For more than 30 years, Ed Fund West has recognized the county’s best teachers through the Teaching Excellence Awards. These educators exemplify putting students at the center of the educational experience. With the shift to distance learning due to COVID-19, the challenges to giving our students the best educational experience have made it more necessary to support and acknowledge the work our teachers do in West Contra Costa Unified School District.

2020 TEA winners

We are excited to honor our 37th cohort of Teaching Excellence Award winners!!! To select this year’s teachers, we focused our attention on those who have exemplified putting students at the center of the educational experience. We received over 50 teacher nominations and after classrooms and teacher interviews we chose the following four teachers:

Cesar Dante, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Third Grade DLI

Mr. Dante has 10 years of teaching experience, and has spent the last 5 years at Chavez Elementary. In the classroom, he is a calm and reassuring presence, prioritizing honesty and open communication with his students—in both English and Spanish. He demonstrates a wholehearted investment in his students’ holistic growth and well-being, and makes it a point to understand their individual hopes, dreams, fears, and goals.

As a proponent of personal growth as a complement to academic growth, he balances traditional learning with social-emotional learning through in-class Restorative Justice, Peace Circles, yoga, and meditation, while simultaneously encouraging technology proficiency among his students. Notably, he also engages the wider school community in these practices, by leading professional development courses around mindfulness and mental health.

Sydney Schantz, Korematsu Middle School, 7-8 Grade ELA

2020 TEA recipient with students

Ms. Schantz is in her third year of teaching, and has been at Korematsu Middle for the past year. In just 3 years, she has developed a series of innovative classroom systems and procedures—and continues to critically assess and improve them. In this way, she creates a unique class culture that her students take pride and ownership in. For example, she incentivizes good behavior through a “Behavior Points” system and creates opportunities for student leadership through student “jobs” such as ‘Class Librarian.’

She is deeply invested in maintaining relationships with parents and frequently reaches out to provide personalized updates on student behavior, not only when there is a need for improvement, but also to provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. These close relationships with both students and families allow her to genuinely tailor her instruction to individual student needs.

Jesus Galindo, Lincoln Elementary, 3rd Grade Bilingual

Mr. Galindo has six years of teaching experience, and currently teaches at Lincoln Elementary. He brings a passionate message of empowerment into his classroom—his students know their full potential and how to achieve it, even when society may tell them otherwise. He works tirelessly to delegitimize the narrative that academic and career success is reserved only for students in wealthier neighborhoods, and ensures that his students are equipped and inspired to do the same.

His teaching philosophy is deeply rooted in community and diversity. He spends time with students and their families outside of the classroom on the way to school, at the movies, and even while shopping at the Richmond Flea Market. Additionally, he celebrates the myriad backgrounds in his classroom, often leading lessons on culture and heritage.

Crystal Turner, Lupine Hills Elementary School, TK

Ms. Turner has been at Lupine Hills Elementary for the past three years. She believes in teaching by example, and uses her own commitment to being a lifelong learner to inspire her students to similarly enjoy the process of learning, rather than just focusing on the outcome. Another way in which she leads by example is by modeling traits of empathy, compassion, and inclusion, encouraging her students to do the same. The guiding principle of her classroom is mutual respect.

Parents and students alike consistently share their appreciation for Ms. Turner’s fun and creative instruction ranging from sign language to art projects, to first grade math! She is a joyful presence in the school hallways, with students always reaching out to greet her–her enthusiasm is contagious.