PYLUSD Teachers, Intervention Assistants, Students, and more Recognized as a part of Annual Exceptional Educator Event

Exceptional Educator

On April 25, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD) hosted its sixth annual “Exceptional Educator” ceremony, a heartening celebration of the district’s staff who consistently go above and beyond to positively impact the lives of students with special needs. Parents were given the opportunity to nominate any staff member they felt contributed significantly to their child’s educational journey.

This year, the ceremony honored 50 outstanding staff members, spanning from aides to special education teachers, general education teachers, psychologists, speech therapists, vision specialists, and Principals. Notably, there was a significant increase in nominations for general education teachers, indicating a noteworthy shift towards collaboration and inclusivity within the district’s campuses. This unity reflects the district’s dedication to breaking down barriers and ensuring that every student receives the necessary support to thrive.

The event also recognized students who champion inclusivity on campus through the “Exceptional Includer Award.” Each high school bestowed this honor upon a student who actively fosters an environment where all students feel valued and supported by their peers. Additionally, the prestigious “All Means All” award was presented to two exceptional principals, Kristin McDonald from Golden Elementary School and Chris Herzfeld from Valencia High School. Both exemplify remarkable dedication and passion in ensuring the success of every student, regardless of their individual challenges.

The central theme of the evening was “Belief,” evident in the unwavering faith each nominated staff member holds in their students’ potential. This strong student efficacy permeates every aspect of their work, underscoring the commitment of the entire district to student success.

The 2024 Exceptional Educators include:

Special Edication Interventions Assistants:

  • Juana Camacho – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Jessica Carter – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Melissa Cole – Glenknoll Elementary
  • Melissa Goettsche – Glenview Elementary
  • Amy Nelson – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Hope Osborn – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Jennifer Smith – Rose Drive Elementary
  • Breanne Sotelo – Valencia High School

Special Education Itinerant Specialists:

  • Talia Gangano – Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments
  • Brooke Hanke – Speech and Language Pathologist
  • Amy Hawkins – School Psychologist
  • Rachel Knight – Resource Counselor
  • Maria Montalvo – School Psychologist
  • Susan Worrell – Speech and Language Pathologist


  • Dr. Beth Fisher – Bernardo Yorba Middle School
  • Kristin McDonald – Golden Elementary

Preschool Teachers:

  • Alicia Brown – Topaz Elementary
  • Samantha Garay – Mabel Paine Elementary
  • Alyce Rummel – Mabel Paine Elementary

Elementary Teachers:

  • Lisa Amini – Travis Ranch School
  • Christine Chirrick – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Cindy Davila – Mabel Paine Elementary
  • Vannesa Diaz – Glenview Elementary
  • Tracy Downey – Linda Vista Elementary
  • Jorge Garcia – Glenview Elementary
  • Tarek Hassoun – Woodsboro Elementary
  • Richard Kravitz – Linda Vista Elementary
  • Tara Leifeste – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Saide Lussier – Golden Elementary
  • Janet Martin – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Nadira Mhabir – Tynes Elementary
  • Irene Pearson – Buena Vista Virtual Academy
  • Angela Pinson – Golden Elementary
  • Joy Rasic – Golden Elementary
  • Katie Riggs – Brookhaven Elementary
  • Traci Tellers – Woodsboro Elementary
  • Shannon Vogelesang – Topaz Elementary

Secondary Teachers:

  • Sarah Belsey – Valencia High School
  • Jasmine Lodge – Valadez Middle School Academy
  • Richard Reid – Buena Vista Virtual Academy
  • Valerie Steinbergs – Yorba Linda High School

Parent Presentation to Teachers:

  • Rick Castro – Kraemer Middle School
  • Mary Le – Fairmont Elementary
  • Melissa Moores – Golden Elementary

All Means All:

  • Kristin McDonald – Golden Elementary
  • Chris Herzfeld – Valencia High School

Exceptional Includer:

  • Diane Chang – El Dorado High School
  • Bianca Tapia – Valencia High School
  • Maverick Titzer – Esperanza High School
  • Elyse Tran – Yorba Linda High School

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