Name dropping | Santa Cruz County Office of Education honors top spellers

[Santa Cruz Sentinel] Name dropping | Santa Cruz County Office of Education honors top spellers

The 2023 Santa Cruz County Spelling Bee champions were crowned with Bayview Elementary student Liesl Hildebrand taking first place in the Elementary Division and Gateway School student Sky Zeltser winning the Junior Division.

First and second place finishers in both divisions advance to the California State Spelling Championship in May at the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

Held by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, the 2023 Santa Cruz County Spelling Bee took place Jan. 28 at UC Santa Cruz. This year’s competition was the first event held in-person since 2020.

• Junior division: 1. Sky Zeltser, Gateway School; 2. Ryan Repp, Aptos Junior High; 3. Cooper Nelson, Aptos Junior High School.

• Elementary division: 1. Liesl Hildebrand, Bayview Elementary; 2. Ihan Kang, Westlake Elementary; 3. Aria Menon, Mountain Elementary.

Focus Agriculture selects members

Twenty community leaders have been selected for Class 32 of the Focus Agriculture program. This “first-in-the-nation” program is designed for community leaders to learn about agriculture in Santa Cruz County and the Pajaro Valley. Class 32 members include: Yvette Brooks, City of Capitola; Jim Brown, executive director, Arts Council of Santa Cruz County; Erica Padilla-Chavez, CEO Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County; and Krista Snelling, CEO & President, Santa Cruz County Bank.

The rest of the class includes: Tony Balistreri, chief financial officer, Salud Para La Gente; Elissa Benson, assistant county administrative officer, Santa Cruz County Administrative Office; Virgilio Ricardo (Ric) de la Cruz, owner, Seasons Living LLC/Marketing & Sales Manager, Westwind Memory Care; Evan Ditmars, development review planner, Santa Cruz County Planning Department; Lynne Drummond, director of quality & patient safety, Sutter Maternity & Surgery Center; Adrian Fischer, program director, CCOF Foundation; Darrie Ganzhorn, executive director, Homeless Garden Project; Lillian (Lily) Gerrans, interior designer, Lillian Gerrans Design; Megan Goddard, senior program manager, Google Maps, Google; Kevin Heuer, director of engagement and impact, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County; Leeann Luna, program director, Monarch Services; Jennifer Merchant, executive director, Grey Bears; Sarah Newkirk, executive director, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County; Anthony Pagliaro, chief philanthropy officer, Dominican Hospital Foundation; Phil Tavarez, bulk & fleet fueling manager, Sturdy Oil Co.; Darryl Wong, executive director, UCSC Center for Agroecology.

Laird honored

Special districts in San Luis Obispo County and across the state recognized state Sen. John Laird as their Legislator of the Year at an event held at the South Bay Community Center featuring local and state leaders from throughout the region.

Laird was honored for his steadfast support for the local service specialists responsible for providing water, sanitation, fire protection, parks, health care and other essential services and infrastructure to communities throughout California.

The recognition is awarded annually by the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) and was presented Friday at the San Luis Obispo County Chapter of the California Special Districts Association General Meeting in Los Osos.

Omega Nu welcomes eight

The members of Omega Nu recently welcomed eight new members to their Santa Cruz chapter. These women recognized during a Jan. 24 initiation ceremony are Hallie Anzalone, Jackie Becker, Kate Deaver, Stephanie Lusk Muccia, Alma Pisanis-Black, Tori Shaffer, Tamara Smith and Tiffany Verbica.

Omega Nu Santa Cruz is a volunteer group of more than 40 women serving our community since 1903 through college and vocational scholarships, charities and classroom materials for public elementary and middle school teachers.

Omega Nu’s 33rd annual Ducky Derby is scheduled for April 22 at Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz. For details about Omega Nu and the event, visit

CASA receives grant

CASA of Santa Cruz County announced it has received a $544,573 grant award from the California Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, to strengthen foster youth advocacy programs throughout Santa Cruz County. CASA of Santa Cruz supported 201 youths last year. The grant awarded to CASA of Santa Cruz is allocated from a $20 million state appropriation to California CASA, the statewide association that serves a network of 44 local CASA programs.

“We thank California CASA for this unprecedented grant,” said Executive Director Lynne Petrovic in a prepared release. “With it, we can now expand our services to youth in the Juvenile Justice Court and work towards providing an Advocate to every youth on probation in Santa Cruz County.”

CASA of Santa Cruz Cruz recruits, trains, supervises and supports CASA volunteers to advocate for children in foster care. For information about the organization, visit


The following local students were honored for academic achievement:

• Brenna Abel, of Felton, was named to the president’s list for the fall 2022 semester at Utah Tech University in St. George, Utah.

• J.T. Berard-Moore, of Santa Cruz, was named to the president’s list for the fall 2022 semester at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island.

• Robin Ludington, of Felton, was named to the president’s list for the gall 2022 term at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa.

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