A total of 16 winners have been named as the 2019-20 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year, representing the best of the profession in the state’s largest honors competition for K-12 educators.

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo presented the outstanding educators during the annual Teachers of the Year banquet held Sept. 20 at the Universal City Hilton.

“What better way to launch the school year than to honor extraordinary teachers and the teaching profession,” Duardo said. “These individuals are the heart and soul of a good education, each day instilling a love of learning and inspiring our young people to reach their full potential.”

The winning educators, comprised of 14 women and two men, teach a range of grades and subjects at a diversity of school districts, including: Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendora, Las Virgenes, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Palmdale, Paramount, Redondo Beach, Torrance, William S. Hart, Wiseburn and West Covina.

Judged as the county’s top public school teachers for this academic year, the 16 educators serve as standard-bearers for the teaching profession and their 73,000 classroom colleagues countywide. Each received a cash gift of $1,000 from the California Credit Union, the program’s main sponsor.

The 16 were selected from a field of 61 teachers representing 56 districts who participated in the 38th annual Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year competition, organized by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. All participants had recently selected as teacher(s) of the year by their respective school districts.

In addition to being interviewed, contestants submitted essays, lesson plans and other materials to judging panels comprised of peers. At all levels, “TOY” contests are designed to focus public attention on teaching excellence and to honor exemplary dedication, compelling classroom practices, positive accomplishments and professional commitment.

The 16 Los Angeles County winners automatically advance with other county titlists from around the state to the California Teachers of the Year competition this fall. The state is scheduled to announce its five co-winners in November. But only one of those state co-winners will be chosen to represent California in the National Teacher of the Year contest next spring.

The County Teachers of the Year Program is the largest local competition in the state and nation, and is part of the oldest and most prestigious honors contest in the U.S. for public school teachers. The number of winners — 16 — is determined by program rules based on the total number of school teachers (73,000) in Los Angeles County.

Update—Oct. 4: County Teacher of the Year Guy Myers was selected as one of the five 2020 California Teachers of the Year. Myers teaches Drama and Musical Theatre at John Burroughs HS in Burbank USD.

View the 2019 Teachers of the Year booklet with information on all the county and district winners here.

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

The 2019-20 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year


Michael Danielson

Arcadia Unified School District
First Avenue Middle School—Music/Physical Education

City of Residence: Arcadia
Years Teaching: 40

Mike wants his middle-school music students to feel “part of a tradition of excellence earned by those who sat in their chairs in the years before.” This is the way they can create something amazing—“in rehearsal, in concert, and in the classroom.”

Quote of Note: “Mike asks ‘Why not?’” notes his superintendent. “Why not have a rock-band class for middle school students where they can share their voice through that medium?”

Lauren Stuart

Beverly Hills Unified School District
El Rodeo School—English Language Arts

City of Residence: Sherman Oaks
Years Teaching: 12

Lauren told an eighth-grade student, in tears over his low score in a reading test, “Read anything, read everything, just read.” The boy began reading two to four hours a day. His next score showed a two-year improvement and brought joy to student and teacher alike.

Quote of Note: A colleague writes, “As a 21st-century educator, Lauren is the first to pilot new technology in the classroom, lead professional development, and coach individual teachers.”

Guy Myers

Burbank Unified School District
John Burroughs High School—Drama/Musical Theatre

City of Residence: Burbank
Years Teaching: 16

Guy is a self-described lifelong “theatre geek.” After graduating from Yale with a degree in theatre studies and traveling the U.S. as an actor, writer and director, he found his true calling and starring role as drama teacher at John Burroughs High in Burbank.

Quote of Note: “Guy Myers wears no cape,” says a grateful parent, “but he is a theater education superhero. The skills my sons learned in his classes will serve them well in life.”

Jennifer Bell

Glendora Unified School District
Glendora High School—English/AP Language & Composition

City of Residence: Pasadena
Years Teaching: 18

Jen works with her tenth- and eleventh-grade English students to facilitate their conversations and connections with each other. They learn mutual respect through listening to opposing positions and talking honestly about complex matters.

Quote of Note: A student’s grateful words: “With the books, poems and speeches Ms. Bell introduced us to, I have felt as if I can go into life with a better understanding of my own identity.”

Susan Levy

Las Virgenes Unified School District
Chaparral Elementary School—Second Grade

City of Residence: Westlake Village
Years Teaching: 24

“Most people believe a teacher’s job is to educate our students,” Sue writes. “But students cannot possibly succeed without nurturing and empathetic relationships with their teachers.” This, for her, is the foundation of her second-grade classroom community.

Quote of Note: Writes a colleague: “Teachers and students knew they could always go to Sue with any question, and she would always manage to find the answer they were seeking.”

Allison Akeo

Long Beach Unified School District
Marshall Academy of the Arts—Sixth Grade Math/Science

City of Residence: Lakewood
Years Teaching: 19

Allison was inspired to become a teacher by visiting her aunt’s fifth-grade classroom, where she was invited to read aloud from a novel and pose questions. “It felt so natural and easy,” she recalls. A high school elective for “future teachers” sealed her career deal.

Quote of Note: A former administrator recalls: “Mrs. Akeo taps into the inner-scholar in all children, a feat which is a testament to her skill, since she works with middle school students.”

