All 21 TOYs will be honored at the annual Teacher of the Year Gala, this year being broadcast virtually
On the evening of Thursday, September 23, 2021, all 21 TOYs from each school and college district in the county will be honored at the annual Teacher of the Year Gala, this year being broadcast virtually on the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) website, on YouTube and on edTV (Comcast Cable Channel 32). This will be followed by the four finalists giving their three- to five-minute speeches (same speeches given in July). The excitement-filled evening will come to a dramatic close with the announcement of the 2021-2022 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year.
The four finalists were announced by Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey in June: Alisha Douglass, a ceramics teacher at Liberty High School in Brentwood; Kristen Plant, an English teacher at Miramonte High School in Orinda; Michelle Wilson, an English teacher at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon; and Christina Zenzano, an English teacher at Rancho Medanos Junior High School in Pittsburg. They were selected from the 21 Teacher of the Year winners within 15 school districts of Contra Costa County, Contra Costa Community College District and Contra Costa County Office of Education.
“It is my pleasure to congratulate the four finalists on the honor of being named one of the county’s top teachers,” Superintendent Mackey said. “All of the professional educators who are being considered for this prestigious award are to be commended and thanked for their professionalism and leadership, especially throughout this pandemic. These four are prominent examples of the great work teachers throughout the county have done over the last year.”
The newly honored teachers are recognized for their outstanding education achievements and represent the approximately 8,597 teachers educating close to 178,000 students in Contra Costa County’s public schools.
Alisha Douglass, a Ceramics teacher and Public Art and Design Academy Coordinator at Liberty High School, is the Teacher of the Year for the Liberty Union High School District. Douglass began her career as a teacher in Texas in 2006 before moving to Liberty High School in 2012. During her 15-year career as a teacher, she has helped students create public works of art for the City of Brentwood and helped students thrive, even during the pandemic.
“As a parent of a student in her Ceramics class, I am continually inspired by Alisha’s ability to transcend the ordinary. Her ability to transform a “hands-on” Ceramics course into a thriving distance-learning course has defied all odds,” Stacy Rivera, a parent of a student in Douglass’ class, wrote in a letter of recommendation. “Her students also recognize her efforts, as my daughter frequently mentions how much she enjoys her Ceramics class and her teacher. One of my daughter’s favorite things about Alisha is her compassion for helping students despite the difficulties presented by distance learning.”
Acalanes Union High School District Teacher of the Year Kristen Plant teaches English and Leadership at Miramonte High School, where she also coaches the award-winning speech and debate team. With 19 years of teaching experience, Plant began her career in education as a substitute teacher and instructional assistant. She then taught English and Literacy at Las Lomas High School before moving to Miramonte High School in 2006. Since that time, she has been selected as the 2016 California High School Speech Association Coach of the Year and led several school-wide and department teams.
“From spending her summer in diversity, equity, and inclusion meetings to devoting a class period to pursuing equity in our school, Ms. Plant has been an incredible ally to marginalized student groups,” Miramonte High School junior Isabelle Bennette wrote in her letter recommending Plant for the award. “Throughout the school year, our equity leadership class has created educational content for the entire student body, collaborated with other schools and administration to plan events, and worked to make Miramonte a safe, supportive learning environment for all students. None of this work would have been possible without Ms. Plant’s leadership, selflessness, and humility. Ms. Plant creates an atmosphere of empowerment, trust, and hope for all her students to grow and strive in.”
As San Ramon Valley Unified School District’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, Michelle Wilson is an English teacher at Dougherty Valley High School where she also teaches Advanced Placement Language and Composition. Wilson began her career as an educator 20 years ago as a high school English teacher in Manteca. From there, she taught in Stockton before moving to Campolindo High School in 2005. In 2010, she began teaching at Dougherty Valley High School. Wilson received the Yale University Educator Award in 2013 and has been a presenter at several professional development sessions for her colleagues.
“Within minutes of meeting Michelle, it is abundantly clear that you are in the presence of someone who is warm, excited, eager, and passionate. She exudes this energy around students as well, so it is no wonder that kids lucky enough to land on her roster find themselves falling in love with English class and leaving with a deeper understanding of themselves as readers, writers, critical thinkers, and individuals within society,” Fellow Dougherty Valley High School English teacher Rachael Hernandez said in a letter of support for Wilson. “While there are so many wonderful qualities about Michelle, one of my favorites is her creativity. Though Michelle’s job on paper says that she is an English teacher, students in her class know that they will get far more than mere English curriculum out of a year-long experience with Mrs. Wilson. She pushes students to think outside the box, to make meaningful connections to what concepts she is teaching with what is going on in the real world, regularly helping students see that what they learn in school often has far-reaching effects beyond the four walls of a school building.”
Pittsburg Unified School District Teacher of the Year Christina Zenzano teaches English Language Arts at Rancho Medanos Junior High School. Zenzano, who has been teaching for 16 years, began her career as an educator at the now closed Central Junior High School in 2005. From 2008 to 2020, she taught English Language Arts for 7th graders, moving to 8th grade in 2021. She received the Rancho Medanos Silver Assessment Award for three consecutive years for her students earning the highest middle school CAASP scores in the district for ELA.
