by Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The San Diego County Office of Education surprised three school councilors from across the county by presenting them with the 2023 San Diego County Counselor of the Year award. 

The honorees are Heidi Saupe from Monte Vista Elementary in Vista Unified School District who was awarded the elementary award; Karena Haro-Esparza from Feaster Charter School in the Chula Vista Union School District awarded the middle school award.; and Chris Toomey from San Pasqual Academy in Escondido was named High School Counselor of the Year. 

Each honoree was awarded a $500 check from the School Councilor of the Year awards sponsor, North County Credit Union. The counselors will be highlighted and recognized during an in-person event in May.

“As we continue to focus on mental health, we are reminded once again of the vital role school counselors play in ensuring the well-being of our students,” said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. “I congratulate this year’s honorees, who exemplify the dedication and professionalism of all the counselors supporting students, schools, and families throughout San Diego County.” 

Additionally, the San Diego County Office of Education this week announced four special awards in school counseling leadership – Advocate of the Year, Administrator of the Year, Community-Based Organization of the Year, and Lifetime Achievement. 

Award recipients include Greg Mizel, Associate Superintendent, Student Support Services, Poway Unified School District, who was honored as  Administrator of the Year; Dr. Lonnie Rowell, a retired professor from the University of San Diego, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement award; Lezya Weglarz, a district counselor on special assignment for San Marcos Unified School District, was presented the School Counselor Advocate of the Year award; The San Marcos Promise was given the Community Based Organization of the Year award. 

"North Island Credit Union is honored to partner with the San Diego County Office of Education in recognizing elementary, middle, and high school counselors for the essential role they play in our student’s health, well-being, and success,” said North Island Credit Union President/CEO Steve O’Connell in a statement. “We congratulate the 2023 Counselor of the Year honorees for their hard work and dedication to their students and all of their contributions to their school communities.”

All recipients will be recognized at our second annual Honoring Excellence in School Counseling Leadership event on May 12. Visit the SDCOE to learn more about each honoree. 

Find information about school counseling and upcoming events at

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