Skip to content
California Department of Education News Release
Release: #11-84
November 7, 2011
Contact: Pam Slater
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces
California's Five Teachers of the Year

Selects Burbank Teacher as Nominee to National Competition

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today officially announced the selection of California's five 2012 Teachers of the Year.

"This honor is afforded to teachers who have demonstrated a special ability to connect with their students, a zest for the classroom, a genuine passion for an occupation that is so demanding yet oh so rewarding, as these five talented individuals will attest," Torlakson said. "Like all teachers in California, they are struggling with budget challenges and cutbacks in programs. That is what makes them even more extraordinary; I appreciate their determination to overcome obstacles while ensuring their students are learning—no matter what."

The 2012 California Teachers of the Year:

Rebecca Mieliwocki teaches English to seventh graders at Luther Burbank Middle School in the Burbank Unified School District (Los Angeles County). Mrs. Mieliwocki also was selected by Torlakson to serve as the state's representative to the National Teacher of the Year Program.

Florence Avognon teaches English and is part of the Reading Intervention Specialists Teachers program, Central Juvenile Hall, Los Angeles County Office of Education (Los Angeles County). (Due to budget cuts, Ms. Avognon was transferred in September to another court school, The Phoenix Academy, a residential treatment program for adolescent substance abusers, where she continues to teach high school.)

Tom Collett teaches Science to eighth graders at Newark Junior High School in the Newark Unified School District (Alameda County).

Shari Ann Herout teaches kindergarten and provides Responsiveness to Intervention services at Foxboro Elementary School in the Travis Unified School District (Solano County).

Ken LaVigne teaches English at La Serna High School in the Whittier Union High School District (Los Angeles County).

Their profiles, a statement by Superintendent Torlakson, and contact information are attached.

The California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to acknowledge the growing complexity of challenges faced by the profession and the need to promote collaboration among teachers to address challenges. The program is also designed to encourage new teachers to enter the field.

The competition is open to educators who teach prekindergarten through grade twelve. County offices of education nominate winners through their regional Teachers of the Year competitions. A state selection committee reviews candidates' applications and conducts site visits to evaluate the teachers' rapport with students, classroom environment, presentation skills, and teaching methods, among other criteria. The teachers are interviewed at the California Department of Education in Sacramento. The State Superintendent then selects the five awardees.

The 2012 California Teachers of the Year, the finalists, and semi-finalists will be honored by Torlakson at a gala to be held in February.

The 2012 California Teachers of the Year Finalists are:

Robert Brewer teaches Physics to eleventh and twelfth graders at Florin High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District (Sacramento County).

Mark Burroughs teaches a fourth/fifth grade combination class at San Pasqual Union School in the San Pasqual Union School District (San Diego County).

Nicoline Chambers teaches Science, Biology/Astrobio to ninth through twelfth graders at West High School in the Torrance Unified School District (Los Angeles County).

Alicia McBride teaches all subjects to ninth through twelfth graders at Reflections for San Diego County Office of Education (San Diego County).

Nicole Naditz teaches French to ninth through twelfth graders at Bella Vista High School in the San Juan Unified School District (Sacramento County).

Elaine Rosenfield teaches second grade at Bishop's Peak Elementary School in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (San Luis Obispo County).

Peggy Walker teaches AP Social Science to ninth through twelfth graders at Newbury Park High School in the Conejo Valley Unified School District (Ventura County).

For information on the California Teachers of the Year program, please visit California Teachers of the Year.


The 2012 California Teachers of the Year

Rebecca Mieliwocki
Seventh Grade, English
Luther Burbank Middle School
Burbank Unified School District

"If I accomplish anything with my students, I am proud to say it's that when they leave my classroom, they are better people than when they walked through my door."

—Rebecca Mieliwocki, from her 2012
California Teachers of the Year application

Rebecca Mieliwocki has been teaching for 13 years, including nine years at Burbank Middle School, where she teaches general education and Gifted and Talented Education classes. She is faculty chair and serves on the school leadership team. Her lessons are infused with a wide array of technical tools that, as her principal says, "brings lessons to life."

Superintendent Torlakson: "Mrs. Mieliwocki is an innovative, creative teacher with boundless energy and an enthusiastic spirit that spreads through each class and each student. Her phenomenal approach toward teaching and her unshakable faith in the potential of her students, led me to nominate her for the national Teacher of the Year title."

Mrs. Mieliwocki earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and a Single Subject Professional Clear Credential in English at California State University, Northridge.

She may be reached Luther Burbank Middle School, 818-558-4646, or by e-mail at

Back to top

Florence Avognon
High School, Reading/Reading Intervention
Central Juvenile Hall
(Recently transferred to The Phoenix School)
Los Angeles County Office of Education

"I teach incarcerated youth. I imagine I have landed where I was destined to be my entire professional career."

