2024-25 Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

2024-25 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced During Surprise Classroom Visits
Posted on 04/19/2024

Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey revealed the finalists for the 2024-25 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year Program on Friday. 

The finalists are as follows: 

  • Kristy Candelaria (San Ramon Valley Unified School District/John Baldwin Elementary School) 
  • Michelle Goode (Orinda Union Elementary School District/Del Rey Elementary School) 
  • Jennifer Martinez (Pittsburg Unified School District/Pittsburg High School) 
  • Nicole Vicknair (Antioch Unified School District/Bidwell Continuation High School) 

These exceptional educators were selected as finalists from a pool of 22 candidates nominated by their respective school districts, the Contra Costa County Office of Education, and the Contra Costa Community College District. County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey, along with school principals, administrators, district superintendents, parent leaders, and the educators' families and colleagues, visited Goode, Martinez and Vicknair at their schools to deliver the surprise announcements. 

“Congratulations to the four 2024-25 Teacher of the Year finalists,” Mackey said. “These educators exemplify the essence of the teaching profession, demonstrating remarkable dedication and impact within their classrooms and school communities. Their commitment to the public-school students in Contra Costa County is truly commendable. We extend our gratitude for their invaluable contributions as educators.” 

From these finalists, two will be selected as Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year. The much-anticipated announcement will take place at the 52nd annual Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year celebration, scheduled at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, September 19, 2024. 

Kristy Candelaria, who grew up in a small Wyoming town, enjoyed being at school, doing school activities and being a part of her school community.  

“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, but my love of learning also drew me to marine biology, business, pre-med, art history, and psychology,” Candelaria said.  

After exploring various career paths, she realized her true calling was in teaching. Obtaining an emergency teaching credential, she switched gears and began leading a 5th-grade classroom. With over 25 years of teaching experience, Candelaria's dedication to fostering literacy stemmed from witnessing her dyslexic son's struggles with reading and spelling.  

Over the past decade, she has devoted herself to mastering effective literacy instruction to aid all students. Sharing her expertise with colleagues and educators across the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, she remains driven by the transformative impact these methods have on young readers.  

Beyond teaching, Candelaria strives to connect her students with the community through engaging activities like field trips and weekend family meetups. Always an educator at heart Candelaria said, “There is no other profession that is as challenging, motivating, and meaningful as teaching.” 

Michelle Goode serves as an Inclusion Specialist within the Orinda Union School District. However, her education career did not begin with teaching in mind. A temporary position unexpectedly shifted her goals, altering her career path entirely. It was a pivotal experience at a Richmond school, where she provided support to students with autism, that ignited her focus for Special Education.  

Her new vision became fostering thoughtful inclusion, advocating for best practices, peer training, and structured social interaction opportunities to help neurodivergent students. She advocates for children with special needs and their acceptance among peers. As the district’s Inclusion Specialist, Goode facilitates opportunities for her students to be integrated into mainstream activities.  

“I truly believe that all kids have a capacity for empathy and acceptance of others,” remarked Goode. “It’s our responsibility as educators to nurture that capacity.” Goode actively promotes disability awareness and community building, organizing activities aimed at fostering confidence and independence among Orinda elementary school students.  

While Del Rey Elementary serves as her home base, Goode supports students across three additional elementary schools: Sleepy Hollow, Wagner Ranch, and Glorietta. She believes more educators should join the special education field and recognize the rewarding opportunities that will help children in Contra Costa County.

Jennifer Martinez was raised in a household where music was not just appreciated but cultivated. Surrounded by musical parents and siblings, she developed a deep love for music from an early age. This affection for music blossomed during her time at Pittsburg High School, where she immersed herself in the school band. It was there that she found inspiration in her high school band director's unwavering passion and enthusiasm.  

Determined to pay it forward, Martinez aspired to become a mentor and inspire future generations of music students, just as she had been inspired. In 2006, she fulfilled her goal to become a full-time music teacher and Director of Bands at Pittsburg High School. Over 18 years, she transformed the band program from an ensemble of around 100 performers to a thriving community boasting over 250 members. This expansion included establishing three marching bands, four jazz bands, and four wind bands.  

