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California Teachers of the Year Awardees 2022

California Teachers of the Year Awardees for 2022.

News Release and information regarding the California Teachers of the Year (CA TOY) Awardees for 2023.

Additional information can be found on the October 13, 2022, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces 2023 California Teachers of the Year News Release #22-49.

Nichi Renea Avina

Sixth through Eighth Grade; Science, Environmental Science and Ecology
Cielo Vista Charter School, Palm Springs
Palm Springs Unified School District, Riverside County

Nichi Renea Avina is a middle school science teacher at Cielo Vista Charter School in the Palm Springs Unified School District, Riverside County.

Nichi starts off the year by burning dollar bills in her science lab. She dips the bill in clear liquid and lights it on fire, while reassuring her students that it is all in the name of science. But when the bill burns for a minute and then is left unscathed, the causes and conditions of the exploration begin. Her students begin to channel their inner scientist as they grapple with their observations and try to answer questions that they themselves have generated, all while creating models, designing investigations, collecting evidence, and making claims based on the scientific data. In Nichi’s class, science is hands-on and student engagement is enthusiastic, as they begin to learn about life’s greatest mysteries.

As a first-generation immigrant, Nichi understands the lived experiences of many of her students, which drives her to bring transformative programs to her underserved youth. One of these programs, EcoRise, a school-based program that empowers youth to tackle real-world environmental challenges in their communities, does just that. As an EcoRise Teacher-Ambassador, she knows that she is fostering sustainable global citizens by training educators throughout the United States.

Nichi proudly shares that her own “Eco-Heroes” wrote grants through the EcoRise program. Three of her student grant-writing teams received an award. “I will always remember the pride in their faces when I announced the wonderful news in class, congratulating them on being change-makers.” She further explains, “To me, academic success is ultimately made when all students leave my class scientifically literate, empowered, and ready to enact their mission in this world.”

Quote: “Inventors, scientists, engineers, and Eco-Heroes—these are the names I call my students. I empower them with these roles because it allows them to step into their future-selves and gives them hope.”

Nichi Renea Avina may be contacted at Cielo Vista Charter School at 760-416-8250 or

Alondra Diaz

National Teacher of the Year Candidate
Third Grade; Multiple Subjects
Ralph A. Gates Language Immersion (DLI) Magnet Elementary School, Lake Forest
Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Orange County

Alondra Diaz is a third grade general education and dual emersion teacher at Ralph A. Gates Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Magnet Elementary School in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Orange County. Thurmond also nominated Alondra as California's representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition. Alondra will compete against other state nominees, and the 2022 National Teacher of the Year will be announced in the spring.

“¡Hola! My name is Alondra and I am one of the underrepresented teachers of color in the state of California.”

Alondra’s commitment to education is rooted in the sacrifices that her single mother made to provide a better life for her children in what she describes as “the land of opportunities.” For Alondra, school was her safe haven, and she calls her bi-lingual classroom her own land of opportunities. It is her goal not only to provide a sense of belonging and connectedness for her students, but also to provide opportunities that expose her students to different cultures, beginning with the ones represented in her class. She works tirelessly and with great passion to create bicultural, bilingual and biliterate scholars who play an active, responsible role in their careers as students. Alondra feels that being part of a dual language immersion community helps her build confident and empowered students by raising their awareness of cultural differences and the need for acceptance. “I value their native language, traditions and experiences. Language connects us,” she believes.

The pandemic created many challenges for Alondra and her students, with one of the most pressing being that with school closures, many students did not have access to books. So, the endlessly creative Alondra teamed up with colleagues and created a list of digital books in Spanish and English. She also recorded herself reading her favorite books. In this way, students and their parents were able to include literacy at home. This created opportunities for quality time between students and families. Alondra believes that, “When students feel supported, they thrive.”

Quote: “A teacher is a crucial factor in student success. The odds were against me from the moment I stepped into my kindergarten class. But teachers who took the time to really know me, who transmitted their love and care, and created classroom communities of acceptance and validation changed me. Teaching is in the business of changing lives.”

Alondra Diaz may be contacted at Ralph A. Gates DLI Magnet Elementary School at 949-837-2260 or

Tiffany Jokerst

Ninth through Twelfth Grade; Mathematics and Engineering
West Hills High School, Santee
Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County

Tiffany Jokerst is a ninth through twelfth grade mathematics and engineering teacher at West Hills High School in the Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County.

Imagine walking into class and seeing your teacher dressed up in 70’s attire and dancing to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Why? Because it’s disco polynomial day! The energy in the room is high and the learning that happens is even higher.

Relationship building with her students is the foundation of Tiffany’s unique classroom environment where she makes sure that her students feel safe to take risks and learn from one another. Students are greeted with music, a bright and cheery classroom, and an enthusiastic greeting. They engage in conversations with one another while grappling with a math or engineering scenario, sharing their findings and honoring one another’s thoughts and opinions. This is a typical day in Mrs. Jokerst’s class!

