Mar 16, 2016

Give the five teachers pictured an emphatic high-five the next time you see them.

They were recently named by the West Contra Costa Public Education Fund as 2016 Teaching Excellence Award winners for their daily commitment to excellence in the classroom.

The winners, from left to right, are Kristyn Loy, a sixth grade math and science teacher at Stewart K-8 School in Pinole; Taylor Rainier, a special education teacher at DeJean Middle School in Richmond; Lawrence Pang, a math teacher at El Cerrito High; Helene Burks, a biology and environmental science teacher at El Cerrito High; and Marisa Glidden, a sixth grade teacher at Dover Elementary School (San Pablo).

All five teachers, according to the Ed Fund, have  been brilliant at carefully and thoughtfully weaving creativity, high standards, profound knowledge of their subjects and appreciation of individual differences, needs and strengths.

“They represent the dedicated and talented educators we entrust to ensure that all students are prepared for college or career when they leave our schools,” Board President Randy Enos said.

For Glidden, that means constructing a classroom where students take charge of their own education on seven different but aligning committees. The classroom committees set short and longterm goals, which works to motivate, set goals and help students take leadership of their learning and pathway to college and career, according to the district.

“All students have the ability to succeed and become leaders both in their own education and in the community,” Glidden said.

Loy, whose mother was a local teacher, has the same goal of empowering children to become lifelong learners. One of her main strategies is to establish trusting and respectful relationships with her students.

“Once my students feel safe physically and emotionally, then the real learning can begin,” she said.

Rainier’s teaching excellence is inspired by her hero and motivator, Paulo Freire, who believes teachers should learn from students as much as students learn from them.

“She sees her job as an educator to deeply understand where her students are coming from, the talents and knowledge they already possess, and what their end goals are,” the district said. “By making lessons as relevant as possible to her students, and validating their funds of knowledge, she feels that she opens up doors to their futures.”

Burks agrees with that strategy, saying building strong relationships with students has helped to break down walls blocking communication, and has allowed her students to open up and take risks in attempting new skills.

It’s not about “making learning fun,” Pang added, but helping students realize how satisfying and important it is. He tries to bring home the lesson to his students that the larger the challenge, the greater the reward.

“A high quality failure has as much value as some successes,” the district said of Pang’s teaching style. “Whether the student is ultimately successful in defeating any one individual challenge is not as important as how they respond to the adversity. The art of teaching is finding the correct level of challenge.”

The Ed Fund will celebrate and honor the five teachers, along with 52 student scholarship winners, at its 28th Annual Soaring to Excellence Celebration on Friday, May 6 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Avenue, El Cerrito.

The event is free and open to the public. Register at

Photos courtesy of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.


  1. Nice photos. Wonder where they came from.

    Don Gosney | Mar 16th, 2016
  2. the school district.

    Mike Aldax | Mar 16th, 2016

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.