“Her supportive energy extends to everyone, from the students, to the staff, to the parents. She is always willing to go above and beyond her call of duty. From staying late to design elaborate lesson plans to keep student engagement, to mentoring new teachers, to after school tutoring, and conferences with parents she never bats an eye or sees it as an extra burden,” colleague Sarah Jimison wrote in her letter of recommendation for Zenzano. “Her goal has always been to create a classroom that holds her students to high expectations while still creating an environment where her students feel respected, safe, and happy, and she does this every day. For many teachers distance learning has come as a great challenge, but for Mrs. Zenzano it has come as an opportunity to show her creativity in developing interesting and engaging lessons and curriculum. Mrs. Zenzano has kept the students engaged in the material while making fun activities, interactive slideshows, and even escape rooms.”
2021-22 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year Candidates
- Kristen Plant, Acalanes Union High School District, Miramonte High School
- Crystal Van Dyke, Antioch Unified School District, Mission Elementary School
- Scott McCurdy, Brentwood Union School District, Adams Middle School
- Louise Colbert, Byron Union School District, Excelsior Middle School
- Nicholaus Garcia, Contra Costa Community College District, Los Medanos College
- Sarah Buhre, Contra Costa County Office of Education, East County Student Programs
- Eden Kennedy-Hoffmann, John Swett Unified School District, Carquinez Middle School
- Ann Ajimura, Knightsen Elementary School District, Old River Elementary School
- Casey Bowles, Lafayette School District, Springhill Elementary School
- Alisha Douglass, Liberty Union High School District, Liberty High School
- Ryan Hussey, Martinez Unified School District, Alhambra High School
- Clare Fallon, Moraga School District, Moraga Elementary School
- Chelsea Ridenour, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, Diablo View Middle School
- Elizabeth McDonagh, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, Prospect High School
- Shauna Yeager, Orinda Union School District, Wagner Rach Elementary School
- Christina Zenzano, Pittsburg Unified School District, Rancho Medanos Junior High School
- Michelle Wilson, San Ramon Valley Unified School District, Dougherty Valley High School
- Patricia Facteau, San Ramon Valley Unified School District, Golden View Elementary School
- Susan Sisson, Walnut Creek School District, Buena Vista Elementary School
- Carlo Juntilla, West Contra Costa Unified School District, Richmond High School
- Christina Ferry, West Contra Costa Unified School District, Lovonya DeJean Middle School
Note regarding eligible participants: 16 of the 18 Contra Costa County school districts are represented. Each year, one instructor from Contra Costa Community College District is submitted to the program for their outstanding work with their designated college. Due to the larger number of students and teachers in their districts, West Contra Costa Unified School District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, and San Ramon Valley Unified School District are allowed to submit two Teacher of the Year candidates.
TOY Selection Process
The county’s TOY program is directed by the CCCOE. With such a high caliber of teaching professionals to draw from, the CCCOE’s TOY program uses a three-stage selection process, with a point and percentage system to determine the final candidate as follows:
I Application Screening:
In April/May, a committee representing the county’s education, business, and public-sector partners will meticulously review the applications submitted by the school districts. This committee independently rates each application. After the application screening and scoring are completed, four teachers will be selected to advance to the next phase as semifinalists.
II Classroom Observation and Interview:
In May, a committee of former County Teachers of the Year will observe the semifinalists interacting with their students. Immediately following, the committee interviews the candidates, discussing topics such as their teaching philosophy and techniques. The results of the two screening processes are then combined to determine the four finalists.
III Speech Presentation:
In July, the four TOY finalists will each give a three- to five-minute speech to another panel of a dozen educators, business, and public-sector representatives who will judge the finalists on their speech and presentation skills.
The County representatives are announced at the awards dinner gala affair. Local business and community organizations generously donate classroom grants, services and other items to each of the district winners. (See list of donors, here)
History of the TOY Program
In 1972, California began recognizing outstanding teachers, establishing the Teachers of the Year Program. This program is open to all teachers in public schools who teach pre-kindergarten through college. Contra Costa County has participated in the program since its beginning, when Joseph E. Davis, Jr., of the Acalanes Union High School District, was named the county’s first representative.
Since that time, eight teachers from this county have been State finalists: Janet Neill, San Ramon Valley Unified (1975); David Eakin, John Swett Unified (1981); William Thomas, Mt. Diablo Unified (1982); Janice Bergamini, Mt. Diablo Unified (1991); Shauna Hawes, Mt. Diablo Unified (2017); and Kelly Perkins (Mt. Diablo Unified (2019). The County has had four State winners: Mary Allan, Antioch Unified (2001); Janet Gower, Mt. Diablo Unified (2002); and William Pence, San Ramon Valley Unified (1999); and Rosie Reid, Mt. Diablo Unified (2019). Both William Pence and Rosie Reid were selected to represent California at the National Teacher of the Year level.
Follow Contra Costa County’s Teacher of the Year program on Twitter and Instagram at @CoCoSchools and through the hashtag #cocotoy.