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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #15-79
October 26, 2015
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Names 2016 California Teachers of the Year

Los Angeles County educator nominated for National Teacher of the Year honor

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced that five remarkable educators have been selected as the 2016 California Teachers of the Year.

"The teachers we are honoring today are dedicated, energetic, innovative and very effective," Torlakson said. "Every day in the classroom they inspire students to learn, excel and realize their full potential. Their work provides a great example for other teachers."

Presenting the five 2016 California Teachers of the Year:

Daniel Jocz is a tenth-through-twelfth grade social studies teacher at Downtown Magnets High School, Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles County. Torlakson also nominated Jocz as California's representative for the National Teacher of the Year Competition.

Mitch Bahr teaches instrumental music to the ninth through twelfth grades at Foothill High School in Palo Cedro, Shasta Union High School District in Shasta County.

Michelle Cherland is a second grade multi-subject teacher at Carrillo Ranch Elementary School in Indio, Desert Sands Unified School District in Riverside County.

Doug Green teaches broadcast journalism to students in grades seven through twelve at both Valley Middle School and Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad, Carlsbad Unified School District in San Diego County.

Ann Park teaches writing and science to fifth graders at Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland, Oakland Unified School District in Alameda County.

The California Teachers of the Year Program, presented by California Casualty, began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the field.

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 (CDE) in Sacramento. The State Superintendent then selects the five awardees.

The 2016 California Teachers of the Year, the finalists, and semi-finalists will be honored by Torlakson at a gala to be held in Sacramento on February 15, 2016.                       

The list of finalists and semi-finalists is below. For more information on the award program, please visit the CDE's California Teachers of the Year Web page.


Daniel Jocz
National Teacher of the Year candidate
 Tenth-through-twelfth-grade social studies teacher
Downtown Magnets High School, Los Angeles
 Los Angeles Unified School District

"Each day I continuously strive to capture the magic, complexity, and wonder of history for my students from across Los Angeles's inner city neighborhoods. All too often my students from neighborhoods as diverse as South Central, East Los Angeles, and Chinatown rarely see themselves as being part of American history."

—Daniel Jocz from his 2016 California Teachers of the Year Application

Mr. Jocz has been a social studies teacher for 11 years and all have been spent at the Downtown Magnets High School, where he is an integral part of the community not only as a teacher, but department chair, instructional leadership team member, and associated student body advisor. His Advanced Placement U.S. History passage rate is among the highest in the district.

His use of 21st century technology, specifically YouTube multimedia, is recognized nationally and worldwide. "My regular use of popular culture and music in my lessons has allowed me to create a curriculum that is not only rigorous, but also relevant, engaging, and develops media literacy skills," he said.

The first in his family to go to college, Mr. Jocz put himself through the University of California, Los Angeles by working full time and taking hourlong bus rides to get to campus. He graduated magna cum laude. As a student himself, he saw that many of America's minority communities were often underrepresented in the recounting of the nation's history.

"To not teach this history…is to do a disservice to our nation's rich, complicated past. This is why I committed my life to teaching history in an urban public school setting," he wrote in his application. He has traveled the world and worked with teachers and students in other countries – allowing him to broaden his own world outlook as well as his curriculum.

His classroom is where students gather. One of his student's parents said it "serves as the heart of (the school's) spirit and headquarters. Mr. Jocz instills a sense of success and pride that our students take with them throughout their day and beyond school hours."

Mr. Jocz may be reached at the Downtown Magnets High School at 213-481-0371 or at

Mitch Bahr
Instrumental music
Jazz Band, Ensemble, Band I, Band II
  Foothill High School, Palo Cedro
 Shasta Union High School District

"One thing I say often to my musicians is, ‘I don't care what kind of musician you are in 20 years, I care about what kind of person you are.' For now, music is simply the vehicle that can promote the values of: discipline, hard work, empathy, respect."

—Mitch Bahr from his 2016 California Teachers of the Year Application

Mr. Bahr has been teaching for 19 years, 14 in his current position at the rural Foothill High School. He took the high school's music program that was in serious disarray and grew it from 30 students to well over 150. Once mocked, the school band is now held in the highest regard, wildly cheered at sporting events and assemblies, and has won countless awards and honors.

