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MDUSD School Board Recognizes District Teachers of the Year and Finalists!
Posted 3/14/23

Board with Teachers of Year

MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark (back) stands with (l-r) Board Member Erin McFerrin, Teacher of the Year Finalist Veronica Leno Garcia, Teacher of the Year Danya Townsend, Board Member Debra Mason, Teacher of the Year Joseph Alvarico, Board President Keisha Nzewi, Teacher of the Year Finalist Lisa Dippo, Board Member Cherise Khaund, Teacher of the Year Finalist Miran Chung and Board Member Linda Mayo at the March 9, 2023 Board Meeting.


Two District Teachers of the Year will advance to the Contra Costa County competition


During its March 8th meeting, the Mt. Diablo Unified School Board recognized the 2023-24 District Teachers of the Year Joseph Alvarico and Danya Townsend and finalists Miran Chung, Lisa Dippo and Veronica Leno Garcia. Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark commended them for their strong focus on building connections with students, while also providing rigorous coursework.  

The finalists were chosen from 50 outstanding educators teaching Transitional Kindergarten through grade 12 who were nominated and offered the opportunity to submit a brief questionnaire. The Teachers of the Year received wooden plaques, while the three additional finalists received engraved glass mementos.


Alvarico and Townsend will advance to the County Teacher of the Year competition, which will announce four county finalists next month. Profiles of Alvarico and Townsend are here. Below is a closer look at the three other finalists: Shore Acres Elementary teacher Miran Chung, Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo and Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia. 


Classroom Close-Ups with three District

Teacher of the Year Finalists

3 Finalists

Chung, Dippo and Leno Garcia all said they were honored to be chosen as finalists. Like Alvarico and Townsend, they all place a high priority on building relationships with students, emphasizing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as rigorous academics.



Miran Chung

Miran Chung and students

Shore Acres Elementary Education Specialist Miran Chung teaches her TK-2 Special Day Class students a breathing exercise.


Chung teaches a TK-2nd grade Special Day Class at Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point, and has 22 years of experience working in education settings, including 15 years of teaching. She has previously taught general education and special education in grades 4-5, but wanted to teach younger children so that she could reach every single student in her class as they begin their educational journeys. She also works to build strong relationships with parents and to educate them about their students' needs and available resources, so they can all work together as a team to support the students.


"Everyone needs to be on the same page," she said. "So from the ground up, we have a solid foundation so the parents can continually work with the child at home. I communicate with each one of the parents on a daily basis."


Using the Class Dojo app, she keeps the parents updated about small things as well as big things, such as goals she is working on with her 15 students related to both behavior and academics. She is also embracing the school-wide social justice theme, teaching students about kindness, fairness and equity as she helps them to build their social and emotional skills. 

"I make sure my kids know they are Number One at our school," she said. "They are so bright and capable, but they face a lot of challenges. I want parents to have that mindset. I want them to question things and know their students' worth. As the kids get older, I want them to be able to stand up for themselves. I want to be an advocate for students and parents. I want to empower them. My students are very happy. They know what they are good at. I want them to think about what they want to aspire to be."

Students said they like Chung. "She gives me a high five," said 6-year-old 1st grader Kai Ngo, after he received a congratulatory high five and a "Shark Bite" reward from Chung when he completed an assignment. Skye Chiffoleag, another 6-year-old 1st grader, said: "She teaches us good stuff." Both students enjoyed learning breathing exercises that Chung taught to help them stay calm if they are feeling anxious, from the book, "Breathing is our Superpower," by Alicia Ortego.

Principal Miguel Rodriguez praised Chung for the caring relationships she builds with her students, parents and colleagues, as well as the academic rigor and high expectations she communicates to them. "She's very loving and supporting," he said. "She's what we call a 'warm demander.' She's part of the glue that makes this special community go."



Lisa Dippo

Lisa Dippo and students

Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo (dressed for Pajama Day during Spirit Week) helps student Jeffran Nava Rios on a math assignment.


