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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #17-74
October 11, 2017
Contact: Dina Fong
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2018 California Teachers of the Year

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today named five extraordinary educators as the 2018 California Teachers of the Year.

Torlakson, who began his career as a science teacher and coach, said he is pleased to honor five outstanding and talented teachers who have made a great impact in their schools and communities.

“These teachers are deeply committed, hard-working, and creative,” he said. “They help students find their inner strengths and achieve their dreams, while inspiring, challenging, and supporting them every day. They represent the best of their profession.” Presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the profession.

The 2018 winners are:

Brian McDaniel who teaches music (band and choir) to students in sixth through eighth grade at Painted Hills Middle School, Palm Springs Unified School District in Desert Hot Springs, Riverside County. Torlakson also nominated McDaniel as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition. McDaniel will compete against other state nominees, and a 2018 National Teacher of the Year will be named in the spring.

Jaime Brown who teaches International Baccalaureate English and Film Studies to twelfth graders at San Diego High School of International Studies, San Diego Unified in San Diego, San Diego County.

Kirsten Farrell who teaches sports medicine to ninth through twelfth grade at Venice High School, Los Angeles Unified in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County.

Gregory Gardiner who teaches Advanced Placement and Special Abilities Cluster environmental science, and biology to ninth through twelfth grade students at Edison High School, Huntington Beach Union High School District in Huntington Beach, Orange County.

Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin who is a first and second grade multi-subject teacher at Northlake Hills Elementary School, Castaic Union School District in Castaic, Los Angeles County.

Torlakson, who issued a “Change Lives—Be a Teacher” proclamation when he served as Acting Governor last year, said these teachers will be great ambassadors for the profession.

Due to California’s teacher shortage, he said, it is important to get the word out about the rewards of being a teacher.

Teaching isn’t just a job. It isn’t just a career. It’s a calling. It’s a commitment to your community, your students, and most of all, a commitment to the future,” he said.

Visit the Teach California Web site External link opens in new window or tab. for more information.

County offices of education nominate California Teachers of the Year winners through their county-level 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 techniques.

The teachers are interviewed by the California Department of Education (CDE). The State Superintendent then selects the five awardees.

The 2018 California Teachers of the Year, finalists, and semifinalists will be honored by Torlakson at a gala to be held in Sacramento on February 12, 2018.

For more information on the award program, please visit the CDE's California Teachers of the Year Web page.


Brian McDaniel

National Teacher of the Year Candidate

Music-Band and Choir (6th–8th grade)
Painted Hills Middle School
Palm Springs Unified School District
Riverside County

“An outstanding teacher is a force of nature, an earthquake looking for every opportunity to burst through the surface and change the world. The power of an outstanding teacher can generate countless aftershocks long after they’ve passed on.”

—Brian McDaniel

McDaniel has been teaching instrumental and vocal music for 11 years, the last two in his current position at Painted Hills Middle School (PHMS). He also serves as Director of Bands and Choirs at both PHMS and Bella Vista Elementary School and is an adjunct professor at Brandman University, School of Arts and Sciences.

He leads The Regiment, a combined band and choir program which is the largest student group on campus. Each member is challenged to rise “Beyond All Expectations” by having an attitude of gratitude and a heart of service.

Overcoming poverty and homelessness has helped McDaniel understand some of the problems his students face. Besides teaching them about music and theory, he is an advocate, academic coach, mentor, counselor, or friend.

His students Brandon Ulin, band president and Kathryne Whalen, choir president said, “He is our role model, friend, and champion…he understands many of our issues because they were once his. He helps us with our family issues, insecurities, bullying, and always finds a way to make us feel better.

