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aka Michael Zysk, Mr. Z, or Disco-Zysko  


I teach to disrupt despair. Rather than reinforcing structures that oppress young people, I intend their self-determination. My experiences teaching since 1997 across all major demographic groups require that I interrogate my own privilege. Title I communities have transformed me, where I continually learn far more than I teach what love and solidarity can achieve. 


Learning that lasts happens through a bond. Long before the need for restorative and social justice or trauma-informed care, pre-colonial societies saw their youth as a communal whole. Rather than two parents, a young person once grew up among all the adults whom they regarded as a parent-mentor. Anthropologists Schlagel and Barry (1991) have named this dynamic a “parent peer.” It is right, even vital, that we embrace all young people as our own. 


I’m proud to serve the students and staff of Encina Preparatory High where I currently teach English, creative writing, and restorative practices. I’ve recently been selected to lead an effort coordinating services and expertise to foster an emotionally safe and connected school culture. I am privileged to collaborate with members of our San Juan Unified Equity Team and the professors of the Social Justice Institute of California State University, Sacramento, as we continue to draw forth the resilience in our youth.


I am committed to my kids.


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Living and Teaching from the Frontline

Since COVID, students, families, and the whole field of education have endured continual crises. 

This peer-centered, discussion-based PD will ask participants to: name and share our mindfulness styles, reflect on what’s changed in our experience as educators before and since COVID, validate the feelings challenging our morale, and reclaim our intention to teach.

Watch here: "Living and Teaching from the Frontline" here

One School. One Year.

1,100 students. 21 languages. 56 teachers. Encina Preparatory (6-12) High School serves families who come from around the world and across the street. Over one school year we explore culture, resilience, challenges and change in suburban Sacramento.

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Passion & Perseverance: a year at Encina

My sophomore English students engaged in a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project that mapped the demographic story reflected inside Encina over five decades. They presented their findings to executives of the California Museum and Capitol Public Radio, who warmly included their work in the installation.

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Unchained asks the participating creative writing students of Encina in 2019 about their origin. This isn’t always clear for many Black youth. To answer this, we won funding from the Black Child Legacy Campaign for each student to acquire DNA kits. With facts of where we’re from and extensive family interviews, we researched all of the layers of our identity from the pre-colonial world to now to determine our future.

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Loose Change

Loose Change revived the creative writing culture in 2018 that had gone dormant many years at Encina. The array of voices present here won the appreciation of the community in a spoken word performance and activists of the Black Child Legacy Campaign, who acquired several dozen copies for the Sierra Health Foundation.


Mekong Faces

Mekong Faces grew out of a language arts project while I taught at Lindhurst High School. I asked my students to interview a family member who experienced a historical event before the student was born. My Hmong students’ work surfaced their families’ diaspora from Laos during the Vietnam War. For many, it was the first time families spoke of this trauma.

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Resilience is a 30 foot mural on shaped plywood that I commissioned from Cris Gallardo for Lindhurst High School. Like many young men who are Brown, school-to-life wasn’t connecting and he was at risk. He’s a marvelous artist and infectious storyteller. Not long after we collaborated and installed his work, his affect turned around, he powered through his credit recovery and graduated. He’s now thriving.

Teaching Experience

PBIS/ Tier 1 Site Coordinator, Encina High School, 2020-2021

Expository Reading Writing Course (ERWC), Grades 7-12, various sites, 1998-present

English Language Development (ELD), Grades, 9-12, Encina High School, 2015-present

Social Justice Pedagogy, Grades 9-12, Encina High School, 2009-present

Restorative Practices (RP), various school sites, 2009-present

Creative Writing, various sites, 2005-2019

Studio Art, various sites, 2001-2007

Faculty Assistant, California State Summer School for the Arts, CalArts, Ventura, CA 1993

Teacher Trainings

Living and Working from the Frontline, San Juan Teachers Association, 2022

We Are Encina Strong: Student Life in COVID, Encina High School, 2020

Meet Me at the Corner of Frontal & Lobe, Encina High School, 2017

Expository Reading & Writing for Middle School, Sacramento County Office of Education, 2014-15

The Hmong in America, Yuba Gardens Middle School, 2015

​Teacher Grants

Social-Emotional Learning Innovation Grant, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, 2019

Black Child Legacy Grant, Mutual Assistance Network, 2017-19

Lost Rites Writing Project, Point West Rotary Service Grant, 2016-18

Mekong Faces, Ezra Jack Keats Grant, 2014


Social Justice Institute, California State University, Sacramento, 2015

Writing Consultant, Northern California Writing Project, 2008

CLAD Teaching credential, National University, Sacramento,1998

Association links 

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