Celebrating our Educators: 2021 Teachers of the Year in Alameda County

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September 14, 2021Emmy Zack, Communications Specialist    [email protected], 510-670-7754 Hayward, CA – The Alameda County Office of Education is honored to recognize the 2021 Teachers of the Year, as named by Alameda County school districts, in advance of the 32nd Annual Teacher of the Year Awards Ceremony on Thursday, November 4, 2021 at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts.

Seventeen district-level honorees were selected by 15 districts across the county over the past few months. The honorees are recognized for their individual dedication and excellence in the classroom, and they collectively represent the thousands of educators doing amazing work across Alameda County every day.

“It’s one of my favorite moments of the year when I get to recognize and honor our stellar Teachers of the Year for their hard work and commitment to students in our county,” said Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. K. Monroe. “With all the challenges our students and school staff have faced over the last 18 months, the light shines even brighter on the educators who, day in and day out, found a way to keep students engaged and learning under exceedingly difficult circumstances.”

District-level honorees submitted applications for consideration for Alameda County Teacher of the Year, which were selected by a panel of educational leaders. County honorees are then submitted for consideration for the California Teacher of the Year program administered by the California Department of Education.

Event details are available at acoe.org/teachersoftheyear. Tickets can be purchased in advance at acoe.org/tickets, and also will be available for sale at the event. 

