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California Teachers of the Year Awardees 2020

California Teachers of the Year Awardees for 2020.

News Release and information regarding the California Teachers of the Year (CA TOY) Awardees for 2020.

Additional information can be found on the October 4, 2019, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces 2020 California Teachers of the Year News Release #19-67.

2020 California Teachers of the Year

2020 California Teachers of the Year

From left to right: Mandy Kelly, Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Guy Myers, Katya Robinson, and Sean Bui.

Sean Bui

National Teacher of the Year Candidate External link opens in new window or tab.
Grades 9–12, English Language Development and Business Law
Cupertino High School, Cupertino
Fremont Union High School District, Santa Clara County

Why does a successful lawyer and child of Filipino-Vietnamese immigrants who came to the United States fleeing war, become a high school teacher? As Sean Bui will tell you, "As a 27-year-old attorney, I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, realizing I had achieved my family's dream, but not mine." So, he turned to education, earning his credential and teaching English Language Development and Business Law, while developing and leading his school's very successful Mock Trial Club. Sean declares that teaching is his passion and his superpower, although his students would argue that his superpower is his loud voice and infectious energy!

Though Sean wears many hats, he is most proud of being the English Language Development (ELD) Coordinator. His father, who came from Vietnam speaking almost no English, always reminded him that it was the support of native language speakers that helped him reach his full potential in America. Sean sees being the ELD Coordinator as his opportunity to "pay it forward" and make sure that his English learners reach their full potential.

Sean believes that the emotional well-being of students is critical. To counteract the pervasive effect of social media he asserts that teachers must receive training. In his vision of a healthy school, Sean notes "we are all a team working toward the social and emotional well-0being of all students." Skillful teachers must be a counselor, cheerleader, coach, mentor, entertainer and sage, all in the same day. According to Sean, "The only way that you can juggle and put on these hats every single day is by guaranteeing that teaching is your passion." Known as "the voice of positivity and described by one colleague as "aggressively happy," Sean has truly found his purpose.

Sean Bui may be reached at Cupertino High School at 408-366-7300 or

Brenda Chavez-Barreras

Kindergarten, Multiple Subjects
Good Hope Elementary School, Perris
Perris Elementary School District, Riverside County

Coming alone to this country as a 16-year-old immigrant, without money or family support, Brenda Chavez-Barreras literally knocked on the door of La Sierra University, asking for the gift of an education, a job and a place to live. From there she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, and served as a missionary in the Amazon and Mexico, where she taught children of all ages and backgrounds. Brenda believes that her early struggles give her the empathy to connect with students who themselves struggle with homelessness, poverty, lack of English. Today, Brenda is an inspirational first grade teacher with dual fluency in Spanish and American Sign Language. Her English learner (EL) students are thriving and she is living her dream!

Her principal describes Brenda as a "passionate educator whose greatest desire is to be a source of motivation and inspiration for everyone she comes in contact with." When recently re-assigned to take over a low performing school, she asked Brenda to come with her. Brenda's response? "You are going to have to put Good Hope on the map and I am going to help you. Whatever you need me to do, I will do it!"

This unwavering commitment is evident in all she does and her students are the lucky beneficiaries. Brenda describes herself as a progress detective. "My tools are watching, listening, and asking questions. I look for clues of academic, social and behavioral growth. Everyone is suspected of learning." Her classroom is alive with eager little learners, playing fun, but rigorous, standards-based activities. Brenda explains that "by disguising these activities as 'games,' students reveal so much to me." She sometimes leads these "games," getting down on the floor with then to monitor progress, intervening when needed. At other times children lead them and they are fully engaged in enjoyable learning pursuits in this nurturing environment that hums with purposeful talk. As Brenda asserts, "Once you open their heats, you can teach then anything!"

Brenda Chavez-Barreras may be contacted at Good Hope Elementary School at 951-657-5181 or

Mandy Kelly

Grade 6, Multiple Subjects
Trabuco Mesa Elementary School, Rancho Santa Margarita
Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Orange County

When you enter Mandy Kelly's classroom, you will be met by her enthusiastic sixth grad SAKtivists. SAD stands for Student Acts of Kindness, a program developed by Mandy and her students after seeing a need on campus and in their community. Thus, the idea of paying it forward with kindness was born! Towards this goal, Mandy provides her students with lessons on tolerance, respect, and acceptance, but believes that kindness is truly the core value of her classroom. Her students now create a kindness video challenge every week that is viewed in over 200 classrooms around the county.

