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Prospect HS teacher is named a CA Continuation Education Association Teacher of the Year
Posted 5/8/23


Libby McDonagh

Prospect HS teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh received the 2023 CCEA Plus Region 4 Teacher of the Year and the CCEA Plus State Teacher of the Year awards at the group's annual conference on April 29th.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

MDUSD Public Information Officer


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Prospect High School teacher Elizabeth "Libby"  McDonagh has been recognized as both a regional and state 2023 California Continuing Education Association Plus Teacher of the Year! She received both awards on April 29th at the CCEA Plus annual conference in San Diego, where Prospect HS was also recognized as a 2023 California Model Continuation High School.


"These awards are given annually to individuals who have gone above and beyond in their leadership with staff, their dedication to student success, and involvement in their community," said Prospect HS Principal Melissa Brennan. "The CCEA Plus Teacher of the Year is the most prestigious award. We are incredibly lucky to have Libby on our Prospect team." 


McDonagh has been teaching for eight years and this is her third year at Prospect. In her first year there, she was recognized as a District Teacher of the Year. "I love this school," she said. "I love working in continuing education. I think it’s great that we have smaller classes because we can build much deeper relationships. I never want to go back to a traditional school environment."


Her goals, she said, align with the school's vision, which is "serving kids equitably and making sure they get a good education and taking care of the whole child." This includes keeping up with students' grades, credits, and what's going on in their lives. One of the ways she checks in on students each day is to show them a variety of animated pictures depicting different emotions and asking them to tell her which one they identify with as she takes roll. If a student picks a character who looks sad, she knows the student is "in a vulnerable state."


She teaches English, leadership, psychology and sociology to the mostly 11th and 12th-graders, who came to Prospect after experiencing difficulties at traditional high schools. A lot of them missed class time during the pandemic, including one student who didn't have Internet access, she said. "A lot are here because they didn’t find a good fit at one of the traditional schools," she said. "It’s very telling that a lot of our students are Latino and English learners. I think that shows where we as a District might be struggling. We have an over-representation of students of color, those with IEPs (special education Individualized Education Program), and those learning English as a second language."


McDonagh, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said traditional lessons that require teens to memorize Shakespeare or facts that are not relevant to them don't resonate with her students. "It's our job to show them how this is meaningful to their lives," she said, explaining that she invites her students to come up with "self-guided projects" focused on "something they are passionate about - something they want to do or create." As they are working on these projects, she is also teaching them time management skills, which will help them throughout their lives.


Students said she cares about them and makes lessons interesting by incorporating things that appeal to them, such as pop culture TV shows that deal with topics such as race, gender, capitalism and philosophy. "Her class is a safe environment for most people," said Gabby Cramer, an 18-year-old senior. "I'd say she's the best teacher here. She connects very well with everyone individually and as a group. She gets us." Marissa Schatz, a 17-year-old junior said McDonagh "can make us laugh when it's needed" and "she's not just talking at us. If she's telling us something and she thinks we're not understanding, she'll put it in ways the whole class can get it." 

McDonagh said she stumbled into her career as a teacher and "it's become my greatest passion in life." She said she loves to learn and believes "the most important thing we can do is inspire a love of learning - even if it’s an alternative means of learning for our kids." Ultimately, she said, "I would hope there would be no need for schools like ours because every school would be as welcoming." 


McDonagh with awards

Prospect HS teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh holds the the 2023 CCEA Plus Region 4 Teacher of the Year and the 2023 CCEA Plus State Teacher of the Year awards at the group's annual conference on April 29, 2023.