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 2020-21 San Diego County Teachers of the Year Announced

Five 2020-21 San Diego County Teachers of the YearFive local educators representing schools from Del Mar, Ramona, Valley Center, central San Diego, and Lakeside have been named San Diego County Teachers of the Year. They will be honored formally during the 30th annual Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers, which will air as a pre-recorded show on Nov. 21 on Cox’s YurView network. Watch the announcement video.

The 2020-21 San Diego County Teachers of the Year are:

  • Arah Allard, Del Mar Hills Elementary School, Del Mar Union School District
  • Christine Hill, Ramona High School, Ramona Unified School District
  • Jose Melo, Valley Center Middle School, Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District
  • Paula Richardson, Wilson Middle School, San Diego Unified School District
  • Jay Tweet, El Capitan High School, Grossmont Union High School District

“While the teaching environment has changed over the last several months, the impact that teachers have on their students and on society has not. In fact, the need for learning and connection is even more critical as we confront this pandemic,” said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. “San Diego County teachers have risen to the challenge and continue providing students with the academic, social, and emotional supports they need to be successful now, and in the future. They are highly skilled, passionate, and determined individuals, and we are honored to recognize and celebrate them.”

This year, the honorees were notified via video chat by Dr. Gothold, their district superintendents, and their principals, and will be featured in the 30th annual Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers show in November. Produced by Cox Communications, this year’s show will continue the tradition of celebrating San Diego County’s 26,000 public school teachers. In addition to recognizing the five County Teachers of the Year, the show will delve into the learning environment during COVID-19, feature highlights from the show’s past 30 years of honoring the teaching profession, and demonstrate how community partners support education across San Diego County.  

“The pandemic has highlighted just how dedicated San Diego County’s teachers are to their students and their profession, and we want to continue to shine the spotlight on how amazing they are,” said Sam Attisha, Senior Vice President and Region Manager for Cox Communications. “The classroom may look different this year, and our show ‘Salute to Teachers’ will too. We are excited to be able to capture the passion, creativity, and innovation of our county’s teachers. Congratulations to our five county Teachers of the Year and all the district nominees.”

The 2020-21 County Teachers of the Year were chosen from among 40 nominees, who were selected by their districts for their commitment to students, teaching, and lifelong learning. (Get to know all the nominees through introduction videos.) The winners were selected following review of their applications and interviews by a selection panel made up of former County Teachers of the Year, school and county office of education administrators, and a parent representative. They were chosen based on student progress, school-community involvement, teaching philosophy, knowledge of current issues and trends in education, promotion and development of the teaching profession, school culture, and ability to serve as ambassadors of education.

The five Teachers of the Year will represent San Diego County in the California Teacher of the Year program. The state winners will be announced later this fall. Since 1974, 181 teachers have been named San Diego County Teacher of the Year. Of those, 22 were named California Teacher of the Year and three went on to be named National Teacher of the Year. 

Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers will be televised on YurView on Cox Channel 4/1004 and Spectrum Channel 4 on Nov. 21, and will replay several times throughout November and December.

In addition to the show’s producers Cox Communications and the San Diego County Office of Education, supporters of Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers include presenting sponsor San Diego County Credit Union, Procopio, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and The Mightier 1090.

Brief bios and quotes from the honorees, colleagues, parents, and students of the five San Diego County Teachers of the Year are included below. Available here are teacher headshots and recordings from the video notifications (long and short versions) that capture teacher reactions. You may view here a full list of the 40 nominees from which the five County Teachers of the Year were selected. 

2020-21 San Diego County Teacher of the Year Biographies and Quotes

Arah Allard - Grade 4, Del Mar Hills Elementary School, Del Mar Union School District

Arah Allard has been teaching for 20 years, starting as a band director and music teacher. She now teaches 4th grade at Del Mar Hills Elementary School in the Del Mar Union School District. As a teacher, she is constantly reflecting on and refining her practices, which has helped her remain effective while teaching remotely during the pandemic. “One of my guiding principles has always been to embrace change,” she said. She has made social and emotional learning a high priority and enjoys giving students projects focused on design thinking. Her passion for education grew out of a love of music when, as a young adult, she taught flute to a family friend. That experience changed her life and made her decide to become a teacher. “Now, music is my hobby and ever-present in my classroom, but learning is my passion,” she said. “I am a lifelong learner, always challenging myself to bring the best research-based practices to my students.” 

From Nadar Lwin, the parent of a student in Allard’s class: 

We are so grateful to have Mrs. Allard at Del Mar Hills Academy. She is a one-of-a-kind teacher who sets high expectations, provides equal opportunity for all backgrounds and abilities, and builds a community with love, kindness, and generosity. She gives opportunities to students to stretch out of their comfort zones in a safe and supportive environment while inspiring them to be the best version of themselves and lifelong learners.

