PLEASANT HILL -- Three teachers of kindergartners, middle schoolers and continuation high school students are vying to be named Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year on Thursday.
They are Terryl Miller of Los Perales Elementary in the Moraga School District; Rona Zollinger of Vicente Martinez High in the Martinez Unified School District; and Mona Keeler, of Iron Horse Middle School in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
The teachers were selected from among 21 district representatives and five semifinalists based on classroom observations, written applications and speeches. All three finalists demonstrated their willingness to go above and beyond in their schools, and that set them apart.
Miller, who has been teaching for 22 years, said she enjoys working with kindergartners because she can help lay the foundation for reading and writing.
"The curriculum has changed, and kids really learn how to read in kindergarten," she said. "I love just the very beginning -- the letters and the sounds -- and the beginning of that whole concept."
Keeler has taught mathematics at Iron Horse Middle School for the past 10 years, but her career spans two decades.
"This school district has so many fabulous teachers, " she told this newspaper in April when she was selected to represent the district in the contest. "The bar was set very high."
Keeler, who said she loves teaching algebra, speculated that her energy and enthusiasm
"Algebra is tough," she said. "My role is to get them interested. The kids know I want them to learn. I will put in as much time as they need to be successful."
Rona Zollinger began the Environmental Studies Academy at Vicente Martinez High School, which is known as "New Leaf: A Sustainable Living Collaborative." After she was named as a nominee in May, Zollinger said that saving the environment for future generations had long been one of her top priorities.
"I was a mother at 19," she said. "It allowed me to look at the world with a new lens and to ask critical questions of myself. I wanted to tell a different story. It's about how to create a future you really want."
Melissa Stephenson, who teaches fifth-grade at John Swett Elementary, had high praise for Zollinger.
"Rona painted a vision and that really stuck," Stephenson said. "It's such a phenomenal thing to watch what she's able to get out of her students. There's something just golden about her."
Miller said it was especially gratifying to be nominated by her peers.
"I think I bring to the table willingness to be on committees and work with other teachers," she said. "I know it's really appreciated by the educators at my school."
Staff writer Jason Sweeney and correspondent Jennifer Shaw contributed to this report.
For a complete list of district Teacher of the Year representatives, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.
More information about the awards program is available by calling 925-942-3429 or by visiting www.cccoe.k12.ca.us. Click on "Communications," then "News Releases."
For additional details, visit the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.