Educating and Empowering for a #BetterSD: Meet San Diego's Teachers of the Year

Posted: Sunday, May 12th 2019


The 2019 San Diego Unified Teachers of the Year

Click here for photos from the 2019 Day of the Teacher celebration.

Most of us can look back on our childhood and recall that favorite teacher – the one who may have recognized a strength we didn’t know we had, provided a guiding voice when we needed it, or encouraged us to pursue our dreams. The halls of San Diego schools are filled with these stories.

Coinciding with National Teacher Appreciation Day, next week’s 2019 Day of the Teacher celebration will recognize the outstanding work of more than 6,000 San Diego Unified School District teachers. Three district Teachers of the Year will be honored along with three runners-up, joined by more than 130 teachers selected as Teachers of the Year by their individual schools.

The 2019 honorees include a teacher who describes school as “the greatest of all cheerleaders” for struggling students, a teacher who started a program to help at-risk young men reach their potential, and a teacher who believes that math problem-solving helps prepare students for life.

The 2019 Teachers of the Year are:

Hilda Martinez: Teaching the language of learning

After more than 20 years teaching at schools with high populations of English Learners, Ms. Martinez deeply understands the needs and challenges facing students from diverse backgrounds. As a Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher at Zamorano, Martinez works with students who are having difficulties reaching literacy benchmark goals.

“As a teacher, I always try my best to make my new and returning students feel welcomed to the learning community, their learning community,” said Martinez. “I want them to know that their school stands by them as the greatest of all cheerleaders, rooting them to go for whatever they want to, and knowing that their school community is filled with people who believe in them just as someone believed in me.”

Zamorano’s arts focus supports Martinez’s work with literacy. “Language development, decision making, cultural awareness, creativity, and inventiveness are only a few of the many skills that art encourages,” says Martinez.

Roosevelt Johnson: Inspiring the next generation of men

While growing up in a tough neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, Roosevelt Johnson experienced the challenges facing young students, especially boys. Now, Mr. Johnson is creating a safe, fun and positive place where students can grow into adulthood.

“Early on in my career, I learned the phrase, ‘Before you can teach them, you have to reach them,’ from a veteran teacher,” said Mr. Johnson. “I spend a lot of time teaching students how to think instead of what to think. I challenge students to become aware of their surroundings.”

The program he started at Wilson Middle School, ManUP, is a club that reaches African-American and Latino male students who have been at-risk and struggling not only with academics and inappropriate behavior, but with life itself.

Johnson invites guest speakers into the classroom to share their stories, challenges, and triumphs; and to give the young men advice on becoming successful citizens in today’s society. He incorporates community service and stresses the importance of volunteering as part of the club’s mission. Many of the students who graduated from the ManUP program have since returned to campus to give back, creating a legacy of service.

Jenny Lieu: Building a strong foundation for limitless success

For Jenny Lieu, developing a solid set of scholastic skills enables students to achieve great things in their future. Ms. Lieu’s time as an AVID teacher showed her first hand the importance of foundational skills like good note-taking habits. She emphasizes developing good practices throughout her math classes. 

“Once my students find confidence in themselves and their abilities to learn, their success is limitless,” said Ms. Lieu. “I want to show my students the value in learning. Learning how to problem solve, struggle, persevere, use structures and tools to be successful. These are all skills that are not limited to math but can be applied throughout a student’s life.”

Outside of the classroom, Ms. Lieu is a leader for multiple groups at Lincoln High School. She has coordinated Lincoln’s graduation ceremony, acted as the Math Department Chair while implementing Common Core Standards and achieving Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation, served on the School Site Council and participated in Adventure Club, AVID and the Asian Empowered Student Alliance.

The 2019 Runners Up are:

  • Mickey Sullivan – Grades TK-5 Science Teacher at Balboa Elementary
  • Julie Latta – Grade 6 Science Teacher at Muirlands Middle School
  • Kris Rodenberg - Grades 8-12 English, AP Art History, Psychology, Language & Literature Teacher at Mt. Everest Academy

Recognizing their efforts

The Day of the Teacher celebration is an annual tradition that celebrates excellence in education and honors some of San Diego Unified’s most outstanding teachers for how they have helped students reach their potential. The event took place Tuesday, May 7 at the School of Creative and Performing Arts.

The celebration offers an opportunity for Superintendent Cindy Marten, Board of Education trustees, district and local government officials, school administrators and members of the community to thank teachers for their exceptional work, and commitment to equity and excellence.  

“I have witnessed the commitment of our students time and again, and I know where they get their inspiration. It comes from seeing the best educators in the country show up every day for them,” said Superintendent Marten. “I commend every teacher, and especially all our Teachers of the Year, on the outstanding work you are doing to help our students succeed.”

New to this year’s celebration is a Wellness Hour during the pre-ceremony reception. With a district-wide Wellness Initiative underway, San Diego Unified is committed to providing resources and services that promote health and wellness among teachers and all employees. This year’s reception will feature interactive wellness booths, and will offer teachers healthy living tips and prizes.

Click here for photos from the 2019 Day of the Teacher celebration.

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