Alameda County 2019 Teacher of the Year Awards

For 30 years, we have taken this joyous opportunity to honor and celebrate the heroes who work in our classrooms every day. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this moment.

As the daughter of a teacher, and as someone who spent the early years of my career in the classroom, I know well the work, the commitment, and the dedication required. We know how much our teachers give and how much we all gain by their remarkable efforts on behalf of students.

These outstanding educators we honor tonight are role models for the children they teach, for their colleagues, their communities and for all of us.

Our theme for 2019 is “Lighting the Future.” Our teachers are guiding, shining lights. They illuminate the world every day for their students and show our children the path to success in a dynamic, fast-changing world. No one is more impactful than the teacher in the classroom who spends day after day inspiring, motivating and modeling the benefits of lifelong learning.

These 18 exemplary teachers are lighthouses for us all, guiding our students to possibilities and their bright futures. Celebrating them is our honor. Thank you for being a part of it.

Opening Reception

Volunteer Staff - Alameda County Office of Education
Alameda County Board of Education Trustees (left to right) Aisha Knowles, Ken Berrick, Vice President Amber Childress, Yvonne Cerrato, and President Joaquín Rivera.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Megan Clappin, teacher, Livermore Valley Joint USD; Jason Ewing, teacher, Dublin USD; Chris Meyer, teacher, Tri-Valley ROP; Aisha Knowles, Trustee, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Mia Buljan, teacher, Hayward USD; Aisha Knowles, Trustee, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Precious James, teacher, Oakland USD; Pauline Stahl, teacher, Alameda USD; Joaquín Rivera, President, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Saroda Chattopadhyay, teacher, Fremont USD; Joanne Hong, teacher, Newark USD; Jay E. Crawford, teacher, Mission Valley ROP; Joaquín Rivera, President, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Tontra Love, teacher, Oakland USD; David Ramirez, teacher, Oakland USD; Joaquín Rivera, President, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Raul Parungao, ACOE Associate Superintendent of Business Services; Joshua Theo Wheeler, teacher, Castro Valley USD; Jess Vaughn, teacher, San Lorenzo USD; Kathleen Maier, teacher, San Leandro USD; Aisha Knowles, Trustee, Alameda County Board of Education.
(left to right) Leslie Nuru Epstein, teacher, Emery USD; Joaquín Rivera, President, Alameda County Board of Education; Paola Walker, teacher, Alameda COE.

The Program

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi, Castro Valley USD, welcomed teachers and guests.
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe served as Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening ceremony.
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe


David Espinoza teaches Automotive Technology at Eden Area ROP Center in Hayward. He trained in automotive mechanics during his time in the U.S. Army and spent many years teaching martial arts before a relative convinced him to apply for the job at ROP. He said he works to create a relaxed classroom environment in which students are encouraged to “be themselves.” David has been teaching for 14 years.

PAULINE STAHL, Alameda Unified School District

Pauline Stahl teaches biology and physiology at Encinal Junior/Senior High School in Alameda. She has been in the teaching profession for 28 years and is also an adjunct instructor of anthropology at Merritt College. Pauline became a teacher after a short career in banking, and said her “singular theory of action” is to change the trajectory of traditionally marginalized students.

MIA BULJAN, Hayward Unified School District

Mia Buljan began teaching 24 years ago after beginning her career in data management for financial institutions. Her grandmother taught preschool for 40 years and greatly influenced her desire to be an educator. She said she learned that children are “deserving of our respect and that the world is a wondrous place worth knowing.” In 2016, she was a State Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

LESLIE NURU EPSTEIN, Emery Unified School District

Leslie Nuru Epstein has 18 years experience as a classroom teacher and 24 years of experience working in Special Education. Her goal is to “provide what the students need so they will ultimately have choices and opportunities” in both their personal and academic lives.

KATHLEEN MAIER, San Leandro Unified School District

JASON EWING, Dublin Unified School District

Jason Ewing has been teaching for seven years after a career as a competitive soccer coach. He was recruited into teaching by a rival coach. He believes in creating strong relationships with students based on trust and care, and ensuring that his students care for each other, our planet, and most importantly themselves when they leave his class at the end of the year.
Student Award Presenters from Castro Valley USD (left to right): Albert Mendez and Maia Mendes, Redwood High School; Sofia Tortorelli and Devin Green, Castro Valley High School.

