Meet 2023 All-Star Teacher Finalists


Vote for your favorite All-Star Teacher finalist today! Check out their videos and bios, then vote for the teacher you think deserves $30,000 for his or her school. The voting period ends on June 5.

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Stephen Ashford was born in East Palo Alto and raised in Richmond, California. Mr.Steve, as he is called by his students, is the Physical Education Teacher at The Aspire East Palo Alto School in East Palo Alto where he has taught for the last 23 years. From his daily morning announcements to the many P.E. games he has invented, Mr. Steve is the heart of the school. 

As a pillar to the community he serves, for the last 7 years, his annual Mr. Steve Toy Drive has brought in over $10,000 to purchase toys for children all over the Bay Area. He has also ran a back-to-school supply drive for 5 years to help underprivileged children in the Bay Area. Another passion of Mr. Steve is dancing, as he has put together East Palo Alto Charter School's Black History Month Celebration for the last 23 years.  

Mr.Steve is a great teammate, always willing to help out other teachers. His love for his school is evident, and he has helped organize various events, including a walkathon to raise money for Mexico during their earthquake, Haiti during their earthquake and the Paradise fires, and for children diagnosed with cancer. Mr.Steve’s late grandmother taught him how important it is to always give back and to help others. 

During Covid, he poured extra love into his students by running the school’s Instagram page. He had the likes of Ice Cube, Cedrick The Entertainer, Lisa Leslie, 49ers Nick Bosa, and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr among others, to send positive messages to his over 500 students during those tough times. In an effort to keep students motivated, he created cartoon’s, helped write 4 children’s books, and delivered over 65 pizzas to families in need. Mr.Steve has also released several positive music and music videos for the youth featuring the likes of Bay Area legends E-40, Mistah Fab, Keak Da Sneak, among others. Mr.Steve has also been awarded The Dennis Richmond Community Service Award, 49ers Teacher of the week, and The Golden State Warriors Community Hero’s Award.  

He also lives by the motto, “If the kids are not having fun, I’m not doing my job” 


Erik Bertelson, Mr. B, or Bert to most of the thousands of middle school students who have passed through the music program at T.D. Wells Middle School in his 44 years of teaching, is one of the lucky ones: he found exactly what he was meant to do. Finding traditional academics challenging, a young fifth grade Erik found music—specifically the trumpet. Thanks to the presence of an arts program and supportive and encouraging teacher, Erik found inspiration, discipline, the satisfaction of accomplishment, the importance of teamwork, the strength of a bonded community, and the value of a dream.  

Again, “luck” was with him when an experienced educator/administrator saw something in the newly-graduated teacher and hired him to be only the second music teacher at the school. Erik has never lost his sense of gratitude for the process and people who have led him to his beloved career. He has endeavored to repay that sense of debt by instilling the same sense of pride and accomplishment, and the sheer joy of music, in each of his students.  

First and foremost is the love of music. Erik has a zeal for passing on his knowledge of music— but at his best, he passes on his passion for music. He has been deeply gratified by the many individuals who have gone on to also make music their career. But he is equally rewarded by the hundreds of others who have simply developed new skills and a love of all genres of music.  

Erik celebrates the individual and each burgeoning ability. But being in a band, a successful band, is a lesson in listening, being a part of a greater whole, to be a team. Erik teaches team building and the success of that has been demonstrated by four decades of awards, accolades and commendations for the band as a whole. The goal is mastering a new language, finding oneself while participating in, and adding to, the whole. Having struggled through the rigors of Covid-19’s remote learning, an experience of isolation for everyone, the importance of community and teamwork was never more apparent.  

Erik’s career has included the wearing of many “hats”: teaching concert, symphonic, and jazz bands, chorus, color guard, music history and music theory, and when funding was low, even physical education and mechanical drawing. (He was grateful to get back to music!) His days always extend well beyond the actual school hours with after school groups/practices/tutoring plus weekend band reviews and community performances. His dedication and personal investment to his students have been acknowledged with various community, teaching, and music awards through the years, amongst which was the 2006 Alameda County Teacher of the Year, the Mayor’s Award, also in 2006, and in 2015, the NCBA (Northern California Band Association) named him the Outstanding Junior High Band Director.  

Being a part of his community, a community where generations of families live and raise their children—indeed, Erik has now taught the children of former students—he strives to impart a commitment to “community” through behavioral lessons, the importance of accountability, responsibility and community outreach. He fully acknowledges that without the unending support of his teaching community and the extraordinary support of the parents he would not be able to give the students the same opportunities to excel. And there, too, he teaches the life lessons modeled for them of teamwork and generosity. The children grow and flourish under the nurturing of this community.  

