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Congratulations to MDUSD's 2024-25 Teachers of the Year, who advance to the County competition!

Congratulations to MDUSD's 2024-25 Teachers of the Year, who advance to the County competition!

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Walnut Acres Elementary teacher Mia Carella and Bancroft Elementary teacher Ingrid Wright have been selected as the District's two 2024-25 Teachers of the Year! The pair were selected from 35 outstanding educators from preschool through grade 12 who were nominated and offered the opportunity to submit a brief questionnaire.

The questionnaires were scored by members of the MDUSD Teacher of the Year Selection Committee and the top-scoring individuals were interviewed. The MDUSD School Board plans to recognize the District Teachers of the Year, along with nominees and finalists, at its Wednesday, March 27th meeting. Carella and Wright will now advance to the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year competition, which will name four finalists in April and two County Teachers of the Year in September.

Both Carella and Wright said they were honored to be chosen to represent the District and their schools. They are both passionate educators who strive to build strong relationships with their students and who enjoy working collaboratively with other teachers at their schools to meet students' needs. 

Carella teaches first grade at Walnut Acres, where she enjoys helping students learn to read and to express themselves in writing. Wright teaches 4th grade at Bancroft, where she stresses to her students that her classroom is a "safe space" in which she encourages them to ask questions, think critically, work together an inclusive ways, and to voice independent ideas.  

Mia Carella

Carella, 35, has taught for 11 years, including eight years at Walnut Acres Elementary and three years in San Rafael City Elementary School District. Although she has taught several different elementary grade levels, she said first grade is her favorite. "Students are so fun and so willing to try anything," she said. "They just soak it all in and they’re so excited to be at school. It makes me happy. Also, they’re so kind to each other, which I love. I try to have a great classroom environment where they’re supportive and helpful to each other. We just did a kindness week at school, which was great."

Walnut Acres Principal Lauren Ashton nominated Carella for Teacher of the Year. “Mia is not only an all-around phenomenal teacher who cares about students’ growth both academically and socially, she is also an all-around huge cheerleader and advocate for our school,” Ashton said, adding that Carella stays in touch with students as they progress to higher grade levels, showing that she cares about them. “And when we have committees to join, she wants to be in those conversations about making changes to school curriculum or beautifying the school. She led a mural contest and organized the P.E. shed.” In addition, Ashton said Carella is very welcoming to parents and encourages them to volunteer in the classroom, which helps support students who are working at different levels. “She always has a positive intent, she always wants to problem-solve,” Ashton said. “And she’s a teacher who is also a member of the community.”

Carella said she loves teaching phonics and reading because these become students' foundation for enjoying reading. "They pick the new skills up and then they put the skills together and they find a book they love and it turns into that magical, ‘I’m so excited to start reading,' moment,'" she said with a smile. She has developed a system for helping students become independent learners working at four different levels of reading and writing, by creating "learning centers" that include several drawers with a variety of activities in them labeled "must do," "may do," etc. For example, students at the highest reading level participate in a nonfiction book club, and are practicing writing with quotation marks, reading poetry, listening to stories on an iPad and writing about them. At the other end of the spectrum, some students are still learning how to sound out words, focusing on blending the sounds of vowels and consonants together. 

As Carella works to meet each students' needs, she collaborates with other 1st grade teachers at the school to create effective, engaging lessons. These include the "Gingerbread City" that morphed from a simple gingerbread house-making activity to one that delves into literature and city planning and culminates with a visit from the Walnut Creek mayor and students' families to see the students' creations. "It's fun to build gingerbread housed," she said. "But we needed to make it more meaningful and make it a good use of our time." The Walnut Acres 1st grade teacher team was also ahead of the curve in realizing that "whole language" reading lessons that did not include phonics were not working, Carella said, explaining that they began integrating phonics to bolster students' ability to sound out words before the most recent trend. 

