Top educators of 2023 honored at Orange County Teachers of the Year dinner

2023 Orange County Teachers of the Year finalists
The 2023 Orange County Teachers of the Year finalists are Ben Case, Tracy Dawson, Dr. Emily Liu, Jill Summerhays, Jamie Morgan and Sergio Sanabria.

“The rewards of teaching” was the theme for the 2023 Orange County Teachers of the Year dinner celebration at the Disneyland Hotel on Friday, Oct. 28. 

The gala was hosted by the Orange County Department of Education and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union served as the premier sponsor. The evening featured student musical performances from Brea Olinda High School, pre-recorded statements from each of the honorees and video tributes to the six county finalists. The masters of ceremony were actor William Allen Young and PBS SoCal producer Maria Hall-Brown. 

“On a daily basis, our outstanding educators are securing a better future by encouraging, uplifting and empowering students to make a difference in their communities and the world around them,” County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mijares said. “I want to congratulate and commend those exemplars of the teaching profession who address each student’s unique academic, social and emotional needs in equitable and supportive learning environments.”

The annual in-person dinner honored a total of 60 educators for their dedication and contributions to quality education.

The 2023 Orange County Teachers of the Year are:

Ben Case of Northwood High School in the Irvine Unified School District

Tracy Dawson of Arnold O. Beckman High School in the Tustin Unified School District

Emily Liu, Ph.D. of Irvine Valley College in the South Orange County Community College District

Jamie Morgan of Cerritos Elementary School in the Savanna School District

Sergio Sanabria of Marco Forster Middle School in the Capistrano Unified School District

Jill Summerhays of Plavan Elementary School in the Fountain Valley School District

Two weeks ago, instrumental music instructor Case was also named one of five California Teachers of the Year for 2023. 

“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.”

The Orange County Teachers of the Year Award Foundation, established by William, Jeff and Jennifer Gross, contributed cash awards to each of the nominees in recognition of their efforts to support, equip and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.

Each of this year’s honorees received a complimentary table for 10 and a prize package from SchoolsFirst. In addition, the six finalists received $20,000 each, semifinalists took home $5,000 and all other nominees received $3,000, courtesy of the Orange County Teachers of the Year Award Foundation. 

The Gross family has contributed more than $4 million to the Orange County’s Teachers of the Year program since 1992. 

“To quote the theme of this year’s event, our 2023 Orange County Teachers of the Year are reaping ‘The Rewards of Teaching,’ and their stellar work allows our county and its students to do the same,” Dr. Mijares said.

For more information about the Orange County Teachers of the Year program, visit:

OCDE’s Media Services team produced brief video features to highlight the work of the 2023 finalists.