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 Introducing the 5 New San Diego County Teachers of the Year

Five San Diego County Teachers of the YearFrom left are: Sesha Haynes, Jose Villegas, Stephanie Glanz, Melissa Moreno, and Katie Wu


Five local educators were named San Diego County Teachers of the Year during the 28th annual "Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers," sponsored by San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU) in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE).

The 2018-19 San Diego County Teachers of the Year are:

  • Stephanie Glanz, Rose Elementary School, Escondido Union School District

  • Sesha Haynes, Sweetwater High School, Sweetwater Union High School District

  • Melissa Moreno, Rosebank Elementary School, Chula Vista Elementary School District

  • Jose Villegas, Nestor Language Academy, South Bay Union School District

  • Katie Wu, Westview High School, Poway Unified School District

"This is an exceptionally dedicated and talented group of educators," said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. "While each has unique qualities that helped bring this recognition, they all believe in the power of connecting with students and community."

The annual Academy Awards-style show – which was telecast live by Cox Communications from the Balboa Theatre – celebrates San Diego County's 22,000 public school teachers, with a spotlight on 41 Teacher of the Year nominees representing districts in San Diego County. The 2018-19 County Teachers of the Year were selected from among those 41, who were nominated by their districts for their unwavering commitment to students, teaching, and lifelong learning.

The field was narrowed to 10 finalists. The finalists were selected based on student achievement, professional development and community involvement, teaching philosophy, knowledge of current issues in education, promotion and development of the teaching profession, accountability, 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, 171 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. 

Stephanie Glanz has spent her 33-year teaching career entirely in the Escondido Union School District. Six years ago, she transferred from one of the district's sleek new campuses to Rose Elementary, a decades-old school whose students mostly come from socio-economically disadvantaged households. "I never could have imagined how far I would be stretched and changed both personally and professionally," she said. Her 1st-graders enter the classroom each day to a hug, handshake, or high-five, and immediately become part of a collaborative team. It's no surprise that her connection to the school community is strong: She is a proud product of the district and teaches in the classroom where she sat as a 2nd-grader. Glanz also coaches the school's Girls on the Run team, and she has forged a connection with a local veterans group that interacts with her students. Glanz never stops learning and she never stops giving. "There is no limit to the time she will spend to do whatever is necessary to provide any child that is fortunate enough to cross her path the opportunity to feel safe and loved," Deputy Superintendent Leila Sackfield said. "She never gives up."

Sesha Haynes has been teaching for more than 10 years, working the past eight at Sweetwater High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District. Equally adept at teaching math in a mixed-grade classroom or teaching fundamentals in a special day class for students with disabilities, Haynes' priority is providing a safe place where students feel at ease practicing and questioning. She also wants her students to know that she cares, believes in them, and will do whatever it takes to help them be successful. That means asking about their weekend before asking for their homework, or offering a snack or a supportive ear when they are struggling with issues outside the classroom – not uncommon at the National City high school where 80 percent of students come from low-income households. Haynes is immersed in the school community, serving as a club adviser and coach, all the while making sure students feel connected. After hearing from students of color who were feeling disconnected, Haynes started a Black Student Union, which has grown to a multiracial group that finds strength in differences and similarities. She connects student-athletes to students with disabilities through the Unified Devil Buddies club. "Ms. Haynes is an exceptional educator and human being who truly cares about children's academic, social, and emotional growth," Principal Maribel Gavin said.

The first time Melissa Moreno worked with students who had special needs, she knew she was right where she belonged. "I have always believed that all students can learn," said Moreno, who teaches a special day class for children with mild to moderate disabilities in transitional kindergarten through 1st grade at Rosebank Elementary School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. "I have always believed that if I continue to push students and believe in their abilities, they can learn the skills they need in order to join their peers in the general education class." She does just that every day when she brings her students to the afternoon general education kindergarten class that she co-teaches. In her own classroom, Moreno's students work in groups that best meet their needs while following an individual schedule that gives them a sense of independence. Over the past nine years, six of Moreno's students have successfully moved from her special day class to general education classrooms. Principal Neil MacGaffey said Moreno is "an exemplary teacher in every way, a master at putting in place the structures necessary for students to thrive and learn at their level at their pace."

Jose Villegas was 10 years into a career at Xerox when his daughter started kindergarten at Nestor Language Academy in South Bay Union School District. Immediately smitten with the program, Villegas wanted to be a part of it as a teacher. Now, he teaches math in Spanish to 7th- and 8th-graders at the dual language school. His students are fully bilingual and his classroom is buzzing with collaboration and rich language. "Teaching, to me, is beyond test scores, beyond homework, beyond discipline. Students know I care and that I am there for anything they may need," Villegas said. Using restorative practices with his middle school students has changed the dynamics of his classes. Villegas earns his students' trust through restorative practices circles, and they feel comfortable coming to him when they are struggling. Outside the classroom, Villegas ensures his students are connected to the community by leading 8th-graders in volunteer work at a nonprofit. Many of those students continue to volunteer long after their 20-hour commitment.

Katie Wu draws on her childhood experiences to support students who are struggling. A teacher of English, English Prep, and Academic Success at Westview High School in the Poway Unified School District, Wu believes the social-emotional support she provides is just as crucial as the academic instruction. She lacked parental support for education growing up in a low-income, immigrant family. Many of her students "are used to being passed over, labeled as unable to learn. I shifted my teaching to be centered around social and emotional support," she said. Wu holds small-group check-in sessions with her Academic Success class. For students struggling with writing, she established an after-school writing center. For students who are learning English, Wu makes her classroom a home away from home. In another class, she builds rapport with students through letter writing. "It's not only the high-quality teaching she brings each day to her classroom that sets her apart; it is the emphasis she puts on getting to know each of her students," Principal Tina Ziegler said. Outside the classroom, she continues to draw on her childhood experience of benefitting from public assistance; she's a longtime volunteer at Corner Market operated by Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

The County Teacher of the Year honor also includes five finalists: Sara Dickman, Creative Performing Media Arts Middle School, San Diego Unified School District; Jeremy Hersch, Grossmont High School, Grossmont Union High School District; Laramie Littig, La Mesa Arts Academy, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District; Lynsey Littlefield, Mission Bay High School, San Diego Unified School District; and Melissa Noble, Clear View Elementary School, Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Replays of "Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers" will be televised by Cox and Spectrum on YurView Channel 4/1004 Sept. 16 at 4 p.m.; and at 7 p.m. on Sept. 21, Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 12. KUSI will re-air the show in November. For a complete listing of replay dates and times, go to yurview.com.

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" included presenting sponsor San Diego County Credit Union, Procopio, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, Sanford Harmony, KUSI, Lakeshore Learning, and The San Diego Union-Tribune.