he’s too humble” and just plain “embarrassed” to blow his own horn. Being the proud better-half that she is, Eileen has been the one proudly telling others about the recognition he has recently received.

It was also at her prodding that Hammarstrom finally buckled down to utilize part of his cash award toward the purchase of a new phone.

“He kept saying… ‘can’t do it now, so many other things to it for.’ He just texted me and told me he bit the bullet and bought a new phone. That’s Rick!” Eileen happily announced.

The 2014-15 Teacher of the Year was announced at the 4th annual SanJoaquin County Classified Employee and Teacher of the Year Awards Celebrtion dinner sponsored by the Premier Community Credit Union, and the San Joaquin County Office of Education. The cash award came from Premier Community. The four teacher finalists received $400 each.

Next stop for Hammarstrom in the Teacher of the Year award is the state competition. His application will be submitted to the state for consideration as the California Teacher of the Year.

Since 1972, when California began recognizing outstanding teachers for their dedication and commitment, the county Office of Education has recognized 38 outstanding individuals as Teacher of the Year. Three of those went on to become California Teacher of the Year – Paulette Bogetting (1992), Jeff Wright (2001), and Art Coleman (2003).