From Arah:

What does this honor mean to you?

Being selected as one of the Teachers of the Year is an incredible honor. It is a privilege to represent teachers at a time when the importance of education has never been clearer and our important work is continually evolving.

As it relates to students, what are you most proud of?

I am proud of my students when they take ownership of their learning and growth. I am proud that my students care about each other and the world around them. I love that my students are curious, empathetic problem-solvers.

Christine Hill - Career Technical Education Engineering, Grades 9-12, Ramona High School, Ramona Unified School District

Christine Hill began her career as a biomedical engineer, a field in which she felt, as a woman, she was never taken seriously. After retiring from the field, she worked as a mathematics aide at a school for at-risk students. This experience was the turning point in her life, and she has spent much of her 14-year career in education dedicated to helping underrepresented student populations learn and achieve. To help students learn a challenging subject like engineering, Hill creates a safe environment for students where “they know they are loved, understood, challenged, and supported always,” which allows them to fail without fear. To encourage girls to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), Hill started at the school a program created by the Cal Poly Pomona College of Engineering called the Femineers. In three years, she has gathered outside funding, engaged professionals from the field, and seen 98% of her graduating seniors pursue their education in a STEM field. “We celebrate our failures, because only by failing can we learn. This approach to teaching allows all my students to go beyond what they think is possible, develop a love for learning in engineering, and enjoy a bright future with amazing opportunities.” 

From Theresa Grace, Superintendent, Ramona Unified School District: 

As a continuation high school mathematics teacher, she worked with the most disenfranchised students in our district. By the time they entered her classroom, they were defeated and did not believe they could learn algebra, and as a result, would never graduate from high school. Carefully and compassionately, she became the adult they could trust. She built up their confidence and taught them mathematics so they not only passed the class but thrived in the subject. Her students’ achievements increased dramatically each year, eclipsed only by the increased confidence each student gained from her unwavering support and their own success. 

From Christine:

What does this honor mean to you?

To be chosen as a Teacher of the Year and represent the amazing, dedicated, and passionate teachers of San Diego County is such an incredible honor. I am so proud to be counted as one of them. Teaching is a true calling and we teachers are a unique type of person. We don’t enter the field of education to climb the corporate ladder, or attain fame or fortune. We become teachers because we want to make a positive difference in the lives of every child that walks into our classroom, and to be recognized for doing what I love is truly humbling.

No one gets an honor like this on their own. It has been a long journey and my wonderful husband and three children have encouraged me through it all. With their help and the support of the awe-inspiring staff, administrators, and teachers, not just at Ramona High School, but in our entire district, I have had a constant source of inspiration, mentoring, and encouragement, so I share with them all this recognition.

As it relates to you students, what are you most proud of?

One of my greatest rewards as a teacher is when a student tells me that they love my classes because they know that they are loved, understood, challenged, and always supported. I am very proud to say our engineering classroom is our home, we are family and work together to make sure that everyone achieves their highest potential. My students are my kids, and I care deeply about all of them. Creating this safe atmosphere allows students to concentrate on learning the demanding skills required in the engineering field. Through perseverance, hard work, and dedication, students in my classes learn they need to struggle in order to achieve. Knowing that I believe in them allows my students to step out of their comfort zone, achieve more, and most importantly, believe in themselves.

Jose Melo - Dual Language Social Studies and English Language Development, Grades 6-8, Valley Center Middle School, Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District

Jose Melo focuses on building strong relationships with students, in the classroom and in the community. In addition to his work as a dual language teacher at Valley Center Middle School in the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District, he supports students of migrant families, serves as a mentor and tutor to students from the San Pasqual Reservation, mentors new teachers, serves on the school site council, organizes parent workshops, and coordinates a Saturday School program focused on community collaboration and positive behavioral interventions and supports. Melo, who worked picking fruit as a teenager, found his love for teaching after participating in a program that recruits college students with migrant backgrounds to work as teacher assistants. This experience highlighted the need for Spanish-speaking teachers who understand the challenges students from migrant families and those learning English face. “Every student has a story to tell,” he said. “Students should be empowered to share their stories and life experiences with their classmates and teachers because it allows students to develop a better understanding of who they are and the bonds that unite them with others.” 

From John Peterson, chief business officer and former principal at Valley Center Middle School: 

Jose is a consummate professional, caring educator so dedicated to his craft that he can’t help but inspire his colleagues to become better educators.

From Jose

What does this honor mean to you?