SARODA CHATTOPADHYAY, Fremont Unified School District

Saroda Chattopadhyay has been teaching in Fremont since 2014 and has been an educator for the past 12 years. She holds a double Master of Science degree in Electronic Science and Telecommunications Systems. Both of her parents were educators and inspired her to make a positive impact on her community.

TESSIE GONSALVES, Pleasanton Unified School District

Tessie Gonsalves has been an educator for 25 years. She holds a Masters in Education and has had a wide variety of experiences as an educator, including serving as an assistant principal and opening a new school as the science department chair. She said that nothing is better than seeing a student understand a topic with which they have been struggling.

PRECIOUS JAMES, Oakland Unified School District

Precious James became a teacher in 2009 and has been teaching at Madison Park Academy since 2016. In 2010, she was selected as Teach Tomorrow in Oakland’s Teacher of the Year and was honored by former Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums with “Precious James Day” in the City of Oakland. “Kids First” and the Malcolm X phrase, “By any means necessary,” guide her work with students every day.

PAOLA WALKER, Alameda County Office of Education

Paola Walker teaches English and Science at Camp Wilmont Sweeney in San Leandro. She became an educator after working in business for six years and obtained her bilingual multiple-subject credential from San Jose State in 2008. She said the excellent teachers in her own life were influential in her decision to become an educator.

MEGAN CLAPPIN, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District

Megan Clappin is a fifth grade teacher at Jackson Avenue Elementary School in Livermore. She has been a classroom teacher since 1995 and comes from a family of teachers. Her mother and grandmother taught at the elementary level and in special education. She said she has always been drawn to teaching because of the opportunity to see children “overcome learning struggles...witnessing their joy when they solve a problem, and helping them to set and accomplish goals.”

JOANNE HONG, Newark Unified School District

Joanne Hong was the Choir and Band Director at Newark Memorial from 2011-2019 after working at Newark Junior High School since 2005. Hong once served as the choral director of an employee choir at Disneyland. Hong, who retired in June, said it was her goal to impress the importance of music and the arts on the community.
Newark Memorial High School Choir, Newark Unified School District

DAVID RAMIREZ, Oakland Unified School District

David Ramirez has taught math and science at Urban Promise Academy, where he has worked since 2011. He is currently working on his doctorate in Educational Philosophy and has earned his Masters in Education and Educational Leadership. He believes his duty as a teacher is to guide students to their strengths and build their self-confidence.

JAY E. CRAWFORD, Mission Valley ROP

Jay E. Crawford has been teaching for 14 years following his service as a Sergeant in the Oakland Police Department and three years of service in the U.S. Army as a military police offer. He retired from law enforcement in 2003 and found his new purpose as a law enforcement teacher at Mission Valley ROP in Fremont. His classes focus on ethics, civil rights, search and seizure, and law.
Pianists Aileen and Korey Dang of San Leandro Unified School District performed two outstanding solos.


Chris Meyer has been an educator for seven years, teaching classes in Animation, and Video Game Art and Design at Tri-Valley ROP in Dublin. His predecessor was his teacher in high school, who encouraged Chris to pursue the position. He credits the growing demand for his courses and students’ energy in class to his passion for the subject.

JOSHUA THEO WHEELER, Castro Valley Unified School District

TONTRA LOVE, Oakland Unified School District

Tontra Love began her teaching career in Oakland in 1996. She is a proud product of public education, earning her degree from the University of California, Berkeley. For the past 23 years, she has served on multiple committees and boards and says that “Teaching is the most important work I’ve ever done.”

JESS VAUGHN, San Lorenzo Unified School District

Jess Vaughn has been working as an English and ELD teacher at Arroyo High School since 2014. A former collegiate athlete, she taught English in Sri Lanka and was a member of AmeriCorps in Massachusetts. Her goals are to create great relationships with students and infuse rigor and high expectations into their work.

Educators Pauline Stahl, Alameda USD, and Joshua Theo Wheeler, Castro Valley USD, were named County Teachers of the Year.

(Left to Right) Alameda County Board of Education President Joaquín Rivera; Trustee Yvonne Cerrato; Vice President Amber Childress; Alameda USD Teacher of the Year Pauline Stahl; Trustee Ken Berrick; Castro Valley USD Teacher of the Year Joshua Theo Wheeler; Trustee Aisha Knowles; and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe.

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Photos © Alameda County Office of Education