OC music educator is a 2023 California Teacher of the Year

Ben Case with Al Mijares
Ben Case, right, is congratulated by County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares after being named an Orange County Teacher of the Year in May. On Thursday, Case was announced as one of five California Teachers of the Year.

An instrumental music instructor from the Irvine Unified School District has been named one of five California Teachers of the Year for 2023.

Ben Case, who also teaches music theory at Northwood High School, was announced Thursday as a recipient of the state’s top honor for elementary and secondary school educators.

“This is all so surreal, and I am humbled to even be part of the conversation,” Case said. “These past few years have brought us challenges we could never have imagined, but they have also reinforced the reasons why I got into teaching to begin with — the inspirational relationships we foster with students and colleagues alike.”

Jamie Morgan, a first-grade multiple-subject teacher at Cerritos Elementary School in the Savanna Elementary School District, was also recognized as one of nine 2023 California Teachers of the Year finalists.

Presented by the state Department of Education and supported by the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year award program began in 1972 to celebrate outstanding teachers — and to inspire prospective teachers to enter the profession.

Energy and communication

Case is credited with helping to expand Northwood High’s instrumental musical program, which has become one of the largest in the state with nearly 800 students in its band and orchestra program. Of that total, more than 120 musicians participate in Northwood’s four jazz ensembles.

Ben Case
Ben Case

In May, Case was named among six Orange County Teachers of the Year, which is a precursor to the state award. He was also Irvine Unified’s High School Teacher of the Year in 2022, and he earned honors as a Grammy Music Educator Award semifinalist in 2015. 

“Ben’s passion for music results in full classes year after year, and draws students to Northwood High School to be a part of his program,” IUSD Director of Arts Education Brad Van Patten said in May, after Case earned the county accolade. “The energy and communication he brings to the stage as a conductor leave no doubt as to why our high school musicians want and love to be involved in his program.”

For the past 15 years, Case has organized IUSD’s popular Band Spectacular, a massive concert that combines the power of marching bands from all five of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools.

“Ben cares so much about his students,” Principal Leslie Roach said. “He takes the time to get to know each and every one of his students, which is why he gets the best out of them.”

Honoring extraordinary talents

Hailed as “ambassadors for the profession,” the 2023 California Teachers of the Year were announced Thursday by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

Along with Case, the recipients are: Catherine Borek, an AP English literature and drama teacher at Dominguez High School in the Compton Unified School District; Lauren Camarillo, a high school Spanish teacher at Mountain View High in the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District; Bridgette Donald-Blue, a fourth-grade, multiple-subject teacher at Coliseum Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District; and Jason Torres-Rangel, a high school Advanced Placement English teacher at Theodore Roosevelt High School in LAUSD.

Torres-Rangel will also advance as California’s nominee in the National Teacher of the Year competition, which culminates in a spring announcement. All will serve as representatives of the state for the calendar year.

“These five educators receive the prestigious honor of 2023 California Teachers of the Year for their extraordinary talents and efforts to teach young people in California during historically challenging circumstances,” Thurmond said in a statement. “Using their exceptional skills, creativity and experience, they continue to create positive learning environments and make meaningful contributions to the academic and social–emotional needs of their students.”

County offices of education annually nominate California Teachers of the Year candidates following their own county-level competitions. Applications for state recognition are then reviewed by a California Department of Education committee, which, in addition to interviewing each nominee, evaluates their rapport with students, classroom environments, presentation skills and instructional techniques.

The state superintendent selects the final five California Teachers of the Year and one National Teacher of the Year contender.

More information about the awards program can be found on the CDE’s California Teachers of the Year webpage.