CONCORD, CA (April 18, 2023) — Mt. Diablo Unified School District is once again reveling in having its teachers recognized for excellence as both Joseph Alvarico of Ygnacio Valley High School and Danya Townsend of Olympic High are named among the four finalists for 2023-24 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year.
The announcement was made Monday after Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey made surprise visits to the teacher’s Concord classrooms to reveal that they were among four finalists. There were 21 District Teachers of the Year from the 18 school districts in the county under consideration for the selection of the final four.
The other two finalists are Annalouisa Gonzalez-Ortega (Liberty Union High School District) and Patricia Ogura (West Contra Costa Unified School District).
The two Contra Costa Teachers of the Year will be announced Sept. 21 in a ceremony at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, where all District Teachers of the Year will be honored. Those two will then be entered in the State TOY competition. Natasha Paul of Mt. Diablo High was a 2022-23 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year and her fellow MDHS teacher Katalina Gallo was also one of the four County finalists.
Alvarico and Townsend were selected to represent MDUSD from five district finalists that also include Shore Acres Elementary teacher Miran Chung, Delta View Elementary’s Lisa Dippo and Veronica Leno Garcia from Cambridge Elementary. The finalists were selected from 50 outstanding educators nominated throughout the district and recognized at a recent MDUSD School Board 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 Olympic students to complete courses at their own pace using an online program, with guidance and oversight from Townsend.
Alvarico has taught for 23 years, including 19 in MDUSD (eight years at Oak Grove Middle School, 11 years at Ygnacio Valley) plus four years in the Philippines, from which he immigrated.
Alvarico champions STEM
He teaches engineering courses for students in grades 9-12, including dual enrollment College and Career Access Pathway courses in partnership with Diablo Valley College that allow students to earn college credits while in high school. He also teaches a Fusion 360 Computer Aided Design 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.
Ygnacio Valley High 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.”
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.
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 Feminee Club. “He sees things in students that other people wouldn’t see and helps build on them. He finds that spark. He’s helped me gain confidence and he’s helped me to be a leader.”
Townsend finds new home at Olympic
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.
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.
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.”
Previous MDUSD Winners named County Teachers of the Year
2022-23 Natasha Paul
2019-20 Shay Kornfeld
2018-19 Kelly Perkins (State Finalist) and Rosie Reid (State Teacher of the Year; National CA Rep)
2016-17 Shauna Hawes (State Finalist)
2003-04 Liane Cismowski
2001-02 Janet Gower (State Teacher of the Year)
1996-97 Judy Moon
1993-94 Kathy Prasch
1990-91 Janice Bergamini (State Finalist)
1988-89 Shannon Merrill
1987-88 Carol Sparks
1986-87 James Wiese
1985-86 James Sayre
1983-84 Victor Hansen
1981-82 William Thomas (State Finalist)
1979-80 Ann Rowe and Joseph Hipple
1978-79 Nancy Burton
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.