2020-2021 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year Finalists Named

2020-2021 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year Finalists Named
Posted on 05/28/2020

PLEASANT HILL, Calif., May 27, 2020 – The following four teachers have been named as the 2020-2021 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year (TOY) Finalists: Sarah Clancy, San Ramon Valley Unified School District; Courtney Konopacky, San Ramon Valley Unified School District; Christina Nitsos, Lafayette School District; and Katie Sahm, Orinda Union School District. Two of these four finalists will be chosen in September, and will represent Contra Costa County in the California State Teacher of the Year Program. To see the entire listing of the 22 Contra Costa County TOYs, class of 2020-2021, please review this earlier news release.

“Congratulations to our four 2020-2021 Teachers of the Year finalists!” says Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey. “This is a unique and challenging time to be a teacher and these teachers represent the great work taking place across our county.  And, we would like to thank our 13 TOY application judges, who volunteered numerous hours of their time in carefully reviewing and evaluating the applications. All of the judges agreed that this was an excellent field of well-deserving teachers.” 

After serving as a substitute 4th-grade teacher at Quail Run Elementary School, in San Ramon, Sarah Clancy, has been teaching grades 2, 5, and in a Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) role for Student Support since 2008 at Live Oak Elementary School, in San Ramon. Clancy decided on a career as an educator when she worked in a kindergarten classroom to complete her senior project in high school. No doubt, this early calling was the correct one.

“Mrs. Clancy is instrumental in implementing both Sanford Harmony and No Place for Hate (Social Emotional Learning) programs at Live Oak,’ said current Live Oak PTA President Smitha Swamy. “She models what she teaches and inspires the students to be a gracious leader. Over the years that I have interacted with Mrs. Clancy, I have only heard her say positive comments, no matter how difficult the situation. She is an educator who inspires not only her students but the parents as well. Mrs. Clancy’s leadership skills reflect a strong, positive, persevering, and kind spirit.”

Courtney Konopacky has been a positive fixture for the past 17 years at Stone Valley Middle School, in Alamo. The honored educator has been a Core 8 Teacher and Site Teacher Leader for most of her career. Currently, Konopacky serves as a TSA - Social Studies Curriculum Development and Coaching. Teaching is certainly in her blood, including her family members - great-grandmother Rosa and aunt Marion.

“Courtney Konopacky is an innovative educator who genuinely cares about students and families,” says Stone Valley Middle School Principal Justin White. “She digs in when students present signs of academic struggle and provides reteaching and reassessment on all essential skills. Courtney believes it is a moral imperative to make sure that students have an in-depth understanding of critical skills that are needed to be successful. She continues to push her teaching design and delivery so that she can provide a top-notch educational experience for all students.”

First grade teacher Christina Nitsos has been at Lafayette Elementary School, in Lafayette, for her entire 18-year teaching career. Her experience also includes teaching kindergarten and serving as an English Learner instructor. Nitsos was certainly destined to be an educator, because at a very young age, she and her sister would set up a classroom in the family garage and pretend they were teachers. (Her sister is a high school math teacher in Sacramento.) Nitsos says that she doesn’t remember the exact lessons they delivered, but it’s been a remarkable journey from their garage to real classrooms.

“Several years ago, I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Nitsos as my daughter’s first grade teacher,” says Katy Foreman. “What I love most about Mrs. Nitsos is her rare combination of experience and inspired, innovative, open thinking. She doesn’t seem to possess the slightest whiff of insecurity or rigidity and is therefore open to questions and new perspectives in a way I deeply admire.”

Teaching grades 4 and 5, Katie Sahm has been inspiring student learning for the past nine years at Del Rey Elementary School, in Orinda. Sahm says that classrooms are power spaces, and that the dynamics of a classroom, as fostered by the teacher in charge, can be one of magical inspiration and challenge. She feels that a single year can make or break the spirit of a child, and that the responsibility involved is enormous – and one she accepts with utmost sincerity.

“Our family was fortunate to have Katie Sahm as our son’s fourth and fifth grade teacher,” says Lena VanLeeuwen. “Katie stands out as a teacher who not only regularly finds ways to make learning fun, but who challenged our son to do and be the best he can, academically and socially. When he wasn’t trying his hardest or working towards his full potential, she did not scare him or talk down to him. She was firm, but always kind.”

The county’s TOY program is coordinated by the CCCOE, and the judging usually combines a three-stage selection process, with a point and percentage system to determine the final candidates. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s selection process is the following:

I Application Screening:
During the weeks of April 27-May 8, a committee of 13 judges, representing the county’s education, business, and public-sector partners carefully reviewed the TOY representative applications submitted by their school districts. This committee independently read and rated each application, privately from their homes or offices. After the application screening and scoring were completed, four teachers were selected to advance to the next two phases as finalists.

II Interview:
On, or around, June 3, a small committee of education specialists and former Teachers of the Year will interview the candidates separately and online, discussing topics such as their teaching philosophy and techniques.

III Speech Presentation:
On July 21, 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 via Zoom.

Normally, all 22 of the Teachers of the Year are celebrated in late September, at the annual TOY Gala Dinner, held at the Hilton Concord. The event is also where the two county Teachers of the Years are introduced. We are uncertain at this point if we will be able to hold the event, but regardless, will be announcing our two county Teachers of the Year via new release in September.


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