Dippo has spent the last three years teaching 5th grade at Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg, and has 17 years of teaching experience. Her first teaching position in MDUSD was as a resource specialist at Fair Oaks Elementary, where she worked for seven years. She then worked as a resource specialist for four years in the Walnut Creek School District. After working in Special Education for 11 years, Dippo spent three years teaching 3rd grade at Delta View before moving up to 5th grade. She enjoys building relationships with students.


"I feel it's a privilege to work with the next generation," she said, adding that she likes the level of independence that she sees in her 5th-graders, and feels challenged to teach them everything they need to know to prepare them for middle school next year. "My number one priority aside from all the subjects is teaching them responsibility," Dippo said. "It's a foundation. There's no way they can be successful if they don't have that primary foundation - if they don't have their act together."

Like Chung, Dippo also believes it's important to keep the lines of communication open with parents so they can work as a team to help students. "I say, 'I can't do this job without you. Thank you for the honor of spending most of the day with your child,'" she said. "I try to communicate about not only the negative, but the positive."

Students said Dippo is patient and helps them to understand difficult concepts. "She's kind and makes learning fun sometimes," said Bella Solis, explaining that she enjoyed using colorful discs to learn about fractions. Teagan Nguyen said Dippo answers his questions and helps students prepare well for tests. "My teacher makes me confident about what I do," he said. Jeffren Nava Rios added: "She explains things really well. She doesn't really rush you."

Dippo said her special education background helps her understand the need to slow things down sometimes to ensure students understand concepts, while still keeping the rigor high. "It's valuable because Special Education requires you to see the whole child and meet them where they are in their learning - to meet their immediate needs and try to fill their educational gaps," she said. 

Principal Cheryl Champion said Dippo is a fabulous teacher, who worked with her at Fair Oaks before both of them came to Delta View. "She has a lot of care and goes above and beyond," Champion said.



Veronica Leno Garcia

Leno Garcia and students

Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia helps students learn addition by counting the dots on colorful dice.


Leno Garcia teaches Bilingual Kindergarten at Cambridge Elementary in Concord and has been teaching for 11 years, including nine years at Cambridge. She teaches her Spanish-fluent students 50% in English and 50% in Spanish, using a variety of strategies including singing, movement, art, counting with a pointer or by passing around an inflatable ball or using colorful dice, and adding and subtracting bananas that are "eaten" by a monkey. She also stresses the school's three character traits: be safe, be respectful and be responsible.

"Every year I am learning new ways to involve students and teach in Spanish," she said, explaining that she supplements the curriculum materials to make the lessons more fun. "We want the kids to have fun everyday and to learn from their mistakes. I tell them, 'If you make a mistake, it's OK. Try again.'"

As I bilingual person who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6, Leno Garcia remembers how hard it was to learn English in Kindergarten, in a school that did not have a bilingual program. "I like to motivate and encourage students who are bilingual," she said. "I tell them, 'You can learn two languages at the same time and learn to read and write in them both!" She is dedicated to following the 3 Pillars of Dual Language Education: bilingualism and biliteracy, high academic achievement, and sociocultural competence.

She uses Spanish to build a bridge for students to learn English. For example, she teaches them words that start with a specific letter in Spanish, then teaches them the same words in English and compares the two words. Dual language consultant Jose Medina, who recently visited her classroom during a professional development day for teachers, praised her use of "cross-lingual" strategies on display in front of her classroom to help students connect Spanish and English words. Student Cristopher Barahona said Leno Garcia is "nice" and student Arianna Luna added: "She teaches a lot!" 


Mónica Navarro-Kirby, the District's English Learner and Dual Language Elementary Programs District Coach, nominated Leno Garcia for Teacher of the Year. "She’s been teaching kindergarten for about 10 years in the dual language program and throughout that time, I’ve seen her grow and develop a wide array of strategies for biliteracy as well as really making sure her students feel safe, healthy, and engaged in learning - as well as developing a strong rapport with the families that she works with to make sure that parents feel included and welcome to come into the classroom and know how to support their child at home. She is a committed, dedicated professional who cares very much about her community, her colleagues, and her students. And she's someone who is very highly regarded at the school as well as throughout the District with other colleagues. She’s such a hard worker!"