When the Coronavirus disease (COVID) forced her into distance learning, Tiffany spent her summer building take-home kits for her engineering students, and held daily Zooms and even a “fun hour” each week where students could connect virtually with one another and build community.

The tireless Mrs. Jokerst also introduced an Aerospace Engineering pathway at her school in order to attract students, especially female, to science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education. She purposefully created a buzz around engineering, and her students are often seen around campus testing their robots, gliders, and hydrogen fuel celled cars.

Tiffany believes that student learning and growth should be at the forefront of all decisions made in the classroom, school, and beyond. She is focused on closing the opportunity gap, and, as the only female engineering teacher in her district, strives to be a role model for women in engineering. In three years, her program has quadrupled the number of female students enrolled. Math and Engineering are truly in gifted hands at West Hills High School!

Quote: “I choose to belong to a profession where I am confident that I am leading a life that matters.” Or, “Providing a rich experience that ignites a love of STEAM in students of all backgrounds remains my top priority.”

Tiffany Jokerst may be contacted at West Hills High School at 619-956-0400 or

Sovantevy Long-Latteri

Thirteenth Plus Grade; Special Education, Adult Transition Program (ATP)
La Sierra High (Alternative) School, Fullerton
Fullerton Joint Union High School District, Orange County

Sovantevy Long-Latteri is a special education teacher at La Sierra High (Alternative) School in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, Orange County.

“A mentor once told me to teach the way you like to learn; therefore, as a student in my class you can expect to be valued, supported, entertained, and challenged.”

As an Adult Transition Program (ATP) Teacher, Sovantevy works with eighteen to twenty-two-year-old students who have the most severe disabilities in her district. It is her role as a special education teacher to coordinate their many services, create and teach meaningful lessons, develop job sites to practice vocational skills, organize community-based outings and help them transition to adult life. With incredible patience and love, she also helps students navigate their behaviors and frustrations, and keeps everyone safe. Her objective is for her students to see their self-worth and shine it upon the world, through doing what they love.

Every day Sovantevy greets her students with a handshake, high-five, fist-bump, or by placing their hand to her face so they can feel her smile. Their classroom world is incredibly complex and filled with medication, feeding and restroom schedules, as well as work on personal goals, occupational and physical therapy, and adaptive physical education services. An ideal day includes laughter, smiles, music and dancing. With them, she says, “… I dance and celebrate the success of ATP!”

Sovantevy fell in love with special education in college while working as an instructional aide. Students thrived and classroom culture blossomed, in spite of enormous challenges. She then realized that this was her calling and has never looked back. When asked if her students can learn, Sovantevy says,” Simply put, I teach my students EVERYTHING!! Everyone can learn given the chance. This mindset is my greatest contribution to my classroom.”

Quote: “For those considering the teaching profession, I encourage you to teach from your heart and the rest will fall into place. Show up, do your best, and appreciate others for showing up and doing their best.“

Sovantevy Long-Latteri may be reached at La Sierra High (Alternative) School at 714-447-7821 or

Virginia Vasquez

Eleventh through Twelfth Grade; English: Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition
San Gabriel High School, San Gabriel
Alhambra Unified School District, Los Angeles County

Virginia Vasquez is an Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition teacher at San Gabriel High School in the Alhambra Unified School District, Los Angeles County.

In Virginia’s AP English classes, their motto is “Authors are intentional. I am an author. I am intentional.” If you asked a student to describe a typical day in her class, she believes that they’d probably say something like, “Mrs. Vasquez reminds us every day that our words matter, that we are authors and that I have a voice.”

Virginia asserts that making a commitment to know her students ensures that they feel valued and heard, and she celebrates the rich culture, knowledge, and life experiences that each one brings into her classroom. Virginia champions underserved Latino students, encouraging them to enroll in her AP classes by building more inclusive cohorts of students who have never taken AP classes before, and by assuring them that their voices are valued and needed.

As the fourth of six children in a Mexican-American family, Virginia says that some of her first educational moments occurred over the kitchen table, sharing and learning with her family. This early love of learning was further influenced by Occidental College’s Upward Bound program, where she worked as a tutor, resident advisor, and later, a teacher. Virginia explains, “One of the most important lessons I learned in Upward Bound was that you cannot teach without first being a learner yourself.”

Virginia believes that her most significant accomplishments are building roots and creating lasting relationships with students. She has made lifetime connections with her community, attending her students’ quinceañeras, high school and college graduations, and even inviting them to come to her wedding. She is proud that she was their teacher, but even more proud of what they continue to teach her.

Quote for Virginia: “Despite the challenges this last year has posed, come August, I will stand at my door ready to greet students, ready to do it all over again because that’s what we do.”

Virginia Vasquez may be reached at San Gabriel High School at 626-943-6810 or
Questions: Awards Unit | | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Thursday, March 16, 2023