When I think about May, I think Giant’s games, mothers, graduations, sunshine and, of course, teachers. Specifically, I think about appreciating teachers. Earlier this month, I shared ideas for ways to appreciate teachers and today, I want to share more about the five teachers who won the Mayor’s Teacher of Year Award.

These annual awards from the mayor recognize exceptional San Francisco public school teachers based on their ability to promote innovative learning and equity and access in the classroom. This award is an honor that comes with a treasure chest full of the best of San Francisco — Mayor Farrell honored this year’s winners with generous gifts donated from businesses around The City including museum passes and broadway shows. (If this makes you want to be a teacher, visit our website to learn how!)

Let me tell you a little about this year’s deserving teacher honorees.

Kristia Castrillo, 10th-11th grades, Balboa High School

Kristia Castrillo is a born and raised Filipina San Franciscan. She is the proud product of a resilient, immigrant single-mother household. Kristia attended Bard College for her undergraduate degree, and later completed her Master’s degree at the USF School of Education. Kristia has worked within San Francisco Unified School District in different capacities for 11 years now. She currently teaches sophomores and juniors in the English department and the Peers United for Leadership, Equity, and Service (PULSE) Pathway at Balboa High school.

Ziyang (Jack) Li, 3rd grade, Starr King Elementary School

Ziyang (Jack) Li is a 3rd grade Mandarin Immersion teacher at Starr King Elementary School. He grew up speaking both Mandarin and Cantonese in China. After graduating from the University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, he came to San Francisco to pursue a Masters Degree in Education and a teaching credential at San Francisco State University. Li originally wanted to be a high school teacher, but when he got the job to teach at Starr King Elementary, he fell in love with the school, staff and the kids and decided to stay. Having the experience of starting a language at a young age, he wants the children at his school to get the same opportunity.

Kitty Lok, Commodore Stockton Early Education School

Kitty is a first generation Chinese American from Hong Kong. She is multilingual and speaks Cantonese, Toisanese and Mandarin in addition to English. Kitty joined the SFUSD 31 years ago as a paraeducator. She’s been at Commodore Stockton Early Education School for the last 25 years. In addition to working in dual-language classrooms, Kitty is a Lead Teacher, served as an Instructional Coach and presented the “Positive Solutions for Families” workshop for three years in a row. She emphasizes to the community that relationship building between students, their parents, and educators is key to student performance and progress.

Jennifer Partika, 5th grade, Argonne Elementary School

Jennifer Partika is a Bay Area native who has taught in various capacities for over 20 years, happily spending the last six years in a 5th-grade classroom. With a BA in Psychology and an MA in Education, she combines her passion for teaching and love of learning to inspire and grow along with her students. As a former ESL teacher, Ms. Partika values the diversity found in San Francisco public schools and strives to build a classroom community that feels like a family. Ms. Partika is dedicated to growing the number of females in science, technology, engineering, and math careers and recently led the Argonne Wolfbot Robotics team to a first-place victory at the Lego Robotics Competition. She has raised two children in SFUSD public schools and is proud to be part of its strong community of families and teachers.

Aaron Weis, 6th grade, Rooftop Middle School

Aaron Weis is currently spending his 11th year as part of Rooftop School where he teaches 6th grade math and science, runs clubs, works with parent groups, sits on committees and DJ’s middle school dances. He is originally from San Diego, attended UC Santa Barbara as an undergrad and SFSU for graduate school, and has spent the last 20 years of his life working with young people at camps and schools in Santa Barbara, New York and San Francisco. He is a firm believer in the vital and crucial role of public education and is proud of the work he is able to do as a public school teacher. He sees teaching not only as an opportunity to share the joy and excitement of learning, but also as an opportunity to build community, instill values of care and compassion, give voices to and celebrate those who might otherwise not have a voice, and to recognize and challenge existing social and political inequities.

The teachers recognized by the mayor this week are outstanding professionals and there are thousands more worthy of our recognition. While the mayor’s award can only go to a handful each year, we can show our appreciation in many different ways all year long.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Vincent Matthews
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