LA County Teacher of the Year group photo

The Los Angeles County Teachers of the year for 2018-19 each received a check for $1,000 courtesy of the California Credit Union.

Los Angeles County's top 16 public school teachers for this academic year were presented by County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo during the annual Teachers of the Year banquet held Sept. 21.

The event was organized by the Los Angeles County Office of Education to honor the 61 teachers of the year representing 57 participating districts from throughout the county.

The judging panels chose the top 16 to represent the profession's "best of the best" from among the 72,000 Los Angeles County teachers. They are comprised of 13 women and 3 men and represent 15 districts.

Now in its 37th year, the Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year competition is the largest in the state and is part of the nation's oldest and most prestigious honors contest for school teachers. The number of county top teachers -- 16 -- is determined by program rules based on the total number of teachers in the county.

The top 16 advance, with other county teachers of the year from around the state, to the California Teachers of the Year competition. The state is scheduled to announce its five co-winners later this year. But only one of those state co-winners will be chosen to represent California in the National Teacher of the Year event next spring.

The Los Angeles County competition called for essays, lesson plans, resumes, letters of reference and interviews. At all levels, Teacher of the Year events are designed to focus public attention on teaching excellence, and to honor educators who have demonstrated exemplary dedication, compelling classroom practices, positive accomplishments and professional commitment.

The competition was organized by the Los Angeles County Office of Education and presented in partnership with California Credit Union and other sponsors.

View the 2018 Teacher of the Year booklet with information on all the county and district winners here.

Update—Oct. 9: County Teachers of the Year Kim Holz and Michael Henges were selected as two of the five 2019 California Teachers of the Year. Holz is a fourth grade multi-subject teacher at Opal Robinson Elementary in Manhattan Beach USD. Henges teaches twelth grade government and economics at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach USD.

Online resources:

On LACOE’s YouTube Channel you can find videos of all 16 winners here.

California Department of Education Teacher of the Year website.

The 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year


Terri Armstrong

Baldwin Park Unified School District
Jerry D. Holland Middle School—Special Education/Autism

City of Residence: Pasadena
Years Teaching: 19

Early in her classroom career, Terri recalls, she hadn’t yet found her niche. Then she decided to answer the calling in her heart and mind, earn her moderate/severe credential and serve students with autism. She calls it the best decision she ever made.

Quote of Note: A principal offers this high praise: “Mrs. Armstrong has gained the respect of students, peers, parents and administrators with her passion and desire to teach and lead.”

Danielle Froelich

East Whittier City School District
La Colima Elementary School—Fifth Grade

City of Residence: Diamond Bar
Years Teaching: 15

Danielle believes blanket endorsements like “Great work!” are not the kind of specific feedback that can make a positive difference to her fifth-graders. She might say, “Great work using periods, but next time focus on using commas with transitions.”

Quote of Note: A PTA colleague writes, “Mrs. Froelich has been a presence in the front lines to help encourage student involvement in raising funds for our school.”

Elizabeth Astor

Glendale Unified School District
Glendale High School—Special Education

City of Residence: Glendale
Years Teaching: 23

“Betsy” comes from a family of educators, for whose support and mentoring she remains grateful. At Glendale High she is known as a tireless advocate for special needs students and for twice being a WASC team leader for curriculum and school culture.

Quote of Note: “Mrs. Astor is a fantastic multi-tasker,” recalls an ex-student. “You might see her talking on two phones while filling out papers and helping students with a science test.”

Felicity La Rue

Keppel Union School District
Lake Los Angeles School—Third Grade

City of Residence: Palmdale
Years Teaching: 13

Many teachers have the ability to communicate subject-matter concepts, Felicity has observed, but even more valuable, she feels, is the ability to reach a child’s heart as well as the brain. This is the approach she takes each day with her third-graders.

Quote of Note: In the thoughtful opinion of her superintendent, “Miss La Rue’s passion for motivating students to learn and her caring heart make her an amazing teacher.”

Deborah Bober

Long Beach Unified School District
Cubberley K-8 School—Third Grade

City of Residence: Long Beach
Years Teaching: 21

With today’s students being bombarded with more and more pressure to succeed, Deborah reminds us that learning takes time, and that a narrow or excessive focus on test scores can shortchange our young people on important classroom and life lessons.

Quote of Note: A parent volunteer writes, “Dr. Bober’s unfailing enthusiasm and positivity helped my daughter develop a radiant self-esteem that she carries with her to this day.”

Flor Cuevas

Los Angeles Unified School District
Graham Elementary STEAM Academy—Sixth Grade

City of Residence: Wilmington
Years Teaching: 10

Bookcases in Flor’s STEAM Academy class are overflowing to encourage a love of reading. Vocabulary is reviewed each day through songs and games, and a great deal of writing occurs as her sixth-graders are encouraged to “push their pens.”

Quote of Note: High praise from her principal: “Ms. Cuevas encourages her students to develop a tolerance for diversity and a respect for all nationalities and all cultures.”

