Thursday, September 20, 2012

Vicente Martinez High Teacher Named County’s Teacher of the Year

Contra Costa County 2012-2013
Teacher of the Year Dr. Rona Zollinger
Concluding an energy-driven and exciting evening at the Concord Hilton, Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Ovick, Ed.D., announced the night-long anticipated naming of the county’s next Teacher of the Year – it was Vicente Martinez High School’s Rona Zollinger, Ph.D.   The 14-year teacher has been teaching her environmental studies academy (core subjects) course at Vicente Martinez High for the past 11 years.

After being named by the Martinez Unified School District as their district Teacher of the Year (TOY), this past March, Dr. Zollinger successfully proceeded with the other 19 eligible county candidates through a rigorous county-wide selection process, which included an application screening, classroom evaluation, interview, and speech presentation.  Her fellow finalists were Mona Keeler, San Ramon Valley Unified SD, (Iron Horse Middle) and Terryl Miller, Moraga SD, (Los Perales Elementary).

More than 400 attendees were on hand for an evening that will certainly not be forgotten.  The audience was made up of the TOYs’ family members and friends, as well as numerous local educators, business partners, and officials.  Kicking off the festivities was an incredible performance by the Bristow Middle School Choir (Brentwood), led by 2009 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Mark Morello.  Dr. Ovick introduced the TOY class of 2012-2013 by sharing to the audience of his visit to each of the teachers’ classrooms.  This was followed by speeches of the three TOY finalists, their topic: “What I have learned from my students.”   After the three speeches were given, Dr. Zollinger’s announcement was made.

Dr. Zollinger created the Environmental Studies Academy (ESA) in 2003, as an alternative learning experience for high school students in the Martinez Unified School District who are interested in schooling outside the box.  The ESA was part of the environmental efforts of the Alhambra Creek Restoration Environmental Education Collaborative, which is a community-based network of partners that help organize and facilitate unique hands-on learning experiences for ESA students.  In 2009, a large grant was received from Contra Costa Mental Health Services to expand the ESA program.  At this point, the ESA became New Leaf: A Sustainable Living Collaborative. New Leaf is organized around the ecological principles of sustainable education.  The curriculum utilizes transdiciplinary strategies and practices of project and place based learning, ecological service learning, and a rites of passage curriculum all done through participation in a small learning community.  

Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools 
Dr. Joseph A. Ovick and Dr. Rona Zollinger
In announcing Dr. Zollinger’s name, Dr. Ovick mentioned how a former neighbor (John Muir), just up the road from New Leaf, would be happy about this year’s winner.

Dr. Zollinger will now compete with the other county representatives in the California State TOY competition. The California State Teachers of the Year are expected to be announced in late October. The county TOY program is produced by the Contra Costa County Office of Education. (For additional TOY info, visit the CCCOE’s Teacher of the Year page).

The 2012-2013 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Representatives

Vanesa Arreola-Navarro, Pittsburg USD, Foothill Elementary

Dan Auza, John Swett USD, Carquinez Middle

Michael Buchel, Acalanes UHSD, Acalanes High

Kim Burris, Orinda USD, all five OUSD Schools

Erin Carson, Walnut Creek SD, Indian Valley Elementary

Marina Chinchilla, Knightsen ESD, Knightsen Elementary

Kathy DeRenzi, San Ramon Valley USD, Quail Run Elementary

Rochelle Gardiner, Oakley Union Elementary SD, Vintage Parkway Elementary

Heather Harper, Liberty UHSD, Freedom High

Joshua Hastings, West Contra Costa USD, Richmond High

William Hyres, CCCOE, Golden Gate Community School Rodeo

Mona Keeler, San Ramon Valley USD, Iron Horse Middle

Kevin Lindell, Byron USD, Excelsior Middle

Cynthia McGrath, CCCCD, Los Medanos College

Terryl Miller, Moraga SD, Los Perales Elementary

Naomi Phillips, Brentwood USD, Edna Hill Middle

Mona Lisa Ricard, Mt. Diablo USD, Sequoia Elementary

Tracey Singh-Poole, West Contra Costa USD, DeAnza High

Mette Thallaug, Lafayette SD, Burton Valley Elementary

Stacey Wickware, Antioch USD, Dozier-Libbey Medical High

Dr. Rona Zollinger, Martinez USD, Vicente Martinez High

Note regarding eligible participants:
  • Seventeen of the eighteen Contra Costa County school districts represented (plus the 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 his/her outstanding body of work with their designated college.  The colleges rotate each year between Diablo Valley, Los Medanos, and Contra Costa.  This year, it is Los Mendanos’ turn.  Due to the larger number of students in their districts, West Contra Costa USD, Mt. Diablo USD, and San Ramon Valley USD are allowed to select two TOY candidates.  (This year, Mt. Diablo USD only submitted one District TOY.)