It is an honor to be selected as one of the five San Diego County Teachers of the Year.  As an educator, I have the privilege of working with talented students and passionate educators who empower and inspire me every single day. I became an educator because I enjoy working with students and providing them with rich learning opportunities that allow them to hone their leadership skills and acquire new knowledge all while developing a better understanding of who they are as individuals. My goal as a teacher is to connect with every student who enters my classroom and work with families to support students. I am the teacher I am today thanks to all the wonderful individuals that have supported me in my journey. I want to thank my former teachers, college professors, mentors, family, but most importantly my students for all the valuable lessons they have taught me. As a San Diego County Teacher of the Year, I plan to continue advocating for students and educators and inspiring others to enter this wonderful profession. It is a privilege to be a public school teacher and serve local students and families.   

As it relates to your students, what are you most proud of? 

I am my students’ biggest cheerleader because I know their true potential. Watching my students challenge themselves, whether it is participating in a speech competition, playing a new sport, or joining a school club, brings joy to me because it means I have empowered and prepared my students to face new opportunities with discipline, grace, and confidence. As an educator, I aim to create a safe learning environment for all my students because I believe that with support and encouragement all students are able to learn and grow. Some students I work with face major obstacles in their lives; however, they continue to move forward with their learning. My students’ dedication and resilience inspires me and makes me proud to be their teacher. As a society, we often refer to students as future leaders, but I firmly believe that all students can be leaders today because I have seen it firsthand. I have witnessed students supporting needy families during the holidays, collecting food for local food banks, tutoring their classmates, engaging in local clean-up efforts, among other altruistic acts. My students inspire me.

Paula Richardson - Music, Grades 6-8, Wilson Middle School, San Diego Unified School District

Paula Richardson has been teaching music for 13 years, but her influence extends well beyond notes and melodies. When she found the master schedule might be hindering students from taking music class, she volunteered to help with scheduling. When she found testing was often interfering with the year-end music concert, she became the site testing coordinator. With literacy an issue at her campus, she helps by incorporating reading lessons into her music curriculum and increasing access to books and reading materials for students. Richardson knows that music provides valuable skills that will help students in any career path, and advocates for music and the arts as a means to developing well-rounded students and people. “The arts are for everyone and everyone needs the arts,” Richardson said. “I believe we as educators would see more achievement and greater success once we incorporate a well-rounded curriculum and include topics that include every student as they are. Creativity and education go hand-in-hand.”  

From colleague Laura Williams, San Diego Unified VAPA Department: 

The music program at Wilson has blossomed under Paula. She has taught all forms of music: band, orchestra, choir, guitar, piano, drums. She tirelessly takes on new responsibilities and tries new things to best meet the needs and interests of her students, such as directing after-school theatre musical productions and piloting a new mariachi club (one of the first in the district). It is no wonder that over 230 students are currently enrolled in her classes - in a school of less than 700. Paula’s music courses are magic.

From Paula: 

What does this honor mean to you?

San Diego County includes many phenomenal educators that I respect and admire. To be recognized among this inspiring group of people is such a huge honor.

As it relates to your students, what are you most proud of? 

Every child deserves a quality music and arts education. I am most proud that I have taught my students how music helps to build community through connection with their audience and bringing people together.

Jay Tweet - History-Social Science, Grade 12, El Capitan High School, Grossmont Union High School District

Jay Tweet started his career in personal finance, but quickly found his way to the classroom in search of a more rewarding career. Tweet has been teaching history and economics for 15 years, helping students apply often-difficult concepts to their everyday lives to enhance understanding. He encourages responsibility and initiative by allowing students to have input on how they learn so they become more invested in their education. “I’ll tell my students that a teacher is no different than a personal trainer: Their mind is like a muscle - it can get bigger and stronger - but they have to work. My job is to provide them with the weights, to teach them the right form, and to encourage them. They have to lift the weights.” During his time at El Capitan, Tweet’s leadership has helped improve internal culture as well as community perception about the school. He spearheaded policy changes to increase the number of students who could take AP and honors courses, he co-founded one of the first triple-immersion high school programs in the country, and altered his own grading policies to help increase student attendance. “I entered education to make a difference by helping people become better thinkers,” Tweet said. “Students need to be challenged to break them of their focus on grades and points so that real learning can occur.” 

From a student at El Capitan High School:

I have never had a teacher like Mr. Tweet who perfectly constructs a learning environment that fosters academic excellence and understanding. Not only does he amply prepare us for our AP test, but he also strives to help us understand the world. While he is focused on educating his classes on the exam content, he pushes us a step further and forces us to think about the real-world applications of economics and how what we learn today can affect us in the future.

From Jay:

What does this honor mean to you?

This honor probably means more to me right now than it would any other point in my career. I see how hard my colleagues are working to make school work for students in the middle of a global pandemic and I can't help but feel a little guilty that I am being honored with special recognition at this time.

As it relates to students, what are you most proud of?

One of the things that brings me the most joy — and lets me know that I am doing my job correctly — is when students come in and tell me that they can't stop seeing examples of the concepts from my class, even if they tried. The only thing better is when parents contact me, telling me that for the first time in years their kids want to talk with them about what they are learning in my class!