To really motivate students, Carella said one of her passions is teaching around themes. She is eagerly anticipating a South American theme she introduces to her students when the school begins studying different continents, which will include South American books and writing assignments, songs and chants. "Every aspect of the classroom - everything I can think of - I will bring into the classroom," she said. "Students are so engaged and they learn so much because it's all around them." She also engages students by challenging them to add descriptive words to their writing and to replace general or repetitive words with more interesting vocabulary words. During a writing lesson on Wednesday, she suggested that the ordinary word "buy" could be replaced with a more "fancy word that starts with 'p.'" A few students yelled out excitedly, "Purchase!" Carella patiently answered students' questions, complimenting them on their ideas, as they revised their stories. Her students said they appreciate her willingness to help them overcome obstacles. "I like how she helps me when I can't do stuff," said 7-year-old Harper Sill. Bailey Gagnon, also 7, added: "And she does really nice art projects with us." 

Carella said she expects to continue teaching for the foreseeable future. "I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m having fun and willing to change things up," she said. "I do not want to get stuck being the person who’s always doing things the same way because it's always been done that way. I want to try new things."

Ingrid Wright

Wright, 49, has taught for 27 years, starting off her career as a kindergarten teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary, then moving to 3rd grade there, before taking on a job-share at Monte Gardens Elementary for 11 years teaching 3rd and 4th grades. She is now in her fifth year at Bancroft teaching 4th grade, which she calls the "sweet spot." "I love teaching 4th graders because they’re so independent - able to do so many things, to have higher level conversations back and forth, so I can teach them a strategy and they can work alone or in a group or one-on-one," she said. "They’ve got lots of skills and I’m teaching them how to read closely, how to ask questions about what they’re reading. That is something I’m passionate about - literacy - because I feel like we need to give kids tools to attack fiction and nonfiction so they're not passive readers, teaching them to be thoughtful. Reading should change them. The power in reading is how it can make us more compassionate, how it can inform us, and how we can question if there’s bias - I just think it’s such an empowering tool. If I can create lifelong readers, they can use these skills through college and life. What a way to equip kids to be successful!" 

Parent Darya Leverant nominated Wright for Teacher of the Year. “Mrs Wright is one of the best, kindest, loving and caring teachers I've ever known," Leverant said. "My daughter Francesca speaks highly about Mrs. Wright on a daily basis. Mrs. Wright has developed exceptional connections with each student. Her positive energy goes above and beyond to make each day memorable. Mrs. Wright is committed to students' success. Her patience, problem-solving and dedication to teaching has no limits. Mrs. Wright is a subject matter expert with interpersonal communication skills. I have volunteered in the classroom multiple times and witnessed how engaging and captivating Mrs. Wright's lessons are. She uses various methods and visual presentations to explain new material, encouraging kids to take ownership and lead studies during class. Students are allowed to share handmade crafts or findings related to the subject, which makes students feel special, highly involved and engaged. Our family is so grateful and appreciate Mrs Wright for everything she does for our child. Teachers like her are one in a million!"

Wright, who has a background in child development, is very intentional about creating a classroom environment that is safe, inclusive, welcoming and engaging, so students will be willing to ask questions. "Teaching the whole child is huge for me - taking into account their social emotional and academic cognitive skills and making sure those are honored," she said. "Different kids need different things, and that’s OK." She embraces words of wisdom she has learned from mentors, such as former Principal Linda Schuler, who said: "Love them first, teach them second." "That’s so important," Wright said. "If you're trying to teach them something, but your’e not paying attention to what they need emotionally, the train leaves the station." 

Students said Wright gently guides them in complex and creative tasks, while encouraging them to think about what they are learning and develop their own ideas. "She teaches very kindly," said Francesca. "I'm learning a lot of math. If you need help on an equation, you could ask her and she will tell you how to do it, but not give you the answer." Sarah Hemsley said Wright makes math fun by giving students hands-on activities such as learning about fractions by combining colorful plastic shapes to make half, quarter and full circles. “We get to do projects and actually learn,” she said, explaining that she could see that 2/4 = 1/2 by using the plastic shapes.

Wright said teaching is fulfilling because she gets to work with kids every day and see them keep trying. "I like to come along with each child in their journey," she said. "They're all different. I try to get them to be thoughtful about their own journeys and not compare themselves to others. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

Teachers of the Year
  • Bancroft Elementary
  • Teacher of the Year
  • Walnut Acres Elementary