After more than 30 years developing future agriculture leaders at Righetti High School, Miguel Guerra has been named one of six finalists for California’s Ag Educator of the Year Award.
Guerra was recognized as the Golden Owl Award South Regional winner during the state FFA Leadership Conference in Sacramento, held March 26 to 29, receiving a plaque and $ 500 to fund educational efforts.
He was selected from a pool of 40 programs throughout the South Coast Region, which stretches from Los Angeles County to Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties in the north.
His brother Luis, who is an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Santa Maria High School, received the Golden Owl for the South Coast Region last year.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with our students and staff,” Guerra said.
Guerra has been an agriculture educator in Santa Maria for 34 years, spending most of that time at Righetti. He currently serves as the chair for Righetti’s Agriculture Department and teaches ornamental horticulture, advanced welding and agricultural mechanics.
“Right now, I’m focusing on teaching our shop classes to help the kids who need to work after graduation,” he said. “We need a lot of plumbers, electricians, mechanics and jobs like that, so helping them get into those jobs is great. “
In his role as FFA adviser, Guerra helps students prepare for agricultural competitions and conferences throughout the state, estimating he spends as many as 30 weekends a year traveling to the various events.
“It takes a lot of work, but I have the support of my wife and family,” he said.
Students in FFA compete in a wide variety of agricultural contests, like livestock judging, tree pruning and speaking competitions. In his tenure, Guerra has produced more than 30 state champions.
“I’m really proud of my students,” Guerra said. “I’ve been blessed and lucky. Some people go a whole career without having a state championship.”
Although Guerra and his students have been successful at competitions, for him it’s about helping the community.
“I like to help other teachers from other schools. I’m more than willing to share my knowledge,” he explained. “It’s not just that I want to win, I like to back off and help new leaders develop.”
Many of Guerra’s former students have gone on to become agriculture teachers themselves, including his two daughters and son. Just last week, his daughter Amy was honored as a Santa Maria Hometown Hero for her work as an agriculture teacher at Righetti.
Guerra grew up in the area, having attended Benjamin Foxen Elementary School, better known as the Blochman school, in Sisquoc with his 10 siblings. He graduated from Righetti High, then Cal Poly before student teaching at Santa Maria High School. Guerra’s love for agriculture and education grew through his childhood spent in Santa Maria.
“Ag is what the valley is all about,” he said. “When you think about our town and state, it’s the No. 1 industry. Some might take that for granted, but it’s really important. If we could get everybody to take an ag class, they would see. “
In the classroom, Guerra believes it’s important to build trust.
“You’ve got to let them know you’ve got their back. We’re going to follow the rules, but I’m always going to be on [the students’] side, “he explained.” Once they see that, they often excel in my classes, where they might not have in others. “
Guerra and his students will be in Fresno for the April 9 FFA State Finals and Field Day events.