Skip To Main Content

Header Holder ( Default )

Single Hero - Default


Meet the Merced County Excellence in Education Award Winners for 2023


  • Award Recognitions
  • Events
  • News
Meet the Merced County Excellence in Education Award Winners for 2023

Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) and the Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU) joined forces once again to celebrate the best in education and officially recognize the School Employee, School Administrator and Teacher of the Year.

Cafeteria Lead Yolanda Tualla from the Gustine Unified School District was selected as the Employee of the Year, Director for Special Education Maria Duran-Barajas from MCOE Special Education Department was selected as Administrator of the Year and Science Teacher Yer Lawson from the Merced Union High School District was selected as the Teacher of the Year.

Tualla has served as cafeteria lead at Gustine High School for the last five years. She works with her cafeteria staff to create menus and events throughout the year for students which include opening day for Major League Baseball, Honor Roll Luncheon and the Senior Breakfast, among others. Her goal is to make memories for students and ensure the cafeteria remains a safe place where students feel comfortable.

Duran-Barajas serves students in a variety of ways throughout the course of her 29 years in education. As director of Special Education for the MCOE, she is responsible for countywide programs associated with Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). Through her leadership programs continue to positively impact students with special needs and their families.

Lawson has gradually taken on leadership roles throughout her eleven years as a teacher. Not only is she an instructor for biology and AP biology at Merced High School, but she is also a coach for the school's Academic Decathlon team, which achieved multiple victories under her guidance; an advisor for the KIWINS club, a club that promotes public service in the community; and the department chair, where she supports peers in her department.

The celebration recognized all 24 honorees and invited the three county winners to the stage for remarks. Video presentations, which were produced by Merced Educational Television (METV) highlighted the work of Tualla, Duran-Barajas and Lawson. 

Winners of Teacher of the Year and School Employee of the Year are eligible to move on to apply at the state awards program. The Excellence in Education program is open to school districts across Merced County.

The 2023 Excellence in Education video vignettes and event program can be found at

Recent News