McDaniel may be reached through Painted Hills Middle School at 760-251-1551 or

Jaime Brown

International Baccalaureate (IB) English Higher Level 2 and Film Studies Higher Level 2 (12th grade)

San Diego High School of International Studies
San Diego High School Educational Complex
San Diego Unified School District
San Diego County

“'Kodomo no tame ni.' This Japanese phrase means ‘for the sake of the children,’ and it has become my personal mantra thanks to my maternal grandparents. The phrase encapsulates so much: a sense of purpose, encouragement to persist in the face of adversity, and a demand to consider the bigger picture. Teachers today can serve as powerful linchpins of support and compassion for our students. Why do we do what we do? Kodomo no tame ni.”

—Jaime Brown

Brown has been teaching for 14 years at San Diego High School of International Studies at the San Diego High School Educational Complex. Brown has been shaped by many positive teachers, but also experienced racism and prejudice from one teacher. Both experiences helped her find her own voice, allowing her to speak out against preconceptions and injustice and making certain her own students are also able to stand up for themselves.

Her courses are rigorous and demanding, but are filled with group discussions to allow students to share their own feelings and concerns because she believes these will help make her students feel more comfortable. In her film studies classes, she encourages students to volunteer at local film festivals and also developed a partnership with the San Diego Film Critics Society that brought film critics to her classroom.

Dr. Carmen García, principal, San Diego High School of International Studies, said, “Jaime embodies a ‘you can do it and I’m here to support you' attitude by ensuring students have a voice in their education. As a former International Baccalaureate student herself, she clearly understands the immense pressure her students are going through and reminds them that their success, through perseverance and diligent practice, is around the corner.”

Brown may be reached at San Diego High School of International Studies at 619-525-7455 or

Kirsten Farrell

Venice High School (9th–12th grade)

Sports Medicine
Los Angeles Unified
Los Angeles County

“Through my role as a teacher, I have contributed to changing the world. What I have taught my students can be compared to a pebble dropped in the water, as the ripples will continue long after I am gone. I have taught future doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and paramedics. Because of what has happened in Shop-6 at Venice High School, someone’s life will be saved.”

—Kirsten Farrell

Farrell has been teaching for 21 years, the last 15 at Venice High School where she is the lead for the Sports Medicine Academy and serves as Sports Medicine Team facilitator. Growing up in a military family and constantly moving from place to place has given her special understanding about the importance and stability that a teacher can provide to her students. She credits her outstanding fifth grade teacher for serving as a role model who inspired her to become a teacher.

As a Regional Occupation Program/Career Technical Education teacher, her main focus is preparing students for life after high school by providing hands-on skills that can be transferred to careers and college such as taking groups to sports medicine competition trips where they learn to navigate travel, speak publicly, be independent, and be responsible to others. In addition, she is a nationally certified athletic trainer and leads a team of student trainers who are knowledgeable about CPR, wound assessment, and emergency action plans.

Gia Perrone, student, Class of 2017, said of Farrell, "From giving someone a place to heal, to giving someone a place to feel welcome, we always know we can count on Ms. Farrell. With her compassion, ability to light up a room, and her willingness to do whatever it takes for the ones around her, we can only wish for more people like her in the world.”

Farrell may be reached through Venice High School at 310-577-4200 or

Gregory Gardiner

Advanced Placement (AP) and Special Abilities Cluster (SAC) Environmental Sciences and Biology (9th–12th grade)

Edison High School, Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach Union High School District
Orange County

“Teaching is challenging work and my challenge to my colleagues all across America is this: join me. Innovate. Sustain. Connect. Together, I’m positive we can improve education for all our students. And I’m positive our students will change the world.”

—Gregory Gardiner

A science teacher for 18 years, Gardiner teaches AP classes and started an environmental science program at Edison High School for students with special needs. He is a founding member of the Academy of Sustainability and Engineering (ASE), a group of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM)-rooted courses that focuses on project-based curriculum and emphasizes critical thinking and is now a model for the district.

He has been instrumental in creating an Innovation Lab where students can have hands-on experiences, problem-solve, and build sustainable systems applying STEAM concepts. Lab projects include aquaculture breeding programs for tilapia, environmental conservation of species programs for trout and white sea bass, and a remote-controlled hydrogen fuel cell car project.

