2023-2024 Teacher of the Year Finalists

2023-24 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced During Surprise Classroom Visits
Posted on 04/19/2023
2023-2024 Teacher of the Year FinalistsPLEASANT HILL, Calif. - Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey announced four teachers have been selected as finalists in the 2023-24 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Program during surprise visits to their classrooms on Monday.

Joseph Alvarico (Mt. Diablo Unified School District/Ygnacio Valley High School), Annalouisa Gonzalez-Ortega (Liberty Union High School District/Freedom High School), Patricia Ogura (West Contra Costa Unified School District/Hercules Middle School and Hercules High School) and Danya Townsend (Mt. Diablo Unified School District/Olympic High School) will now compete to be named one of two Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year.

The four teacher finalists were selected from 21 candidates nominated by their school districts, CCCOE and the Contra Costa Community College District. County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey made the surprise announcements Monday morning while visiting their classrooms. Joining in on the visits were school principals, school administrators, district superintendents, parent leaders, and the educators’ families and colleagues.

“Congratulations to the four 2023-24 Teacher of the Year finalists,” Mackey said. “These four teachers are a testament to the teaching profession, and all certainly deserve recognition for the impact they are making in the classroom and in their school communities. Thank you for choosing to be a public-school teacher and making a continued effort to do the best you can for the children in Contra Costa County’s public schools.”

Two of the four finalists will be chosen as Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year. The announcement will be made at the 51st annual Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year celebration at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, September 21, 2023.

Joseph Alvarico was born into a family of educators but did not set out on a path to become a teacher until a full-ride college scholarship in his native country, the Philippines, was awarded to him. The scholarship required him to work as a teacher for at least one year. With a short-term commitment in mind, he became a teacher intern in the 1990s and has been “hooked” on teaching ever since. After immigrating to the United States, Alvarico has spent multiple years instructing middle school and high school students in Mt. Diablo Unified School District. With his on-the-job experience in the tech industry, he weaves real world experiences into his lessons. Teaching teenagers, being a lifelong learner, and building a community with his students is the secret sauce that has turned his robotics and yearbook students into design and engineering professionals. While helping underserved students for the past 23 years, Alvarico strives to show them their potential and the possibilities available when they leave high school.

Annalouisa Gonzalez-Ortega is a first-generation Mexican American who was raised by parents who always emphasized the importance of education. She was a translator for her family at an early age and learned to become her own advocate early in her educational journey. After being dismissed by her high school counselor when she asked for help with her college applications, she went on to become the first person in her family to apply, be accepted, attend, and graduate (with two bachelor’s degrees) from St. Mary’s college. While working on her graduate degree, she worked as a high school teacher and soon realized her passion was to advocate for students like her. She has focused her 26 years of teaching on being a role model for students who need help navigating the educational system. She is a firm believer in giving back, paying it forward, being humble, and helping others. Gonzalez-Ortega is highly active in Freedom High’s English Learner Advisory Committee and participates in numerous volunteer opportunities and programs to support English Language Learners in her community.

When music programs were eliminated from Patricia Ogura’s elementary school in 2003, she pivoted into a special education position, bringing her enthusiasm for music to a classroom filled with medically fragile children who are non-verbal. Determined to connect with each of her students, she earned two master's degrees, an MA in Education (Special Education, Moderate/Severe) and a MS in Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services. She has written grants for communication devices her students needed, and even co-authored articles related to her own research and experiences in the classroom. Ogura is the Special Education Chair at Hercules Middle School and Hercules High School where she established a sensory garden for her students to see bright colored flowers, smell fresh herbs, and watch butterflies land on plants. Over her 40 years as a teacher, she has received numerous awards and recognitions, but the most heartwarming letter written about Ogura is from a former student who could not go to a dance because her aide was not available. So instead of missing out, her favorite teacher, Patricia Ogura, took her to the dance.

As a physical education (PE) and leadership teacher, Danya Townsend uses PE and the weight room as a safe space for her students and staff members. Teaching at Olympic High School means that traditional schools were not a good fit for her students, but she has found they all need to be engaged and a feeling of success. She uses this knowledge to find new ways to re-engage them through weightlifting, exercise, and multimedia projects that are transferable to the workforce. In her leadership class, she incorporates philanthropy and giving-back into activities they plan. Townsend’s passion to connect with students has led to projects outside of the classroom too. She developed a partnership with the Contra Costa Food Bank to support a school pantry and coordinates with the Red Cross to host blood drives. She interacts with her leadership team, colleagues, and students with the same philosophy, to empower and be empowered. From research to reflection, Townsend is “all-in” when it comes to showing her students that they matter.

Notes regarding eligible participants:
• 18 of the 19 Contra Costa County school districts and CCCOE are participating in this year’s TOY program.
• Each year, one instructor from Contra Costa Community College District is submitted to the TOY program for their outstanding body of work with their designated college. The representative rotates each year between Diablo Valley College, Los Medanos College, and Contra Costa College. These instructors do not compete in the State Teacher of the Year competition but will be recognized at the Contra Costa County Teacher or the Year Celebration.
• Due to the larger number of students and teachers in their districts, the Mt. Diablo, San Ramon Valley, and West Contra Costa unified school districts are allowed to submit two TOY candidates.

For more information on the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year program or to donate, visit cocoschools.org/toy. Follow CCCOE on social media at @cocoschools.


About Contra Costa County Office of Education
One of 58 counties in California, Contra Costa County has the 9th largest public-school student population in the state (approximately 158,401 students). Officially established in 1932, the CCCOE has a long history of providing direct services to some of our county's most vulnerable students, including young people who are incarcerated, homeless, or in foster care, as well as students who have severe physical or emotional challenges.

CCCOE also provides support services to schools and school districts in Contra Costa County; services that can be handled most effectively and economically on a regional basis rather than by each of the county's 285 schools or 18 school districts. These services range from budget approval and fiscal support to technology infrastructure, communication support, and high-level professional development opportunities for educators. CCCOE maintains a website at www.cocoschools.org.
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