teachers of the year
The 2017-18 San Diego County Teachers of the Year (clockwise from top left): Jaime Brown, Camden Flores, Mark Lantsberger, Ben Swearingen, Kathy Worley. Photos courtesy SDCOE

Five local educators were named San Diego County Teachers of the Year Saturday during the 27th annual “Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers,” sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education.

The 2017-18 San Diego County Teachers of the Year are:

  • Jaime Brown, San Diego High School of International Studies, San Diego Unified School District
  • Camden Flores, Kempton Street Literacy Academy, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District
  • Mark Lantsberger, Del Norte High School, Poway Unified School District
  • Ben Swearingen, Imperial Beach Charter School, South Bay Union School District
  • Kathy Worley, West Hills High School, Grossmont Union School District

“Each of the 2017-18 San Diego County Teachers of the Year is unique, and exceptionally talented,” said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. “Get to know this diverse group, however, and you’ll find the teachers share a couple of common traits: connecting with and compassion for students.”

The annual Academy Awards-style show – which was broadcast live from the Balboa Theatre – celebrates San Diego County’s 22,000 public school teachers, with a spotlight on 44 Teacher of the Year nominees representing districts around San Diego County. The 2017-18 County Teachers of the Year were selected from among those 44, who were nominated by their districts for their commitment to students, teaching, and lifelong learning.

The field was narrowed to 10 finalists. The finalists were selected based on student achievement, professional development and community involvement, teaching philosophy, knowledge of current issues in education, promotion and development of the teaching profession, accountability, and ability to serve as ambassadors of education.

The five Teachers of the Year will represent San Diego County in the California Teacher of the Year program. The state winners will be announced later this fall.

Since 1974, 166 teachers have been named San Diego County Teacher of the Year. Of those, 21 were named California Teacher of the Year and three went on to be named National Teacher of the Year. Megan Gross, a San Diego County and California Teacher of the Year, was one of four national finalists for 2016-17.

More about the 2017-18 San Diego County Teachers of the Year:

Jaime Brown has spent her 14-year teaching career at San Diego High School of International Studies in the San Diego Unified School District. She teaches International Baccalaureate Higher Level English and Film Studies. Brown views her primary job as “empowering my students with the tools and confidence they need to effectively navigate these courses on their own two feet.” Principal Carmen Garcia said Brown’s classroom practices “are alive with enriching collaborative conversations where students transform into experts on English literature.” A classroom environment that is also comfortable and positive for her students is important to Brown, a San Diego High alumna. “In a world filled with uncertainty and doubt, we need compassion to prevail in the classroom,” Brown said.

Camden Flores teaches kindergarten at Kempton Street Literacy Academy, a dual-immersion school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Flores, a 20-year teaching veteran, is passionate about helping disadvantaged families navigate the education system. She had a troubled upbringing herself, and found school a difficult. Flores works hard to create a welcoming environment for students in the high-poverty community where she teaches. She reaches out to every child, every day to make a connection, whether it’s with a hello, a joke, a high five, or a hug. “I often share my own failures, from my childhood and present, and the kids love these stories. Making connections creates compassion.” Flores wants her students to leave kindergarten with a love of learning that she never had as a child. Bancroft Elementary Principal Kimberly Libenguth said Flores has the ability to motivate the unmotivated. “She is the type of teacher all students should have at least once in their lifetime,” Libenguth said.

Mark Lantsberger says his computer science classes are “all about patterns and the human journey through time with art, mathematics, and the drive to make sense of the reality of our surroundings.” Lantsberger has spent the past three of his 19-year teaching career at Del Norte High School. You can spot him in an instant: He’s the one sporting the mohawk, a hairstyle not often seen in the suburban Poway Unified School District. It’s not the only characteristic that stands out. Lantsberger took what he calls the crooked path to teaching math and computer science. He was a musician who discovered that math was “awesome” when he returned to college after giving music lessons, playing in bands, and working as a paint manufacturer. At Del Norte, Lantsberger has built a computer science program from scratch that “far exceeds anything we had expected or previously imagined,” Principal Greg Mizel said. Calling Lantsberger “resourceful, extraordinarily creative, tenacious and a gifted math student in his own right,” Mizel said this “uncommonly dedicated” teacher naturally engages his students in critical thinking and problem solving.”

In Ben Swearingen’s 5th-grade classroom at Imperial Beach Charter School, challenges become opportunities. His classroom is a place open to all, a safe zone for respectfully exploring ideas, the self, nature, community, and the world. “Making students feel welcome as who they are and with what they bring to the classroom is the foundation for effective education,” Swearingen said. “Once a person feels accepted and valued, they are open to learning, creativity, and risk taking.” Swearingen has taken on leadership roles over his 12-year teaching career, inspiring and collaborating with students, colleagues, parents, and administrators. Compassionate and dedicated, he is a “true believer in the power of teamwork,” said Principal Melissa Griffith. His passion for gardening led to a school garden, which serves as an outdoor learning lab. For Swearingen, teaching isn’t a call; it’s a “call of duty, a sense of moral obligation to do my part to make the world a better place.”

Excellence is habit for Kathy Worley, according to her West Hills High School principal. The excellence habit shows in the five different Career Technical Education classes she teaches, in her award-winning athletic coaching experience, and in her collaborative nature with colleagues. “My job is to build on students’ experiences and guide them to a level that will give them a sense of accomplishment along with a set of skills to assist them in a career,” said Worley. She found her way to the industrial arts by accident. She had dreamed of being a doctor, but connected with woodshop after a summer school mix-up landed her there instead of in a swim class. Now, after 28 years, she can’t imagine doing anything else. Her woodshop and manufacturing students apply what they’ve learned in other classes to sketch, measure, calculate distances, and express themselves through their wood-working projects. Her students are well aware of Worley’s commitment to excellence, and to them. “She is truly one of our heroes,” wrote students Braxton Dyke and Paolo Ballarin. “She promotes us to be the best we can be. Many of us look up to her; even on the darkest days her classroom brings some light.”