Even after 44 years of teaching, Erik recognizes that he is constantly learning from his students, lessons that stretch him and make him better as a person and a teacher. While appreciating the importance of math and the sciences, Erik knows the critical value of STEAM—the inclusion the Arts in education. Music employs math, strengthens cognitive skills and most-essentially, offers opportunities to those whose talents, gifts and sympathies may lie outside of the STEM curriculum. He has stated; “what greater honor and privilege can one have than to be given the opportunity to pass on knowledge that has been passed on to you. For that knowledge that finds its way from generation to generation is a precious commodity that can initiate change and may have a profound influence on the future. To teach is a great commitment to society.”  

Erik would like to thank his school community, his music “family”, and the community at large. His successes have been a direct result of their support. He is very grateful to have found music and this community.  


Born and raised in east side San Jose, Lynn dreamt of making it out of this neighborhood where nothing except a cycle of violence, substance abuse, and unfulfilled dreams was expected. Little did she know, the experiences of attending a Title 1 high school by the name of W. C. Overfelt would forever change and inspire her to stay. On her graduation day, she said to then Vice Principal Vito Chiala: “I’ll be back in four years.”  

It ended up taking five since Lynn continued on to earn her Master of Arts in Teaching after earning her Bachelor of Arts in English. Both degrees were earned at Santa Clara University, which was a life-changing experience and one that she wishes for all her students if they decide that college is the best pathway for them. Like so many of her current students, she is a first-generation college student. Navigating this unfamiliar world inspired her to pave the pathway to be more accessible for those who come after. She knows what it is like to struggle but not to know the words to ask for help, to traverse multiple languages and cultures, and to be strong enough to hold up her community on her shoulders. 

True to her word, Lynn returned as a student from the Class of 2008 to now a teacher there in her 9th year. Inclusivity and real-life relevancy are two major pillars of Lynn’s teaching. She remembers how her K - 12 education severely lacked in its representation of diverse people. Thus, she has toiled tirelessly to develop a culturally inclusive curriculum that reflects her students' backgrounds, most of whom are Latinx. Her curriculum honors voices like theirs, consisting of books such as Enrique’s Journey, The Alchemist, and Kindred. Furthermore, Lynn understands that her students will enter the real world soon and she wants them to connect that reality to their own. One of her assignments is “A Letter to an Elected Official” where her students are taught the process of identifying, researching, and writing a letter about a social problem that matters to them, which is then sent to an elected official. Last year, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren was invited to Zoom with her students where they discussed the importance of civic engagement.  

In addition to teaching, Lynn has been coordinating the Puente Program, which was founded by the University of California in 1981. This small learning community consists of about 240 students from 9th to 12th grades. In her eight years of holding this position, she spearheaded over 20 field trips to various four-year universities, six of which were overnight college tour trips to Southern California. She has secured over $13,000 in grant money to ensure that these trips can continue, including assisting her students to self-advocate by writing a letter to a benefactor. As someone who has only attended one campus tour before applying to colleges, Lynn understands how critical it is to expose her students to these universities since it is difficult to aspire to something you have never seen before. Now, there is no greater satisfaction than to have her former students lead campus tours to her current ones. 

With her team of three teachers and one academic counselor, Lynn leads to organize social events, such as Cafecito and Senior Banquet, and the annual Parent Orientation, which informs guardians of the best practices to support their students and connects them to community resources, such as the local library, food bank, tutoring, and counseling. 

They say that it takes a village to raise a child, which was Lynn’s experience when she was a student at W. C. Overfelt High School. She is now proudly a part of that village as one of the educators who is raising a new generation of children who will be tomorrow’s citizens. If there is one expression that encompasses what she wishes to impart to all of her students, it is these words as stated on the top of her course syllabus: “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” 


Shana Pitts was born in Sacramento, California. She attended several schools within the San Juan Unified School District and eventually became an Instructional Assistant for students with special needs within SJUSD in 2010. She began her college journey at 34 years old and earned an Associates of Applied Arts Degree from Los Rios Community College, a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts from Brandman University, and her teaching credential for working with students who have mild to moderate special educational needs from the Sacramento County Office of Education. 

Prior to becoming a special education teacher, Pitts gained hands-on experience in special education as a parent because her son, Brandon, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She became persistent in learning about effective strategies to help her son to be as academically, behaviorally, and socially successful as possible. He is now thriving as a college student. 

