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 Five of the Region’s Best and Brightest Honored as Teachers of the Year

San Diego County Teachers Recognized for Excellence in Education

Five local educators were named San Diego County Teacher of the Year during the “Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers”​ brought to you by Ashford University in cooperation with the San Diego County Office of Education. The annual event honored San Diego County’s public school teachers and was televised live on Channel 4 San Diego from the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego. This year’s telecast marks 40 years of honoring teachers in San Diego County.

The 2013-14 San Diego County Teachers of the Year are: 

  • Kerry Araiza, Pomerado Elementary School (Poway Unified School District)
  • Eileen Bagg-Rizzo, Santana High School (Grossmont Union High School District)
  • Bethany Chaffin, Reidy Creek Elementary School (Escondido Union School District)
  • Cynthia Jackson, Hidden Valley Middle School (Escondido Union School District)
  • Crystal Rienick, Valley Center High School (Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District)

The five teachers of the year will represent San Diego County in the California Teacher of the Year program, which will be announced later this year. Nominees for San Diego County Teacher of the Year were selected based on student achievement, teaching philosophy, familiarity with current issues in education and community involvement. 

There were a total of 45 teachers nominated for the 2013-14 Teachers of the Year. Nominees were selected from approximately 26,000 current teachers in the region. 

Since 1974, there have been 146 teachers named San Diego County Teacher of the Year. Of those teachers, 15 were named California Teacher of the Year and three went on to be named National Teacher of the Year. 

As a second-grade teacher at Pomerado Elementary School in Poway, Kerry Araiza believes teaching and learning should be fun. It is not unusual to enter her classroom to find kids dancing, digging for fossils or celebrating student learning and achievement. She also believes that building a strong sense of community at an early age is an integral part of educating the whole child. This is why her classes have helped raised money for epilepsy and have shown their patriotic spirit by becoming a pen pal with a major in the Army. 

The mantra in Ellen Bagg-Rizzo’s classes or activities at Santana High School in Santee is everyone is valued for their unique qualities and has something to contribute. As an English teacher and swim coach her focus is on educating all students at all ability levels. Her teaching experience includes the integration of special-needs students and general-education students in her class by modeling positive communication methods and teaching general-education students to appreciate and respect people who are different from themselves.

Bethany Chaffin, a first-grade teacher at Reidy Creek Elementary in Escondido, lives to impact small youngsters in a big way. Her goal is to not just educate her students’ heads but also their hands and their hearts. She engages students in creative ways by encouraging students to collaborate and communicate with their peers so they will not just learn the subject matter but also take the knowledge with them for years to come. Her teaching style adjusts each day so learning is fun and, most importantly, memorable.      

When you walk in to Cynthia Jackson’s eighth-grade class at Hidden Valley Middle School in Escondido, you will find a country divided. Students in her classes create their own countries complete with constitutions, executive branches and congress as well as their own national currency. Lessons like these not only help her kids feel empowered, it helps some kids deal with the division at home as well as giving them a sense of control over their lives both personally and academically. 

Crystal Rienick teaches 10th and 11th grades at Valley Center High School in Valley Center. Her success as a teacher comes down to connections: connections from teacher to student, student to student, student to the world, and student to him or herself. She was an “early adopter” of using technology in the classroom. Her students are now creating multimedia projects, researching topics of interest, collaborating with Google apps and are currently working on electronic portfolios for their senior projects.           

Rounding out the top 10 Teachers of the Year finalists were: David Cobain, Sweetwater High School (Sweetwater Union High School District); Samantha Greenstein, Earl Warren Middle School (San Dieguito Union High School District); Jay Posteraro, Mesa Verde Middle School (Poway Unified School District); Heather Smith, Willow Grove Elementary School (Poway Unified School District); and David Weber, The Preuss School UCSD (San Diego Unified School District). 

The “Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers” telecast will replay on Channel 4 San Diego  on: 

  • Saturday, Oct. 5 at 9:30 p.m. 
  • Saturday, Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday Oct. 12 at 9:30 p.m. 
  • Friday, Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. 
The telecast will also replay on ITV Channel 16 on: 

  • Sunday, October 13 at 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 19 at 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 27 at 2 p.m.  
  • Monday, November 11 at 5 p.m.

Sponsors of “Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers” included presenting sponsor Ashford University, Turner Networks, ESPN Networks, Sycuan Band of  the Kumeyaay Nation, San Diego County Credit Union, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, Sunshine Communications, Cisco, LEGOLAND, Sony, Discovery Networks, Diversified Protection Systems, U-T San Diego, and Madhouse Comedy Club.