Mandy began her teaching career in a classroom she describes as "an environment full of structure and order" with the requisite rows of desks and chairs. Fast forward to today, were the desks are gone and students use wobble stools, lap desks, futons and standing tables with white board tops. Students are empowered to take charge of their learning as they transform the room as needed into a safe space where they can take risks, collaborate divergent strategies, creativity, perseverance and deeper connections, and learn to appreciate multiple perspectives.

Pushing students to take ownership of their learning is one of Mandy's goals, and she tells them that when they fail, they "fall forward." She believes that each aspect of their classroom, from the discussion topics to the seating options, has value and purpose. "In exploring and embracing each activity, my hope is that each of my students discovers his or her individual value and purpose."

Mandy Kelly may be reached at Trabuco Mesa Elementary School at 949-858-3339 or

Guy Myers

Grades 9–12, Drama, Musical Theatre, Play Production
Burroughs High School, Burbank
Burbank Unified School District, Los Angeles County

"When do we stop playing make-believe? In my classroom, I ask my students to forget worrying about what other people think about them for the moment. I encourage them to be kids again and lose themselves in the art of storytelling."

As master musical theater teacher Guy Myers gathers his eager drama students around him, they know they are family and will be supported, by not only their teacher, but also by their fellow thespians. Stage fright is common, but with this safe place Mr. Myers has created they soon find their voices.

A self-professed theater geek, Guy is a Yale graduate who served as President of the Yale University Dramatic Association. From there, after many stops along the way, he found his passion in teaching students. He built his school's theater program from scratch, beginning with only a few students, to currently serving hundreds of ninth to twelfth grade students, and performing three award-winning productions annually. But, as Guy asserts, "While accolades are flattering, what's most gratifying is seeing students reach their potentials and step onto the stage of the world with bravery and confidence - knowing they can and must share their stories with all of us."

Guy's engaging reach is way beyond the 150 students who now take his theater class. He collaborates school-wide to stage his productions, using woodshop, home economics, and the art departments to help design and build sets, create costumes, and make flyers. He also collaborates with his school's dance, vocal, and music teachers. Photo students take the cast head shots. This whole school engagement and welcoming spirit recently led to over 100 students, from all over campus, to respond to last year's casting call. What he has created has made "being a drama geek cool!"

Guy Myers may be reached at Burroughs High School at 818-558-4777 or

Katya Robinson

Grades Kindergarten–3, Special Day Class
West Sonoma County Consortium School, Sebastopol
West Sonoma County Union High School District, Sonoma County

Katya Robinson describes her inspirational kindergarten to third grade special day classroom as "a comfortable and colorful wonderland," filled with unique individuals who range from those with severe physical, mental, emotional and language disabilities, to those who struggle win general education classes because of behavioral issues. She sees her instruction as a creative juggling act, with a purposeful structure that considers what every student needs at this exact time in his or her life.

The daily challenge for Katya is to remove obstacles to learning success with accommodations, modifications, and supports that make instruction engaging and relevant. Just watching her happy students eagerly switching groups, with those in wheelchairs racing (with the help of special education aides) to the next station to complete a task, is a testament of her dedication to ensuring that all of her students are engaged and learning.

She passionately advocates for inclusion and equality for every child and has developed whole-school inclusion activities that give all students opportunities to get to know and accept each other. To further this goal, she partners with Sonoma State University, and has developed school-wide Special Olympics events to connect general and special education students in a mutually enjoyable way.

Katya's teaching principles are demonstrated in every lesson she presents. "I create opportunities for my students by stepping out of the way so they can learn naturally." All of her students are unique and must have a stimulating educational environment where they can truly grow. Katya believes that "teaching is a very personal form of art, and every day is an opportunity to create unique transformational learning experiences for all."

Katya Robinson may be reached at West Sonoma County Consortium School at 707-824-7911 or

Questions: Awards Unit | | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Thursday, March 16, 2023