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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #11-34
April 29, 2011
Contact: Pam Slater
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces California's
2011 Classified School Employees of the Year

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today named six exemplary school employees as California's 2011 Classified School Employees of the Year.

"California's classified school employees are the unsung heroes of our schools. These six winners exemplify the professionalism and dedication of California's classified employees who contribute so much to the operation of our schools and the overall school climate," Torlakson said. "They are justifiably proud of the vital services they provide. We cannot thank them enough for the work they do for California's schoolchildren."

The annual program honors six outstanding classified school employees, each representing one of the following categories: child nutrition, maintenance and operations, office and technical support, para-educator and instructional assistance, support services and security, and transportation.

The 2011 Classified School Employees of the Year are:

Child Nutrition: Margo Howard, Cafeteria Lead Worker, Castro Valley Unified School District, Alameda County. Howard has been the nutrition worker at Canyon Middle School for 14 years. Under her leadership the kitchen area is maintained to the highest standards, and all foods are fresh, healthy, and prepared under strict guidelines. Her team greets every student by name with a smile. Principal Mark Croghan writes: "Margo Howard is the heart and soul of Canyon Middle School. They say an army moves on its stomach. At Canyon, our staff and students are on the move with ‘Margo Power.' Serving more than 800 meals a day in two half hour shifts, five days a week, requires tremendous organization. We are fortunate to have Margo Howard leading the effort to fulfill our school motto, Respect, Excellence, Pride."

Maintenance and Operations: Sheldon Walker, Senior Custodian, Westminster School District, Orange County. Walker started as a substitute custodian in 1998 at Haden Elementary, the largest elementary school in the Westminster School District, with more than 800 students. After moving to Warner Middle School as a night custodian in 1999, Walker quickly rose to the position of senior custodian coordinating a variety of duties supporting the school, community, staff, and students. He excels at meeting the various maintenance needs of a middle school. He is also a "key leader" in the Westminster community for his ability to coordinate and plan support services for various groups including the Boys and Girls Club; Vietnamese Cultural Center; the Washington D.C. Club; the Red Cross; the fire department; and many other annual student, staff, and community events. Walker has expanded his support for classified employees by serving as job steward for California School Employees Association, attending regular trainings, and building positive relationships throughout the district.

Office and Technical: Donna Ackermann, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, Walnut Creek School District, Contra Costa County. Ackermann has worked as the superintendent's administrative assistant for 21 years. During this time, she has served three superintendents; dozens of governing board members; and countless parents, teachers, and community members. "Her efficient attention to detail has created a culture of trust within the district and the Walnut Creek community that relies on accurate information from the district office," said Superintendent Patricia Wool. School Board Member Barbara Pennington noted: "It is a pleasure to work with Ms. Ackermann, her professionalism, sense of humor, willingness to work with others, honesty, and insistence on doing what's best for the district makes her a natural leader."

Para-Educator and Instructional Assistance: Julie Dutchover, Instructional Aide, Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified, San Bernardino County. Dutchover has been an instructional aide working with special education students at two district middle schools over the last six years. She is currently at Mesa View Middle School. She challenges her students to reach their full potential. She also works with special education students in full-inclusion classrooms. Dutchover frequently takes time during her lunch period or after school to assist those who are struggling. She is continuing her education in order to grow as an educator and frequently attends district-wide trainings on her own time. According to Principal Jim Stolze, "Mrs. Dutchover demonstrates an exemplary understanding of what it means to be a successful special education instructional aide. She doesn't need a directive or memo to do what is right; she just does it. For this reason and others, the amazing Mrs. Dutchover stands as a great example of how great employees do great things for kids."

Support Services and Security: Yoon Nam Thungc, Community Liaison, Gateway Unified School District, Shasta County. Thungc has been a Community Liaison at Shasta Lake School for eight years and was hired at a time when the district experienced an influx of Mien students. His familiarity with public education and his standing in the Mien community allowed him to help students and families make a smoother transition to their new school. His interventions have resulted in the bridging of understanding between district staff and Mien parents for whom he serves as interpreter and arranges transportation as needed. Thungc is an active member of the Shasta County Mien Community and was instrumental in initiating the First Annual Multi-cultural Celebration in 2003. Through the Literacy Instruction for Everyone program at Shasta Lake School, he teaches standards-based lessons on grammar, and encourages students to set goals not only for their current educational success, but also for college. Principal Helen Herd notes: "Yoon Nam leads by example and demonstrates every day at work the importance of a good education and pride in your work. He has set high standards for himself and his students. He is a valued member of the Gateway Unified School District staff and the services he provides for our students, parents, and staff are immeasurable."

Transportation: Wilfin Morales, Bus Driver, Menlo Park City School District, San Mateo County. Morales has been a bus driver for nine years, driving more than 250,000 miles without a single accident or ticket. His knowledge of school bus transportation is second to none. On a new route transporting kindergarten, first, and second grade students, he has made a practice of greeting each child by name with a smile, and assisting with backpacks as they climb aboard. Once the students are at school, Morales walks the students hand-in-hand to class each morning. Encinal School Principal Allison Liner says: "He has created his own ‘Magic School Bus' for Encinal School. He goes the ‘extra mile' to see that children are well taken care of. He is positive and professional and exemplifies the Menlo Park City School District's commitment to excellence on a daily basis. He is a truly treasured asset to our community." His supervisor, Dennis Hatfield, notes that Mr. Morales is always ready to take on new tasks or projects and is kind, thoughtful, and friendly to staff, parents, and the community. "During my career as a supervisor, I have never had a more dedicated and positive employee. It is a pleasure to work with Wilfin Morales."

Seventy-three applicants from 20 counties competed for the 2011 awards. Each of the awardees underwent a county and state review process. At the state level, applications were reviewed by a team of job category experts, including at least one member representing local educational agency administration, one member representing employee groups, and one member provided by the California Department of Education (CDE) who reviewed the candidates on the basis of at least five years of service in their nomination category. The candidate evaluation was organized around four themes: work performance, school/community involvement, leadership and commitment, and service above and beyond.

Torlakson will formally honor the six award recipients on May 16 at a recognition luncheon he is hosting in Sacramento. The luncheon coincides with California's observation of the Classified School Employee Week, May 16-20, 2011.

The California Classified School Employee of the Year Award is sponsored by the CDE in partnership with the California School Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, Association of California School Administrators, California School Boards Association, and business and industry organizations.

For more information on the California Classified School Employee of the Year program, please visit the CDE Web site at: Classified School Employee of the Year - School/Teacher Recognition.

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 9, 2016
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