Department of Defense Education Activity

Congratulations to the DoDEA Pacific 2021 District Teachers of the Year

For Immediate Release — April 13, 2020 | Pacific

PACIFIC, REGION — April 13, 2020 — The Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific region is pleased to announce the 2021 District Teachers of the Year for the Pacific East, Pacific South, and Pacific West districts. Congratulations to these three educators, who, along with five other educators, are now in the running for DoDEA Teacher of the Year.

Pacific East - Michael Pope

Michael Pope, STEM Teacher, Zama American Middle High School

Michael Pope, a seventh grade STEM teacher at Zama American Middle High School in Japan, was selected to represent the Pacific East district as its 2021 Teacher of the Year.

Mr. Pope has 23 years of teaching experience, 17 of which have been with DoDEA. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University, where he served on the dean’s board and worked with the education department. His master’s degree was earned from Brenau University. He also holds certifications in gifted education and Japanese studies from University of Maryland Asia Campus.

“As a science teacher, I enjoy staying up on the research and sharing that with my students daily,” Pope said. “I also enjoy how teaching science has allowed me to stay connected to my first passion, medicine, and inspire the next generation of learners.”

Pope is always looking for ways to grow as a teacher, taking time during the summer months to increase his knowledge.

“I self-educate and use this time to prepare my science lessons for the year with research, experiments and professional connections that can be used in my classroom,” he said.

Zama American Middle High School Principal William Carter described Pope as a stellar teacher, devout instructor, and the consummate professional educator of the highest caliber.  

“He is a lifelong learner with long-term goals of making learning a kinesthetic experience through hands-on, real world opportunities that will have a social impact on the immediate and extended communities,” Carter said. 

Pacific South - Angie Fino

Angie Fino, Pacific South 2021 Teacher of the Year

Angie Fino has been named 2021 Teacher of the Year for the Pacific South district. Mrs. Fino is a math support specialist at Stearley Heights Elementary School in Okinawa, Japan. 

Fino holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque and a master’s degree in organizational management from University of Phoenix-Albuquerque. She has 23 years of teaching experience, 18 of which have been with DoDEA. 

When asked why she chose to become an educator, Fino recalled the admiration she felt for her teachers as an elementary school student.

“Being a teacher gives me the opportunity to impact many students by being a role model and building relationships, inspiring them to be good citizens, passing on my knowledge, building confidence and making connections to the real world,” Fino said. “Teaching is a blessing that I do not take for granted.”

As math support specialist, Fino works with students who need math support in a small group setting.  

“When that ‘light bulb’ turns on is where I find the most gratification,” she said. “Just as I tell my students not to give up, I instill that in my teaching on a daily basis.  Seeing students gain knowledge and confidence in math allows me to fulfill my teaching responsibilities.”  

Stearley Heights Elementary Principal Dr. Jennifer Sears said that Mrs. Fino is always willing to collaborate with classroom teachers and provide families with additional support and resources.

“She is a master of data analysis,” Dr. Sears said. “She assists every teacher and/or grade level in how to use math data to drive instructional practices and activities, as well as provides opportunities for re-teaching and enriching math instruction with students at all grade levels through math support or collaboration with other intervention/support specialists."

Pacific West - Laird Sessions

Pac West 2021 Teacher of the Year, Laird Sessions

Representing the Pacific West district as its 2021 Teacher of the Year is Laird Sessions, Advanced Academic Programs and Services specialist at Daegu Elementary School in South Korea.

Sessions holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from Brigham Young University, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Utah Valley University, and a master’s degree in education from Utah Valley University. He has 17 years of teaching experience and is in his sixth year of teaching with DoDEA.

As a student, Sessions’ teachers provided him with the resources and tools he needed while also challenging him to become the best version of himself. 

“I relate well to students because I have a lot of life experiences to draw from,” Sessions said. “I am passionate about connecting content to students’ lives and making it both relevant and fun for them.”

Sessions said he enjoys making students laugh and helping them to accomplish things they never thought were possible.

“I want to challenge students’ assumptions and develop a sense of wonder and to be as excited about learning as I am. The psychology of motivation fascinates me and I am always trying to help students to develop grit and intrinsic motivation.”

Daegu Elementary School Principal Shenae Wiley said that Sessions is a dedicated, passionate educator. 

“Teachers appreciate Laird's collaborative efforts and the insightful contributions that he makes to their learning environments,” Wiley said. “Mr. Sessions supports the mission and vision of DoDEA by ensuring students have access to excellence in education every day. Our students and school are better because of him.”


The DoDEA Teacher of the Year Program recognizes and honors exemplary pre-kindergarten through high school teachers. The process begins at the district level where teachers are nominated by peers, administrators, parents, students, or community members. Each District Teacher of the Year is selected by a district panel using specified criteria to review applications.

Congratulations to the eight District Teacher of the Year honorees who are recognized for their dedication to excellence in teaching, leading, and learning. They exemplify the quality professionalism of the agency’s teaching workforce.

Americas 2021 District Teachers of the Year

  District School Position
Victoria Russ Americas Mid- Atlantic  Crossroads Elementary School,
Quantico, Virginia 
Third grade teacher
Trinna Freeman Americas Southeast  Faith Middle School,
Fort Benning, Georgia
Eighth grade science teacher

Europe 2021 District Teachers of the Year

  District School Position
Radley Ramirez Europe East Baumholder Middle High School Educational technologist
Lachanda Garrison Europe South Bahrain Elementary School,
Second grade teacher
Caletha Ellis Europe West Lakenheath High School,
United Kingdom
Ninth to 12th grade teacher in
AP U.S. History, Psychology,
Sociology, and U.S. History

Pacific 2021 District Teachers of the Year

  District School Position
Michael Pope Pacific East Zama American Middle High School,
Seventh grade STEM teacher
Angie Fino Pacific South Stearley Heights Elementary School,
Okinawa, Japan
Math support specialist
Laird Sessions Pacific West Daegu Elementary School,
South Korea
Advanced Academic Programs and Services specialist


The District Teacher of the Year selectees are considered for the 2021 DoDEA Teacher of the Year award and the finalist competes for National Teacher of the Year. All selectees will also attend the annual DoDEA Teacher of the Year Leadership Summit held at DoDEA Headquarters in September.

About DoDEA

DoDEA plans, directs, coordinates, and manages pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education programs for school-aged children of Department of Defense personnel who would otherwise not have access to high-quality public education. DoDEA schools are located in Europe, the Pacific, Western Asia, the Middle East, Cuba, the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico. DoDEA also provides support and resources to Local Educational Activities throughout the United States that serve children of military families.