He took the band out of the band room and they traveled. They played brilliantly in numerous music festivals up and down the state, often taking top honors. With a roomful of trophies, Mr. Bahr decided five years ago to turn his attention instead to taking his students on experience-rich trips to such cities as Chicago and New York.

"Achievement on these trips is found witnessing students step out of comfort zones and experiencing another part of the world. Music opens that world both at home and when we travel," he said.

Mr. Bahr, himself, is a gifted, award-winning musician, falling in love with music as well as teaching at a very young age. Then, watching the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the site of 84 white grand pianos playing Rhapsody in Blue simultaneously on the field, cemented his future: "it was ‘music or nothing' for him from then on."

Foothill High Principal James A. Bartow, says, "Mitch Bahr is simply the best teacher I have worked with…in my 33 years in education. He combines his high energy, knowledge of music and a multitude of instruments, an ear for music, and the ability to connect on a daily basis with high school students."

Mr. Bahr may be reached at Foothill High School at 530-547-1700 or

Michelle Cherland
 Second-grade multi-subject teacher
 Carrillo Ranch Elementary School, Indio
Desert Sands Unified School District

"‘Be Awesome Today!' is a sign that hangs over my desk. It ensures that today is the day that something new will be learned, a song will be sung, a laugh will be shared, a friend will be made and a moment may occur that will be remembered long after this day has passed."

—Michelle Cherland from her 2016 California Teachers of the Year Application

Mrs. Cherland has been teaching for 14 years, 10 in her current position at Carrillo Ranch Elementary. A veteran of 12 different schools in 13 years when she was growing up, she never felt these many relocations (a result of her educator parents' career moves) were a disadvantage.

"I found it to be an adventure. Every school I attended had an entirely different culture. For instance, in fifth grade, the children were direct descendants of the rich and famous. Two years later, I went to a school composed of migrant workers' children who didn't speak much English," she said.

She is also an Army veteran having enlisted in 1991 when Operation Desert Shield had become Operation Desert Storm. She went from being an enlisted soldier to an army Captain during a wartime deployment – considered an extraordinary feat. Mrs. Cherland recently retired from the Army Reserves with 24 years of honorable duty.

 Highly decorated and serving three tours of active military duty, she always managed to keep education in her heart even during war. On a road march in Iraq, she brought to the convoy two heavy duffle bags and carried them the many miles to camp. As she unpacked, her fellow soldiers were amazed to see that those heavy bags were full of books for the Iraqi children.

Desert Sands Unified School District Superintendent Gary Rutherford calls the wife, mother to seven, teacher, and military officer "every superintendent's dream."

"She is respected among her peers, beloved by parents and students. She inspires and leads others to higher levels of performance and a deeper commitment to a student-centered philosophy," he wrote.

Mrs. Cherland may be reached at Carrillo Ranch Elementary at 760-238-9700 or

Doug Green
 Seventh-through-twelfth-grade broadcast journalism
  Valley Middle School and Carlsbad High School, Carlsbad
Carlsbad Unified School District

"I am thankful each and every day that I am a teacher. I love watching my students develop as they become motivated learners, talented journalists and remarkable human beings. My best 12 minutes of the day occur each morning at 9:18 a.m. when my high schools take their broadcast live to a large audience. I stand back, stay out of their way, and watch 34 students work as a team."

—Doug Green from his 2016 California Teachers of the Year Application

Teaching for 24 years, Mr. Green splits his day between Valley Middle School and Carlsbad High School. His students and their work have been seen not only on a high school campus, but nationally and internationally. Two stories—one about a 2010 shooting that injured two students at a nearby elementary school and the other a student-led documentary, "Invisible Threat" on the science of immunizations—lifted the young filmmakers and broadcasters onto the national stage.

Their commitment and Mr. Green's guidance and support have resulted in the district's programs being ranked the number one middle and high school scholastic broadcasts in the country.