—Florence Avognon from her 2012
California Teachers of the Year application

Ms. Avognon has been teaching for 18 years, including nine years at Central Juvenile Hall, a detention facility for students going through the court system. She teaches high school English and history. (Due to budget cuts, Ms. Avognon was transferred in September to another court school, The Phoenix Academy, a residential treatment program for adolescent substance abusers, where she continues to teach high school.)

Part of her effectiveness as a teacher and mentor is to remind each new class of students that youth is fleeting. "I share with them that they were children longer than they will be teens, and that what they do for these brief six years can dictate what happens for the next sixty years of their lives," she wrote.

Superintendent Torlakson: "Ms. Avognon says teachers are simply partners for a better tomorrow. Such passionate, skilled, and dynamic teachers are able to take troubled and struggling young people and direct them to a brighter tomorrow, a more promising future."

Ms. Avognon earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies and a Master of Arts degree in U.S. History at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts degree in Teaching from the Teachers' College at Columbia University.

She may be reached through the Los Angeles County Office of Education, 562-922-6360, or by e-mail at

Back to top

Tom Collett
Eighth Grade, Science
Newark Junior High School
Newark Unified School District

"Students need to feel connected to their teacher, which makes them brave, enthusiastic, and eager to learn."

—Tom Collett, from his 2012 California
Teachers of the Year application

Mr. Collett taught Earth Science for 17 years at Newark Memorial High School. The 2010-11 school year was his first at Newark Junior High School, where he currently teaches eighth grade science.

An eclectic mix of magician and scientist, Mr. Collett keeps his students actively engaged through a treasure trove of strategies that include hands-on learning and the use of new educational technology, like a student response system where responses to questions are sent directly to his computer.

Superintendent Torlakson: "Tom is a wonderfully effective teacher who employs a wide array of teaching techniques tailored to increase student motivation, achievement, and engagement. I appreciate his remarkable ability to prepare students for an increasingly competitive, scientific world."

Mr. Collett earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Performance with a minor in Biology from California State University, San Jose; and a Clear Single Subject Credential in Physical Education with Supplementary Authorization in Introductory Science.

He can be reached at Newark Junior High School, 510-818-3000, or by e-mail at

Back to top

Shari Ann Herout
Kindergarten and RTI
Foxboro Elementary School
Travis Unified School District

"Once a child gets a taste of success, failure is no longer a measure of worth—strengths and successes are that measure and weaknesses are simply skills to be worked on."

—Shari Ann Herout, from her 2012
California Teachers of the Year application

Mrs. Herout has been teaching for 15 years, three of which have been at Foxboro Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarten and provides Responsive to Intervention instruction. (RTI is defined as a process that schools can use to help children who are struggling academically or behaviorally.) Each school day, her young children enter her world with a sense of wonder. They each are greeted personally with a handshake or elbow bump and they instantly know they are safe in a classroom where "we make room for everyone to shine."

Superintendent Tom Torlakson: "Mrs. Herout sees teaching as more than a job. She teaches with a multiage, one-room schoolhouse philosophy that empowers her students to seek knowledge with passion. She knows of the obstacles that face many children, yet she helps them work through them so success can be achieved and savored."

Mrs. Herout earned a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from California State University, Sacramento, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, and also a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction: Elementary School Mathematics.

She can be reached at Foxboro Elementary School, 707-447-7883, or by e-mail at

Back to top

Ken LaVigne
Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Grades
OASIS and English
La Serna High School
Whittier Union School District

"My job is to determine the reasons for the lack of effort, anger, and defiance. Loneliness and desperation cut deeply into the spirit of a child. I am a medic. I have to first stop the bleeding, and then get to the business of healing."

—Ken LaVigne, from his 2012
California Teachers of the Year application

Mr. LaVigne has been a teacher and football coach for 27 years, the last 21 of which have been spent teaching English at La Serna High School. Within days of retiring from coaching in 2006, he was asked to help develop a program for the school's most at-risk students. He and Principal Martin Plourde created Organized Academic Support in School (OASIS) with amazing results. The average grade-point average of the inaugural class upon entering the program was 0.93. A year later the average GPA increased to 2.28. The first graduating class totaled a dozen students, last school year it doubled.

Superintendent Torlakson: "Mr. LaVigne brings to the classroom a unique blend personal and professional commitment. He is able to break through the anger, the hopelessness that many of his students feel. As a teacher, an advocate, a watchdog, a cheerleader, he helps them find a reason to excel and sticks with them until they do."

Mr. LaVigne earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from California State University, Long Beach, and a Master of Education from Azusa Pacific University.

He can be reached at La Serna High School, 562-698-8121, or by e-mail at

Back to top

# # # #

Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5206, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Download Free Readers