Elliot Skolnick, SAC Special Programs Administrator, Edison High School, said, “If you are very fortunate once or twice in your life, you will meet someone whose true purpose in life is to make things better for all people and creatures that come in contact with them...He is a walking, talking embodiment of creativity, kindness, positivity, and generosity. There is nothing he will not do to help a student or cause reach their potential.”

Gardiner may be reached through Edison High School at 714-962-1356 or

Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin

Multi-Subjects (1st and 2nd grade)

Northlake Hills Elementary School
Castaic Union School District
Los Angeles County

“Teaching is an ever-evolving profession, requiring teachers to embrace change and a growth mindset. I strengthen and improve the teaching profession because I never lose sight of what is best for my students. I always put kids first!

—Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin

Oxhorn-Gilpin has been teaching for 11 years in the same school district, primarily as a first grade teacher. She uses creativity and hands-on lessons to teach her students the basics of reading and writing—one example being a unit on snails where students learned about them via a picture book, snail races, and snail mail.

Her students were inspired to give back to the community after receiving Chromebooks through a local grant, and organized a fundraiser for the local animal shelter, donating the money raised and learning how they could continue their partnership.

Castaic Union School District Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Janene Maxon said of Oxhorn-Gilpin, “Erin recognizes needs and moves forward. It is that “moving forward” attitude that makes her one of the best teachers ever! Erin is always reflective, always thinking of ways in which to improve planning next steps for our students’ continued progress.”

Oxhorn-Gilpin may be reached at Northlake Hills Elementary at 661-257-4560 or

2018 California Teachers of the Year Finalists

County Name Subject Grade School District
Los Angeles Christy M. Neria Multiple Subjects 3rd–5th Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Special Day Classes Ben Lomond Elementary School Covina-Valley Unified
Los Angeles Jennifer G. Hodge Studio Art, 3D, Cartooning 6th–8th Benton Middle Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Norwalk-La Mirada Unified
Los Angeles Mandy Redfern Multiple Subjects Kindergarten La Cañada Elementary School La Cañada Unified
Marin Barbara Libby Steinmann Visual Arts Kindergarten– 4th Anthony G. Bacich Elementary School Kentfield School District
Riverside Edwin Detoya Math, Robotics, GED 7th, 8th and Adult School Bobby Duke Middle School Coachella Valley Unified
San Diego Kathryn Worley Drafting & Design, Introduction to Manufacturing, Guitar Construction, Woodworking 9th–12th West Hills High School Grossmont Union High School District
San Diego Mark Lantsberger Computer Science 10th–12th Del Norte High School Poway Unified

2018 California Teachers of the Year Semifinalists

County Name Subject Grade School District
Contra Costa Paula Raj Spanish Level 3 & 4 Honors and Advanced Placement Language and Culture 9th–12th De Anza High School West Contra Costa Unified
Los Angeles Christie Behenna Science and Engineering 7th–8th Adams Middle School Redondo Beach Unified
Napa Jennifer Marinace English/AVID 8th Robert Louis Stevenson Middle St. Helena Unified
Orange James Blackie Middle School Science 7th–8th Horace Ensign Intermediate School Newport-Mesa Unified
Orange Tiffany Badger English Language Development and AVID 9th–12th El Dorado High School Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified
Placer Dana Duncan Advanced U.S. History and Advanced Placement Psychology 11th–12th Antelope High School Roseville Joint Union High School District
Riverside Michelle Beyronneau Mathematics 9th–12th Desert Hot Springs High School Palm Springs Unified

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The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education’s Web site or by mobile device. You may also follow Superintendent Torlakson on Twitter External link opens in new window or tab., Facebook External link opens in new window or tab., and YouTube External link opens in new window or tab..

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

Last Reviewed: Friday, May 15, 2020
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