Nikysha Gilliam

Los Angeles Unified School District
Audubon Middle School—English/U.S. History

City of Residence: Los Angeles
Years Teaching: 21

Nikysha wants her middle-school English students to understand that learning is not just something that they do, it’s a lifestyle that she hopes they adopt. “I know that I’m planting seeds now,” she writes, “seeds that I may not see blossom until years later.”

Quote of Note: In the words of an admiring colleague, “Mrs. Gilliam challenges her students daily with projects, readings and lessons that engage their minds and reinforce the content.”

Jessica Perry-Martin

Los Angeles Unified School District
ArTES Magnet/Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies—Visual Arts

City of Residence: Tujunga
Years Teaching: 18

Many students come into Jess’ high school visual arts classes with expectations of failure “because art is intimidating to understand.” She teaches them to persevere, to take risks to foster their artistic growth and to open their hearts to the beauty of art-making.

Quote of Note: An ex-student looks back: “It was being in Mrs. Perry-Martin’s class that helped me find my love for illustration and genuinely think about it as a possible career for me.”

Amy Weisberg

Los Angeles Unified School District
Topanga Elementary Charter School—Kindergarten/Transitional K

City of Residence: Topanga
Years Teaching: 39

After nearly four decades in the classroom, Amy is convinced the road to college and career begins in the first five years of life. As a kindergarten teacher welcoming children to their first school experience, she strives to help each one find a joy in learning.

Quote of Note: According to these grateful parents, “Amy sets high standards and expectations for everyone in her class, and even though they are tiny, they truly rise to the occasion.”

Veronica Escobedo

Palmdale School District
Tamarisk Elementary School—Fifth Grade

City of Residence: Canyon Country
Years Teaching: 11

Inspired to enter the profession by her own fifth-grade teacher, Veronica tells her class of fifth-graders, “I’m preparing you for the future!” In addition to the academic curriculum, she strives to teach them citizenship and the all-important art of making right choices.

Quote of Note: According to an administrator, “Veronica has become a model teacher, mobilizing and inspiring her colleagues who have always been pleased by the strategies she shares.”

Felicia Akuamoah

Paramount Unified School District
Paramount Park Middle School —Intervention/Language Arts Support

City of Residence: Playa del Rey
Years Teaching: 15

Teaching is not just about filling the minds of young people with content and purpose, Felicia firmly believes, but a unique opportunity to mold the characters and nurture the dreams and gifts of those who hold our country’s future in their hands.

Quote of Note: A colleague notes, “Felicia’s classroom is a place where our most underserved students feel safe to be themselves, to open up and connect with each other and with her.”

Heather Ladd

Redondo Beach Unified School District
Washington Elementary School—First Grade

City of Residence: San Pedro
Years Teaching: 22

Two of many lessons Heather has learned from her first-grade students are the importance of honoring the knowledge that they bring to school with them, and the value of encouraging her students to learn from one another instead of just from her.

Quote of Note: In the heartfelt words of one colleague, “Heather is that special kind of teacher who exhibits both an inquisitive mind along with a sensitive, caring heart.”

Megan Wareham

Torrance Unified School District
J. H. Hull Middle School—Math

City of Residence: Torrance
Years Teaching: 13

Megan feels the rapport she builds with her middle school students positively affects how they feel about math. She uses game formats, like tic-tac-toe, battleship, matching and online technology, to get students working together and having fun while learning.

Quote of Note: “I hated Ms. Wareham’s math class,” writes an ex-student. “She pushed me beyond my comfort zone. But by the second semester, I found myself looking forward to her class.”

Karla Toledo

West Covina Unified School District
Orangewood Elementary School—Kindergarten

City of Residence: Covina
Years Teaching: 8

As a child from a poverty-stricken family, Karla never forgot the sixth-grade teacher who went above and beyond to make her feel welcomed. She credits this woman for her own career choice and her daily efforts to forge bonds of trust with her kindergartners.

Quote of Note: A colleague offers this supporting testimony: “Karla invests patience and time in her students daily, helping them to be successful in class and on the playground.”

Laurel Priesz

William S. Hart Union High School District
Canyon High School—English/Instructional Coach

City of Residence: Valencia
Years Teaching: 12

Learning that more than a dozen of her ELL students lacked home computers, Laurel got her district to meet their needs. The next year, partnering with a local nonprofit, she helped more than 130 students get PCs. The program she helped launch continues to this day.

Quote of Note: Crediting Laurel for starting the PC program, the nonprofit’s director writes: “Her impact has been far-reaching, not just in her school but district-wide (23,000 students).”

Jennifer Williams

Wiseburn Unified School District
Juan Cabrillo Elementary School—First Grade

City of Residence: Hawthorne
Years Teaching: 14

Jennifer likes to quote two of her former first-graders to explain her own philosophy of teaching. First there was Bennie, who said, “You have to try real hard and never, ever give up,” followed by Brandon, who said, “You are smarter than you think you are.”

Quote of Note: In the words of a grateful parent, “Mrs. Williams has the ability to patiently problem-solve on the fly with a young age group that requires extra attention throughout the day.”


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