We are proud to introduce you to this year’s honorees.
 2021 Alameda County Teachers of the Year Lori ThelenAlameda County Office of Education
Quest & EMERGE Academies
9th-12th Grade Independent Studies
Lori Thelen has worked with at-risk students for 20 years and believes in “treating all with respect and dignity as you never know what someone may be going through.” She helped build the EMERGE program which provides individual and group instruction to students who might not otherwise have continued in school. She frequently engages outside agencies to provide tools and resources for students, who may not have realized help was available to them.Elisa Correia-DasallaCastro Valley Unified School District
Castro Valley Adult & Career Education
Medical Academy
Elisa Correia-Dasalla has been teaching at CVACE for 16 years with a total of 22 years in the profession. A typical start to her class, done even more frequently during distance learning, is a “check in” where students are able to speak freely and without judgment about whatever they are thinking or feeling. Correia-Dasalla has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Notre Dame de Namur University.Lilia TsuiDublin Unified School District
Fredriksen/Dublin Elementary Schools
English Language Development (ELD)
Lilia Tsui has been working in education for 19 years and in her current role, split between two schools, for six. She is a proven advocate for all students and supports her fellow staff members by fostering an inclusive and accessible learning environment. Tsui also trains colleagues in Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) strategies and serves as an additional support for families who are learning English.Cheryl GrixtiEden Area Regional Occupational Program
Hayward Center
11th-12th Grade Merchandising
Cheryl Grixti has been teaching students with IEPs and various special needs for 14 years and believes the silver lining of her job is watching her students grow and learn, and not complain. She engages her students in a workability program that offers them paying jobs and puts them in a position to gain independence and critical life skills. Grixti says she learns as much from her students as they learn from her.Ashante SmithEmery Unified School District
Anna Yates Elementary/Middle School
6th Grade English Language Arts/Social Studies
Ashante Smith has been teaching for eight years. Her teaching goal is for students to leave her class prepared to become lifelong learners with perseverance so that when they are faced with challenges – whether in school, with peers or adults – that they will have the drive within them to succeed. She wants them to know the value of hard work and persistence, so they don’t shy away from challenges.Thalia McNeil-SmithHayward Unified School District
Brenkwitz High School
12th Grade English
Thalia McNeil-Smith has held multiple positions within HUSD and has been at Brenkwitz for 30 years. In addition, she is a member of the school’s Instructional Leadership Team, working to build capacity with staff, as well as provide culturally responsive teaching and deeper learning. McNeil-Smith has also led student trips to Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Los Angeles, exposing students to new places and experiences.Christopher FiliceLivermore Unified School District
Livermore High School
9th-12th Grade Choir
Christopher Filice is in his seventh year of teaching. He feels lucky to work with students on their musicianship, vocal development, and ensemble skills every day, and believes that music can help people understand the cultures around them in a deep and meaningful way. He sings with the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco and also with The Same Stream, a professional choir based in Philadelphia.Chef Christopher SkrockeMission Valley Regional Occupational Program
Newark Memorial High School
9th-12th Grade Culinary Arts
Chef Christopher Skrocke has been teaching for 12 years after working in professional kitchens for nearly two decades. He treats his students as if they are high-end clients and aims to embed in them a sense of independence and real-world skills. Skrocke believes he is not only just teaching cooking skills, but also how to be successful at whatever his students choose to do in life.Catherine SchevingNewark Unified School District
Schilling Elementary School
4th-6th Grade Special Day Class
Catherine Scheving has been teaching Special Education for 34 years and currently leads a special day class for students with mild to moderate needs. She previously worked at both a summer camp for developmentally disabled adults and children as well as an aide for a resource program and, from there, her desire to teach was born. Scheving tries to uncover what her students need, especially those who haven’t made a connection with someone before.Chantel ParnellOakland Unified School District
Bret Harte Middle School
6th-8th Grade Computer Science &     Girls Who Code
Chantel Parnell says she always knew she wanted to be a teacher and has spent the last 10 years at Bret Harte. She got her start with Teach for America, which brought her to the Bay Area where she put down her roots.. Parnell has launched a number of computer science and animation courses, primarily attended by girls, despite not having a computer science background, and her creativity has led to outside opportunities for her students.Jessica JungOakland Unified School District
Bridges Academy
3rd Grade
Jessica Jung has taught at Bridges for 14 years. She speaks three languages, including Korean and conversational Spanish. Jung’s students come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and she makes home visits an integral part of her teaching philosophy in order to forge strong collaborative relationships. She provides families with phone calls, text messages and weekly newsletters.Whitney DwyerOakland Unified School District
Met West High School
10th Grade Humanities/Academic Advisor
Whitney Dwyer taught at Met West for 10 years. Her efforts are rooted in giving her students the tools necessary to work toward liberation on internal, interpersonal, and institutional levels.Dwyer prepares her students to understand the historical context for contemporary problems that impact them. Her aspiration is that her students love and respect one another through active community building and sharing with each other.Russell SatoPleasanton Unified School District
Village High School
9th-12th Grade English/Career Readiness
Russell Sato has taught for 15 years, and has been at Village for eight years where he also is the English Department Chair. Sato intentionally arranges desks in his classroom in a horseshoe shape so that no student is in the back of the class. He believes his single greatest contribution to his students is that he gives them a safe place to share their voices and develop their evolving points of view.Erica Viray SantosSan Leandro Unified School District
San Leandro High School
9th-12th Grade Social Justice Academy
Erica Viray Santos has spent 13 of her 16 teaching years at San Leandro High. She is the chair/coordinator of the school’s innovative Social Justice Academy which is a rigorous three-year program designed for students to realize their potential as agents of positive and transformative change. Viray Santos has consistently advocated for and led multiple efforts to expand Social Justice education and mental health and wellness programming in the district.Sue GuineeSan Lorenzo Unified School District
Arroyo High School
9th-12th Grade PE/Special Day Class
Posthumous AwardSue Guinee taught adapted and modified PE for students with special needs for 31 years, and had an unwavering belief in humans to overcome any inherent challenges. She is remembered as radiating positive energy and often got students out of their wheelchairs and walking with walkers. She was known for saying, “Don’t do for our students what they can do for themselves.” Guinee tragically passed away in May, 2021.Christopher WheelerSunol Glen Unified School District
Sunol Glen High School
6th Grade RLA, Math, Science,
Social Studies, PE
Christopher Wheeler has been teaching for 11 years, having spent a decade in his current position. He places a priority on his students demonstrating the intense value of effort and tenacity, and guides them toward discovering that with effort comes improvement. His greatest accomplishments are measured by his former students which he refers to as “Alumnae Friends.” Wheeler is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.Diana HasenpflugTri-Valley Regional Occupational Program
Amador Valley High School
9th-12th Grade Sports Medicine/ Athletics Trainer
Diana Hasenpflug has been at Amador Valley for 13 years and a teacher for a total of 25. She operates a hands-on classroom where students learn about caring for and treating all sorts of bodily injuries, and she regularly takes them to observe at physical therapy clinics. She played basketball and softball in high school and also softball at Sonoma State, becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree.Event details are available at acoe.org/teachersoftheyear. Tickets can be purchased in advance at acoe.org/tickets, and also will be available for sale at the event. For more information on the event or sponsorship opportunities contact Robin Malfatti at [email protected]
TweetShareForwardAbout ACOE
The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), under the leadership of County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe, serves as liaison between the California Department of Education and the 18 Alameda County public school districts that serve more than 200,000 students and 10,000 teachers. ACOE provides oversight of district budgets and Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs). ACOE also directly operates schools that serve Alameda County most vulnerable students: Court Schools at the Juvenile Justice Center, ACOE Opportunity Academy schools serving students 16 and older seeking a high school diploma, and Community Schools that serve foster youth, students in substance abuse treatment, pregnant and parenting teens, Probation-referred youth, and students expelled from their resident school districts. ACOE also runs the Infant & Family Support Program, which provides individualized service for children from birth to three years and their families. For more information, visit www.acoe.org.
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