Pitts began her teaching career at Mesa Verde High School in 2019 as the Special Education Case Manager for students with emotional disturbance. She teaches health, psychology, career exploration, and co-teaches math classes. It is through her unrelentless determination to build connections with her students that she has been able to inspire and motivate them to achieve high standards for themselves. 

Upon returning to in-person learning after the pandemic, Pitts created a club called Chat, Chill, & Chomp so that students could gather together at lunchtime to hang out, listen to music, and play trivia games. Pitts loves displaying student artwork in her classroom which contributes to a cheerful and positive atmosphere that helps students feel safe and welcomed. She has been able to form solid working relationships with staff, parents, and students by taking on extra responsibilities including subbing for absent teachers on her prep period, monitoring students for after school activities, and through her role as the Department Chairperson for Special Education at Mesa Verde High School. 

Shana Pitts is passionate about the subjects she teaches and is very thoughtful about differentiating academic expectations based on each student's particular special needs. Her ability to build relationships with her students and make her students feel safe and accepted is truly remarkable. 

Pitts embodies the idea that “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists they become the best they can possibly be."- Rita Pierson. 


Growing up in Hungary, Saskia Kramer Wong knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher.  Her own teachers inspired her to pursue education to positively impact the lives of others, but it was her grandparents, with deep roots in volunteering to create an inclusive world for those with disabilities, that shaped Saskia’s approach to teaching.  She went on to earn a degree in Conductive Education, an educational method designed to help individuals with neurological motor challenges to move and live independently, at Andras Peto Faculty Semmelweis University. Saskia’s expertise led her to the Bay area and United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay where she founded Boost School within Cypress School. 

In Saskia’s class “common core” extends beyond academic standards to the strength of the whole child.   Desks and wheelchairs are mostly forgotten.  Instead she utilizes adaptive equipment and techniques to boost physical growth and academic achievement on a deeper level than sitting passively could ever provide.  Wall bars become a giant abacus for kids to hold on and side step through math problems. A basketball hoop and ball “planets” become a physical entry into science. On any given day you can find Saskia, shoes off and hands full, helping students learn to roll along a number line while talking through math problems.  Or you may hear her counting steps as another student moves from a math lesson to English in his walker to her enthusiastic chants of encouragement.  Saskia’s commitment to students with motor challenges even extends beyond her classroom.  She travels throughout the Bay Area to support students who cannot attend Boost due to distance and trains their teachers in ways to incorporate movement into learning.  She also runs a four week summer camp that attracts mobility challenged students from around the world.  Saskia’s varsity level creativity provides her students a unique and accessible physical learning track towards independence.  

As a classroom coach, Saskia is committed to building trust by giving her students the time and space to find their strengths, emotionally and physically.  Working to live with mobility challenges, such as balance issues, depends on her students knowing that Saskia will be there to literally catch them if they risk taking new steps on their own.  However, Saskia artfully balances rigorous physical demands with fun in every interaction, from a spell to help a Harry Potter loving student to pull himself to standing to texts with “morning motivation” school videos that remind students of all they are accomplishing in the classroom and that they aren’t alone in their struggles.  Saskia’s creative coaching supports students to continue pushing themselves at Boost School towards a fulfilling and independent future.  

Saskia works everyday to develop inclusivity and change how the greater community sees individuals with mobility challenges.  Recently, her class joined the Special Olympics at Santa Rosa High School and spent the day shooting hoops. Both the Boost and Santa Rosa High students were able to meet as fellow athletes with a common goal of fun.  In the words of one of her student’s “Saskia, you knocked this one out of the court!” Saskia has even created a Bay to Breakers team with school staff, families and volunteers. While her students struggle to walk independently, she did not see that as a hurdle to finishing the race.  Instead, she discovered and acquired adaptive Framerunners, three wheeled walkers that allow wheelchair athletes to run. Saskia’s efforts towards inclusion help her students and their families see new possibilities and thrive.  

For Saskia, teaching is not a job but a calling to educate the greater community about the possibilities for her students rather than their disabilities.  When not in the classroom or traveling to others, she is speaking at Sonoma State and Dominican University of California’s occupational therapy, physical therapy, and education classes to inspire a new generation of specialists.  Both inside and out of her classroom, Saskia works to create a world without limits where her students can literally pull themselves up or roll towards physical and academic independence. This is an unequivocal paradigm shift for how we teach students with mobility challenges distinguishing Saskia as an inspiring educational innovator.  

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