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Congrats to MDUSD's 2023-24 Teachers of the Year and Finalists!
Posted 3/9/23

Two MDHS District Teachers of the Year will advance to the county competition

Joseph AlvaricoYgnacio Valley HS teacher Joseph Alvarico


Danya Townsend

Olympic High School teacher Danya Townsend


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Ygnacio Valley High School teacher Joseph Alvarico and OIympic Continuation High School teacher Danya Townsend have been selected as the District's two Teachers of the Year for 2023-24 out of five finalists that also included Shore Acres Elementary teacher Miran Chung, Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo and Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia. The finalists were selected from the 50 outstanding educators from Transitional Kindergarten through grade 12 who were nominated and offered the opportunity to submit a brief questionnaire.


The questionnaires were scored by members of the MDUSD Teacher of the Year Selection Committee and the top scoring individuals were interviewed. The School Board recognized the nominees and finalists at its Wednesday, March 8th meeting.


Both Alvarico and Townsend said they were honored to be chosen to represent the District and their schools. They are both described by colleagues and students as visionary educators with high expectations who help transform students' lives by making learning relevant and meaningful and building strong relationships with them. Students say they feel comfortable speaking to both of them about personal issues, as well as academics.


Alvarico teaches engineering and advises Robotics Project 212 and Femineer clubs at YVHS, which he created to give students opportunities to explore STEM after school. Townsend teaches Leadership, Weights (which she started at the school) and the APEX Learning class, which allows students to complete courses at their own pace using an online program, with guidance and oversight from Townsend. 


Joseph Alvarico

Alvarico and students

MDUSD Teacher of the Year Joseph Alvarico chats with students in the after-school Femineer Club he advises to help interest girls in STEM.


Alvarico has taught for 23 years, including eight years at Oak Grove Middle School, 11 years at Ygnacio Valley High and four years in the Phillipines, from which he immigrated. He teaches engineering courses for students in grades 9-12, including dual enrollment College and Career Access Pathway (CCAP) courses in partnership with Diablo Valley College (DVC) that allow students to earn college credits while in high school. He also teaches a Fusion 360 Computer Aided Design (CAD) course at DVC. Alvarico works tirelessly with students during school – as well as before and after school and during breaks  –  to ensure they are challenging themselves and learning new skills that can help them pursue educational goals and careers that many of them never thought possible before taking his classes. He fosters a supportive community of curious, innovative critical thinkers who collaborate with each other and mentor each other in an academically rigorous, yet empathetic family environment. His work garnered him recognition last year as  a "Teacher of the Game" by the San Francisco 49ers Foundation and Chevron, which funds some of his STEM programs. His dream is to make Ygnacio Valley High a magnet school for robotics.


YVHS Principal Jonathan Pike and Vice Principal Mandy Loushin nominated Alvarico for Teacher of the Year. “He inspires his students to become more than just part of his Engineering program,” Loushin said. “They are leaders, hard workers, problem solvers and students of good character. I am inspired by Mr. Alvarico’s hard work and dedication to his students, his Engineering Program and the community surrounding him.”


To help students to be successful in high school, college and in life, Alvarico said he is passionate about building their leadership skills as well as their engineering skills. “I’m just one person in a room in a sea of 27-30 students,” he said. “It’s impossible for me to help out every single one of them, so I develop leaders.” For example, five students in his freshman engineering class are also in the after-school robotics club, so they have already learned to use a laser cutter and 3D printer. He enlists their help to train other students, which builds their confidence and leadership skills and fosters a spirit of mentoring both in his classes and in the clubs he oversees. Leaders in the Robotics and Femineer clubs attract more students to participate, he added. 


Alvarico has also built strong partnerships with engineering industry professionals, who help mentor his students and provide funding for school programs. April Treece, founder and chief executive officer of the Bay Area LEEDS organization that works to strengthen the STEM career pipeline, said student success begins and ends with good teaching and that’s what she sees in Alvarico. “In addition to inspiring students, he’s innovative and he thinks about ways in which to engage students in real world learning and high-quality education as well, so our employers are thrilled to work with him and his students,” she said. “I’ve never met a more caring and dedicated teacher to the students that are in his care.”


Students said Alvarico is a wonderful teacher who helps them to see their own potential. "He has helped me to figure myself out and given me opportunities I wouldn't have gotten otherwise," said Manirat Kaur, a 15-year-old sophomore in Alvarico's Engineering Essentials class, who is also in the Robotics club and is co-president of the Femineer Club. "He sees things in students that other people wouldn't see and helps build on them on them. He finds that spark. He's helped me gain confidence and he's helped me to be a leader."


Danya Townsend

Danya Townsend and students

MDUSD Teacher of the Year Danya Townsend chats with seniors Tia Bradford and Ernesto Mat as they complete coursework during lunch in her class.


Townsend has taught for 14 years, including eight years at Riverview Middle School and two years in Oakley. This is her fourth year at Olympic High, which she says she loves. “I do like a challenge,” she said. "I wanted to have an opportunity to bring my experience and passion and drive here. I don’t feel like I’d teach in any other setting ever again. I just feel like there are so many options here that are endless and it’s a place where students who haven’t really felt like they belong in school or have been successful can experience something different - and that changes that for them - and I love being a part of that experience for them. I feel like this is definitely where I belong.” Her work garnered her the California Continuation Education Association's Teacher of the Year Award last year, when then-Principal Lynsie Castellano called her "a culture game-changer for any school."


Olympic’s current Principal Courtney Lyon nominated Townsend for District Teacher of the Year. “She is just so passionate about alternative education,” Lyon said. “She really has a heart for the kids and wants them to feel like they are seen, they are valued and they can be successful in their academics, even if they have not previously experienced success. She’s really intent on building community here. She does a great job of supporting the whole student and making learning relevant and meaningful. A lot of our kids are deciding if they want to stick it out and get a diploma and she really does a good job of connecting it to their lives.”


For example, in a recent leadership class after students were divided into teams and required to build towers using materials they received in an envelope, she pointed out that they could have all shared materials and worked together to build one giant tower. This led to a discussion about teamwork and collaboration, and why some people are reluctant to ask others for help. Townsend stressed the importance of being able to find those who are willing to support you and advocate for you after you graduate so that you have a network you can count on.


Most students come to Olympic from other schools where they were not on track to graduate and are at risk of dropping out, Townsend said. “They might not have a plan or direction,” she said. “Helping them find a purpose or direction or something that matters to them, that’s what’s so rewarding - just investing in them, creating relationships, and creating opportunities for them to care about coming here.”


Students said Townsend is a caring teacher who is passionate about teaching and is honest with them about what they need to do to get on track to graduate. “She keeps it real,” said Eva Carranza, 17. “And sometimes we need to hear that. She motivates me. She pushes you to do more than you thought you could actually do.” Ernesto Mat, 18, who spends lunchtime in Townsend’s classroom, said, “She’s great. That’s the reason I’m in here at lunch and not outside, because I love the way she makes you feel – the vibe – she makes everything fun.”