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ESL teacher at James Monroe High is named 1 of 5 California Teachers of the Year

LA School Report | October 12, 2016

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California Teacher of the Year Isela Lieber with Superintendent Michelle King.


Five state teachers have been selected as California Teachers of the Year, including LA Unified’s Isela Lieber, a former English learner who now teaches English and English as a Second Language at James Monroe High School, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced Wednesday.

Lieber is an immigrant from Ecuador who came to the U.S. with only a seventh-grade education and very little knowledge of the English language, according to an LA Unified press release.  

“I want to make a difference in the students I serve,” Lieber said. “I tell them that I studied hard and I worked hard and I have been able to achieve something, and that I believe they can do the same thing.”

Lieber also sponsors SUCCEED, a club she founded that provides information and support to first-generation high school students interested in pursuing a post-secondary education.

Lieber has been teaching for 10 years, starting her career at Sepulveda Middle School and working the last four years at Monroe High in the San Fernando Valley. She also worked six years as a specialist, training other educators in bilingual education.

“Her example to our students is living proof of a strong commitment to student achievement,” Monroe High School Principal Chris Rosas said in the release. “As an immigrant herself, English learner, and first-generation college student, she makes a daily commitment to serve by leading by example.”

Lieber said she was overcome with emotion when learning of the honor, especially after being nominated for the award by a former student.

“She said that I inspired her,” Lieber said. “She wants to be a teacher too.”

Torlakson also announced two other LA Unified educators as finalists for the Teacher of the Year honors – Marcella DeBoer, who teaches English at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy on the campus of Cesar Chavez Learning Academies, and Matthew Waynee, a cinematic arts teacher at the LAUSD/USC Media Arts & Engineering Magnet.

Other finalists include Glendale Unified’s Dominique Evans-Bye, who teaches biology and geospatial technologies at Clark Magnet High School, and Covina-Valley Unified’s Sheila Edwards, who teaches American history and pre-AP American history at Sierra Vista Middle School.

The California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the profession. It is presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation.

The other four 2017 winners are:

• Megan Gross is an autism spectrum disorder teacher for ninth- through 12th-graders at Del Norte High School, Poway Unified School District, in San Diego. Torlakson also nominated Gross as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition. Gross will compete against other state nominees, and a 2017 National Teacher of the Year will be named in the spring.

• Shaun S. Bunn teaches mathematics to 8th-graders at Ethan A. Chase Middle School, Romoland School District, Menifee, Riverside County.

• Corinne (Corrie) Traynor is a fifth-grade multi-subject teacher at Barrett Ranch Elementary School, Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, Antelope, Placer County.

• Yun (Jenny) Tzu Anderson teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Casita Center for Technology, Science, and Math, Vista Unified, Vista, San Diego County.

Torlakson will honor the Teachers of the Year and the finalists at a gala to be held in Sacramento in February.

Visit the Teach California Web site for more information. 

*This story has been updated to show that Marcella DeBoer teaches at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy on the campus of Cesar Chavez Learning Academies.

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