Social sciences educator called the ‘undisputed heartbeat’ of his department by colleague

Gregory Wolf, a social sciences teacher at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School (SYVUHS), has been named the 2024 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. 

The announcement was made May 4 at a ceremony held at the Santa Barbara County Education Office during the regular meeting of the County Board of Education.

An inspirational teacher who brings joy to learning — and the “undisputable heartbeat” of the social sciences department — Wolf teaches U.S. history, political science, and AP psychology and has served as the social sciences department chair, vice president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, and Associated Student Body (ASB) Activities Director. 

As the recipient from Santa Barbara County, he becomes eligible for the California Teacher of the Year award.

Wolf — who has been teaching for 10 years — said he was honored and deeply moved by the recognition.

“Teaching is a very demanding profession that entails a lot of personal sacrifice, but the kids make it more than worth it,” he said. “We have an amazing group of students at Santa Ynez High School, and I am extremely blessed to be able to work with them. They inspire me in unimaginable ways and I look forward to many more years of serving them to the best of my ability.”

Wolf was nominated by SYHS Principal Michael Niehoff for his outstanding work in creating a model 21st century classroom focused on inquiry-based learning, collaboration and high quality technology integration.

“Greg has created a very dynamic and engaging learning environment where all students are engaged, collaborating and producing amazing and relevant public work,” said Niehoff. “He has made a very successful transition and transformation from a traditional teacher to a learning facilitator.”

County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido said Wolf is an exemplary teacher who was chosen from an impressive pool of candidates and remarkable finalists.

“He embodies all of those qualities the most exemplary teachers possess. From top to bottom, from every corner of the campus, Greg is beloved, appreciated, and known as the ‘go-to’ person for just about everything. In one colleague’s words, ‘Greg is truly the full package when it comes to embodying the soul of an outstanding educator.’ We congratulate Greg and the entire Santa Ynez High School team on this momentous occasion, and look forward to learning more about — and from — Greg in the coming year.”

As Wolf accepted the honor, he said: “Every morning, a question I ask myself is: what can I do today to ensure that the experience of all my students is meaningful and positive? I believe that for all people in education, if that is what drives us, then everything else will work itself out.”

When asked about his teaching philosophy, Greg shared: “My class needs to be a safe space where all students feel seen and heard. My classroom experience is designed to put students at the center of everything. I aim to give students ownership of their own learning with the goal of facilitating engagement, development of critical thinking skills, creativity, and a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that will hopefully fuel every student’s desire to pursue success in their own lives beyond the classroom.”

Wolf’s colleague at SYHS, Chris Mullin, who was the 2003 County Teacher of the Year and California State Teacher of the Year, shared that Wolf shuns the “sage on the stage” persona, and puts the kids in charge of the learning. 

“In addition to teaching students, Greg is a highly respected leader and trusted guide amongst peers,” Mullin said. “Within our department, Greg is the undisputed heartbeat and he is never more at home than when he is co-planning some sort of activity or parallel instruction technique with another teacher. On breaks, we all congregate in Greg’s room, swapping jokes and successful lessons with one another. His room is a place of collegial laughter and a welcome respite from those occasionally challenging days of high school teaching.”

Andrew Schwab, Superintendent of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District, noted: “Greg is an outstanding teacher, student advocate, and educational leader. He embodies a student-centered educational philosophy, which is immediately evident even before entering his classroom. Students can often be found working in small groups outside the classroom door.”

Wolf, along with other award-winning teachers from Santa Barbara County, was introduced at SBCEO’s Education Celebration on Thursday, May 11, and will be officially honored at the county’s annual A Salute to Teachers event to be held in November at the Music Academy.

Feature Image:

Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year Gregory Wolf (center), of Santa Ynez High, is shown with Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District Superintendent Andrew Schwab (left) and SYHS Principal Michael Niehoff after winning the award. Photo Courtesy of SBCEO