Kirsten Neill advanced to the State level, as a 2024 California Teacher of the Year Finalist

During November’s meeting, our Board of Education congratulated Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), Kirsten Neill, for her two recent achievements of being named a 2024 California Teacher of the Year Finalist by the California Department of Education (CDE) and a 2023-24 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE).

“We are extremely proud of Ms. Neill, as her spirit of giving back to her community is truly contagious; we cannot thank her enough for her dedication to our students,” shared Board of Education President, Giovanna Perez-Saab. “It feels great to have the innovation and hard work of our teaching staff recognized at the State and County level, once again.” 

LACOE’s annual competition is regarded as the “oldest and most prestigious honors contest in the U.S. for public school teachers,” as noted by their announcement. The statewide recognition includes prerequisites for the initial County application that includes a rigorous process, made up of interviews, essays, and lesson plan submissions to a panel of former Teachers of the Year. Neill stands with impressive company, as this year LACOE recognized 16 educators who were selected from a pool of nearly 70 teachers—each considered the best in their respective school districts—across the 88 in all of Los Angeles County.

The County ceremony held in early October was presided over by LACOE Superintendent, Dr. Debra Duardo, and attended by family and friends of the honorees, members of our Board of Education and administration. They were all present to provide their support on behalf of our Downey Unified community to Ms. Neill and honor all that has been achieved throughout her 13-year teaching career.

Among her highlighted accomplishments, were her efforts outside the classroom in advising Old River School Elementary’s Robotics Team, the Sphero Bolts Club and the Gator Tech Squad. As well as coaching 4th and 5th-grade athletes for our annual Carnival of Champions Track & Field competition.

When being presented, it was noted that “teaching [had] long been the family business,” with Neill’s parents, grandfather, and great-grandmother all being educators; further emphasizing the depth of values that Neill carries within her teaching profession.

When asked to speak on the topic of Success in Education at this year’s sold-out State of the Schools event, Neill shared “[This] is humbling to me. I do not see [my biography] as a list of accomplishments for myself but as a direct reflection of my team of teachers, students, administrators and our community…Success is not achieved alone.”

“I may have made the choice to say yes to extra opportunities to help mentor various groups of students so they could pursue their interests and feel connected to something great, but opportunities happen because I have support from my community.”

Ms. Neill, and each of the 16 County honorees, received a cash gift of $1,000, sponsored by the California Credit Union, for their Teacher of the Year achievement and had the opportunity to be further recognized at the state level.

In late October, the CDE’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, announced that Kirsten Neill was one of 10 teachers in the entire state selected for this level of recognition, naming her a 2024 California Teacher of the Year Finalist for her “rapport with students…, presentation skills and teaching techniques.”

“This latest recognition makes Kirsten the top non-Special Education elementary teacher in California,” shared Superintendent, Dr. John Garcia. “The positive ripple that teachers like Ms. Neill have within our school communities is undeniable. It speaks volumes to the efforts being made every day for our Downey Unified students—better preparing them for college and the careers of tomorrow.”