Vicente Martinez High Teacher Named County’s Teacher of the Year

September 23, 2012 18:00 pm · 11 comments

Concluding an energy-driven and exciting evening at the Concord Hilton, Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Ovick, Ed.D., announced the night-long anticipated naming of the county’s next Teacher of the Year – it was Vicente Martinez High School ’s Rona Zollinger, Ph.D. The 14-year instructor has been teaching her environmental studies academy (core subjects) course at Vicente Martinez High for the past 11 years.

After being named by the Martinez Unified School District as their district Teacher of the Year (TOY), this past March, Dr. Zollinger successfully proceeded with the other 19 eligible county candidates through a rigorous county-wide selection process, which included an application screening, classroom evaluation, interview, and speech presentation. Her fellow finalists were Mona Keeler, San Ramon Valley Unified SD, (Iron Horse Middle) and Terryl Miller, Moraga SD , (Los Perales Elementary).

More than 400 attendees were on hand for an evening that will certainly not be forgotten. The audience was made up of the TOYs’ family members and friends, as well as numerous local educators, business partners, and officials. Kicking off the festivities was an incredible performance by the Bristow Middle School Choir ( Brentwood ), led by 2009 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Mark Morello. Dr. Ovick introduced the TOY class of 2012-2013 by sharing to the audience of his visit to each of the teachers’ classrooms. This was followed by speeches of the three TOY finalists, their topic: “What I have learned from my students.” After the three speeches were given, Dr. Zollinger’s announcement was made.

Dr. Zollinger created the Environmental Studies Academy (ESA) in 2003, as an alternative learning experience for high school students in the Martinez Unified School District who are interested in schooling outside the box. The ESA was part of the environmental efforts of the Alhambra Creek Restoration Environmental Education Collaborative, which is a community-based network of partners that help organize and facilitate unique hands-on learning experiences for ESA students. In 2009, a large grant was received from Contra Costa Mental Health Services to expand the ESA program. At this point, the ESA became New Leaf: A Sustainable Living Collaborative. New Leaf is organized around the ecological principles of sustainable education. The curriculum utilizes transdiciplinary strategies and practices of project and place based learning, ecological service learning, and a rites of passage curriculum all done through participation in a small learning community.

Dr. Zollinger will now compete with all the other county representatives in the California State TOY competition. The California State Teachers of the Year are expected to be announced in late October.

Anon September 23, 2012 at 6:27 PM

Congratulations to Dr. Zollinger! The Teacher of the Year award is a small thank you and award for her big investment in the future of her students through challenging, innovative and meaningful currricula.

WOW September 23, 2012 at 6:51 PM

Congratulations. That is quite an achievement. She should be very proud.

p.s. She is hot.

Antler September 23, 2012 at 6:53 PM

Congratulations to Dr. Zollinger! What an important and challenging field she has chosen. Best of luck to her as she continues in the competition.

Smiley Holmes September 23, 2012 at 7:57 PM

Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad…I’m hot for teacher!

Wow! September 23, 2012 at 8:20 PM

Congrats and thank you for all your hard work!

judas priest September 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM

those are some white teeth

former law enf September 24, 2012 at 6:07 AM

While I am impressed with her efforts, why did Contra Costa Mental Health Services provided a “large grant” to the ESA? I do not see the connection.

DoReMi September 24, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Cudos for this teacher. She certainly chose a hard row to hoe. Claycordians should take a cruise by this school and you will know what I mean.

Howard K Mullins III September 24, 2012 at 8:59 AM


Best Teacher!!!! September 24, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Congrats to Rona Zollinger!!!! My Son went to ESA and her program is AMAZING. She is a very kind, dedicated teacher who gets all her students involved and happy to go to school every day. I wish every school had a least one Rona then the world would truly be a better place!!

Anon2you September 24, 2012 at 2:46 PM

She is hot too…so there is that…

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