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Former Valedictorian Teaches at Alma Mater and Named First 2024 Teacher of the Year

By Vivian Johnson
Community Writer
05/24/2023 at 04:31 PM

As the Mathematics Department Chair at La Sierra High School, Lorena Morales was leading her fellow math teachers in training when all of a sudden, an entourage of family, colleagues, Alvord USD administrators, and Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Edwin Gomez, descended on her meeting to surprise her with the news that she has been named the first 2024 Riverside County Teacher of the Year.  

“Ms. Morales works tirelessly to support all of her students and is especially proud to be the instructional leader for the schools’ national AVID demonstration program,” said Dr. Edwin Gomez, who also shared comments from colleagues gathered as part of the selection process. 

Lorena Morales will represent Riverside County in the 2024 California State Teacher of the Year competition later this year. Three more 2024 Riverside County Teachers of the Year will be revealed in upcoming surprise visits. 

“I take pride in what I do and in my journey,” Lorena said after receiving her award. “I believe in the power of the leadership that takes place in the classroom, it makes a difference for our students.” 

About Lorena Morales

Lorena Morales started her teaching career in 2007 as an intern at La Sierra High School—the same school she graduated from as valedictorian only three years earlier. Her decision to become an educator was motivated by a desire to make an impact on the lives of the students in the same way teachers made a difference in her life as the first in her family to graduate with a four-year college diploma. Lorena teaches mathematics and serves as an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher preparing students for success beyond the high school campus with everything from lunch-time tutoring to scholarship searches and college application support. She coordinates community partnerships and projects—like the Big Brothers Sisters connection with next-door Collett Elementary School. 

Lorena has been a teacher at La Sierra High School ever since she graduated from California State University, San Bernardino with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She earned her teaching credential, master’s degree in educational leadership and administration, and preliminary administrative service credential, from Chapman University.

Once named, all four teachers of the year will represent Riverside County in the 2024 California Teacher of the Year competition where at least one Riverside County teacher has been selected as a California Teacher of the Year in eight of the last ten years:

  • 2022 – Nichi Aviña, Cielo Vista Charter School, Palm Springs USD
  • 2021 – Keisa Brown, University Heights Middle School, Riverside USD, and Allison Cyr, Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School, Desert Sands USD
  • 2020 – Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Good Hope Elementary School, Perris ESD
  • 2019 – Dr. Angel Mejico, El Cerrito Middle School, Corona-Norco USD
  • 2018 – Dr. Brian McDaniel, Painted Hills Middle School, Palm Springs USD
  • 2017 – Shaun Bunn, Ethan A. Chase Middle School, Romoland School District 
  • 2016 – Michelle Cherland, Carrillo Ranch Elementary School, Desert Sands USD
  • 2014 – Jessica Pack, James Workman Middle School, Palm Springs USD

The Riverside County Teachers of the Year are selected from nearly 20,000 educators in the county. The rigorous application process requires candidates to spend time reflecting on, and carefully defining, their teaching philosophy. The county teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the county. Applications are then submitted to the Riverside County Office of Education, where a selection committee reviews the applications on each district candidate and selects semi-finalists. The selection committee then conducts interviews and site visits to select the final four candidates before the county superintendent announces the Riverside County Teachers of the Year.