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Meet Your 2023 Fresno County Educators of the Year



Meet the Fresno County 2023 Educators of the Year, from left: Dr. Matilda Soria, Robert Zavala, Emmelin Herrera, and Tumani Heights. (GV Wire Composite)
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A teacher at Fresno Unified’s Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School who brings learning to life for her students with hands-on activities is this year’s Fresno County Teacher of the Year.

Winners of the 2023 Educator of the Year awards were announced Thursday evening at the William Saroyan Theatre in downtown Fresno, with one winner in each of four categories: teacher, school employee, administrator, and Barnett Award.

The awards are provided by the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools in partnership with the Educational Employees Credit Union. The application process begins in March when the Office of the Superintendent of Schools receives completed applications from school districts. Applicants in each category are ranked by one committee, and the top applications go to the final selection committee that narrows them to three finalists, with the winners chosen by closed ballot.

Winners of the school employee and teacher categories can apply for the California Department of Education awards.

Barnett Award

The Barnett Award goes to an educator who has shown selfless service that enhances the community. This year’s winner is Tumani Heights, a Fresno Unified manager II district liaison for foster and homeless students who has worked in education for nine years.

“I have been afforded the opportunity to promote change, provide service to diverse populations, empower those who have faced adversity within their life and for them to see their potential,” Heights said.

Teacher of the Year

It’s pretty easy for Emmelin Herrera’s students to remember her name, because it’s also the name of their school — Herrera Elementary in southeast Fresno.

Emmelin Herrera has been a teacher for eight years. “I bring our learning to life with hands-on and lab activities,” she said. “Students show their understanding of topics and standards by learning about problems that exist in our community, state, nation, and world by designing possible solutions.”

School Employee of the Year

Robert Zavala is a maintenance and operations site team leader at Kerman High School who has worked in education for 15 years.

“I’m committed to ensuring that our school facilities are well-maintained and provide a safe, comfortable, and conducive environment for student success,” Zavala said.

Administrator of the Year

Dr. Matilda Soria is senior director of early care and education in the Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools and has worked in education for 22 years.

“I recognize and support the value of assessments and ‘hard data’ as indicators of academic achievement,” Soria said. “However, I cannot also overlook the value of a child’s smile and display of joy for learning — which if we can spark a love for learning during a child’s early years there is a greater likelihood that this will be sustained throughout a child’s educational career.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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