Joseph Zeccola

Los Angeles Unified School District
Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies—English/AVID

City of Residence: Los Angeles
Years Teaching: 14

The first time a student called out, “Hey, Mr. Z,” Joseph remembers feeling a special connection to the kids and knew that teaching was where he belonged. He strives to have a positive impact every day—just as his favorite teachers had for him.

Quote of Note: A grateful ex-student writes: “With Mr. Zeccola’s support, I was able to graduate high school and continue my education, being the first in my family to go to college.”

Kimberlee Holz

Manhattan Beach Unified School District
Opal B. Robinson Elementary School—Fourth Grade

City of Residence: Manhattan Beach
Years Teaching: 38

Despite almost forty years in the classroom, Kim still devotes extra time to improving lessons, planning projects and reading about the latest educational trends. Her belief in the value of daily preparation is something she passes along to new teachers.

Quote of Note: A grateful parent comments, “Mrs. Holz truly reached and inspired my son as he journeyed through California’s history with all its triumphs and tragedies.”

Edward Garcia

Montebello Unified School District
Bella Vista Elementary School—Fourth & Fifth Grades/GATE

City of Residence: Azusa
Years Teaching: 24

Edward is known by his administrators as a teacher who can work wonders with many problem students. His method involves turning the page on past transgressions in order to make a new beginning, one founded on hard work and mutual trust.

Quote of Note: An acknowledgment from two grateful parents: “Mr. Garcia gives us the tools (online articles, project ideas) to ensure we can assist our children whenever necessary.”

Josie Hernandez

Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District
Moffitt Elementary School—Kindergarten

City of Residence: La Mirada
Years Teaching: 21

A memorable reward for Josie was when a kindergartner, after angry outbursts and refusals of help, finally asked her aid with a project. When this turned out well, he shared his success with the entire class: “I learned never to give up on myself.”

Quote of Note: A high compliment from the district superintendent: “Mrs. Hernandez’ nurturing personality makes it easy for students to connect with her and their peers.”

Heather Lighston

Palmdale School District
Palmdale Learning Plaza—ELA/Language Arts

City of Residence: Palmdale
Years Teaching: 16

Heather’s eighth-grade ELA classes read classic literature, then analyze film versions to compare and contrast literary elements. Her visual and performing arts students explore sketching, painting, calligraphy, photography and performance.

Quote of Note: An eighth-grade language arts student writes: “Through Ms. Lighston’s mock trials and Socratic seminars, I’ve developed an interest in becoming a trial attorney.”

Michael Henges

Redondo Beach Unified School District
Redondo Union High School—AP Government/Economics

City of Residence: Torrance
Years Teaching: 11

As a teacher, Michael welcomes the challenge and opportunity of serving students every day, along with the direct connection between effort and reward that, according to writer Malcolm Gladwell, is a key factor in making any work satisfying.

Quote of Note: “There is a reason why his lunch room hosts a daily club,” a former student writes, “and there is a reason why the senior class voted him the Most Valuable Teacher.”

Jill Reddy

South Pasadena Unified School District
Arroyo Vista Elementary School—Kindergarten

City of Residence: Pasadena
Years Teaching: 20

Turning a challenging moment into a teachable one for her kindergartners is always pure gold for Jill. And pets can help. Making friends, she explains, can be like learning to pet the class rabbit. Show interest, be calm and gentle, let others approach you.

Quote of Note: “Jill sets the highest of academic and behavioral expectations for her kindergarten students,” writes a colleague, “and provides them the support to excel.”

Jennifer Haney

Torrance Unified School District
West High School—Algebra 2 Honors/Precalculus

City of Residence: Hermosa Beach
Years Teaching: 19

When a student learned of “Ms. Haney’s” Teacher of the Year nomination, his response was, “Well, duh, everyone wants her for their math teacher.” This was especially gratifying as her goal has always been for students to enjoy coming to class.

Quote of Note: A student expresses gratitude: “There have been so many times when Ms. Haney stayed late to help me with precalculus because she wanted me to succeed.”

Christine Sykes

Walnut Valley Unified School District
Quail Summit Elementary School—Third Grade

City of Residence: Brea
Years Teaching: 15

Relationships are key to the success of Criss’ third-graders. As one of her students put it, “Mrs. Sykes has a magical power to make us feel like we’re valued.” Of course, it isn’t magic, but one of her must-do daily tasks to learn every child’s story.

Quote of Note: An administrator and parent shares her support: “Criss is an impactful teacher because she takes time every day to connect with her students and show them she cares.”

Shelly DeSimone

Whittier Union High School District
La Serna High School—English

City of Residence: La Habra
Years Teaching: 34

Students learn best, Shelly believes, when they feel safe, both physically and emotionally. This applies to all her classes, from ELD to AP English to Yearbook. But it can be a real challenge when students face strict and stressful production deadlines.

Quote of Note: Her superintendent writes, “Shelly’s versatility in teaching all populations at exceedingly high levels demonstrates her ability to make a difference in the lives of students.”


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