Mr. Green's career began as a social worker and he would also assist schools in helping students who were struggling with reading. After receiving his teaching credentials, he began teaching eighth grade language arts, and eventually was asked to design a broadcast journalism elective.

"I love that my subject area has so much to offer to so many different types of learners. I love that the program is rigorous and that it reinforces life skills— students learn to manage deadlines, deal with technical challenges, and learn to become critical viewers. It is hands-on and academic."

Tom Bloomquist, principal of Valley Middle School, says, "Mr. Green's work has transformed his students, and led to successful high school, college, and career opportunities that were made possible by having him as a teacher. The work that students are able to do in Mr. Green's class is truly student-centered and student-driven, with the support of a charismatic and thoughtful teacher."

Mr. Green may be reached at Valley Middle School at 760-331-5300, at Carlsbad High School, 760-331-5100; or at

Ann Park
Fifth grade writing and science teacher
Greenleaf Elementary School, Oakland
 Oakland Unified School District

"Teaching is an act of social justice. To be a teacher is to be an agent for change. It is a dynamic profession that promotes lifelong learning, as well as ongoing challenges to analyze student data to drive our instruction and rethink our approaches to pedagogy so that all learners' needs are met."

—Ann Park from her 2016 California Teachers of the Year Application

Ms. Park has been teaching for 25 years — the last year at the Greenleaf TK-8 School, where she has chosen to take on a new opportunity after teaching since 2006 at Bridges Academy at Melrose, a K-5 elementary school in the Oakland Unified School District.

Throughout her teaching career, she has been tremendously active in the school community as a leader and team member, making collaboration a priority, encouraging teacher growth as a mentor, and has designed and facilitated numerous professional development workshops.

Her fifth-grade classroom is one of robust discussion, she says, where students are enthusiastically using hand signals to express agreement (fists closed, arms up, moving back and forth) or thoughtful disagreement (hands crossing back and forth across chest.) She employs a data-driven, student-centered approach to teaching.

Nyere da Silva, the lead new teacher coach for Oakland Unified, wrote of her: "Ann still truly loves teaching and the challenges that every unique class brings. She has an unwavering belief that every single one of her students can succeed and her high expectations are evident in all aspects of her practice."     

Ms. Park may be reached through Greenleaf Elementary School at 510-636-1400 or

2016 California Teachers of the Year Finalists
County Name Subject Grade School District


Anna Som



McKinleyville Middle School

McKinleyville Union SD

Los Angeles

Maria Medina-Perez

Algebra I


South Gate High School

Los Angeles USD


Brian Harris


Tenth and Twelfth

Valley View High School

Moreno Valley USD

San Diego

Paul A. Messerle


Ninth through Twelfth

Rancho Bernardo High School

Poway USD

San Diego

Janet Ratkovic Feilen

Special Education All developmental areas

Birth to three years

Sevick School

Cajon Valley Union SD


Christopher Cumiford

World History, U.S. History, Civics, Geography Exploration

Ninth through Twelfth

Visalia Technical Early College High School

Visalia USD

2016 California Teachers of the Year Semi-finalists
County Name Subject Grade School District

Contra Costa

Maria Katharine McClain


Tenth through Twelfth

Dear Valley High School

Antioch USD

Los Angeles

Martha Garibay

Self-contained Classroom


Fifty-Second Street Elementary School

Los Angeles USD

Los Angeles

May-Lynn Geronimo Montano

All-Multiple Subjects


Miramonte Elementary School

Los Angeles USD

Los Angeles

Claudine Phillips

All Subjects


Roscomare Road

Los Angeles USD


Lisa Moloney

Multiple Subjects


John R. Perry Elementary School

Huntington Beach City SD


Melanie Oliver

Multiple Subjects


Highland Elementary School

Corona-Norco USD


Marisela Recendez

General Education


Myra Linn Elementary

Alvord USD

Santa Clara

Susan Rocha


Tenth and Twelfth

Cupertino High School

Fremont Union High SD

# # # #

Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Thursday, April 9, 2020
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