One of her proudest achievements is the Pittsburg Band Showcase, an event she initiated in 2010, which now attracts more than 2,000 spectators annually. Under her leadership, the band has garnered numerous awards and embarked on national and international tours, including performances in London, Rome, and Spain. Martinez’s dedication to her craft is evident in the meticulous attention to detail and unwavering passion.  

“Viewing a new piece of music is like reading a book for the first time’, Martinez said. “Sometimes, you need to go back and reread a passage to better understand the content before moving on. My philosophy when approaching my classroom each day is rooted in the principles of meaning, adaptability, courage, and kindness.”  

Her passion for music has not only enriched the lives of her students but has also provided them with extraordinary opportunities to collaborate with renowned artists such as Busta Rhymes, Too Short, Babyface Ray, Money Man, and Daboy Dame, among others. 

Nicole Vicknair's teaching journey includes diverse educational settings, from high school to Catholic school, and currently at Bidwell Continuation High School in Antioch. Over the past three years, her leadership at Bidwell has left a profound impact on both her students' lives and the school's culture.  

In addition to her teaching role, Vicknair has the responsibility of being the school's WASC site coordinator, overseeing all facets of Bidwell's accreditation status—a significant undertaking. While an educator she has also taken on diverse roles such as Professional Development Lead, New Teacher Mentor, and Literacy Coach.  

However, Vicknair finds her true joy and motivation in her students. Her daily drive stems from establishing connections, building trust, and fostering open communication to empower her scholars. Her biggest challenges lie in students with minimal writing and reading skills who dislike school; therefore, Vicknair transforms her classroom into a welcoming oasis with vibrant colors and dynamic assignments, striving to captivate her students' interest in learning. She aspired to be an interventionist, particularly at Bidwell Continuation High School, where traditional education routes have failed many students.  

Teaching 11th and 12th-grade English, she tries to shift her students' perspectives. Understanding the complexities of her students' lives beyond the classroom, Vicknair creates lessons on self-regulation, emotional expression, empathy, and kindness. As she aptly puts it, “In a continuation high school where students have not found success with traditional education, my goal is to change their perspective. I want to show them that diving into literature and expressing themselves through writing can be a pleasure!”  

Nicole has an unwavering commitment to her students' success and a relentless pursuit of excellence in education. 

Notes regarding eligible participants

• 18 of the 19 Contra Costa County school districts and CCCOE are participating in this year’s TOY program. 

• Each year, one instructor from Contra Costa Community College District is submitted to the TOY program for their outstanding body of work with their designated college. The representative rotates each year between Diablo Valley College, Los Medanos College, and Contra Costa College. These instructors do not compete in the State Teacher of the Year competition but will be recognized at the Contra Costa County Teacher or the Year Celebration. 

• Due to the larger number of students and teachers in their districts, the Mt. Diablo, San Ramon Valley, and West Contra Costa unified school districts are allowed to submit two TOY candidates. 

For more information on the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year program or to donate, visit cocoschools.org/toy. Follow CCCOE on social media at @cocoschools. 


[Photos of the four Teacher of the Year Finalists are available for media use.]

About Contra Costa County Office of Education
One of 58 counties in California, Contra Costa County (CCCOE) has the 11th largest public-school student population in the state (approximately 169,225 students). Officially established in 1932, CCCOE has a long history of providing direct services to some of our county's most vulnerable students, including young people who are incarcerated, homeless, or in foster care, as well as students who have severe physical or emotional challenges.

CCCOE also provides support services to schools and school districts in Contra Costa County; services that can be handled most effectively and economically on a regional basis rather than by each of the county's 286 schools or 18 school districts. These services range from budget approval and fiscal support to technology infrastructure, communication support, and high-level professional development opportunities for educators. CCCOE maintains a website at www.cocoschools.org.
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