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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #12-42
May 9, 2012
Contact: Pam Slater
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces
California's 2012 Classified School Employees of the Year

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today named six exemplary classified school employees as California's 2012 Classified School Employees of the Year - School/Teacher Recognition.

"Across California, classified school employees are the people who do an awful lot of the work and get almost none of the credit," Torlakson said. "It's a pleasure to be able to recognize the contributions of these outstanding workers. They are knowledgeable, enthusiastic members of their school communities, and they make important contributions to the successes in our schools."

Torlakson also noted that classified workers have suffered the brunt of layoffs, furloughs, and cuts over the past several years due to the state budget deficit.

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

The 2012 Classified School Employees of the Year are (The information contained in the following biographical sketches was excerpted from the nomination forms filed by each county office of education.):

  • Child Nutrition: Jackie Thurmond, Head Cook (17 years experience), Cypress Elementary School, Redding School District, Shasta County Office of Education: Ms. Thurmond is committed to excellence in school nutrition and the focus of her cafeteria is healthy, homemade meals. About two years ago she willingly accepted a reassignment to her current school to take on the challenge of opening and managing a new kitchen that emphasized cooking from scratch. She puts a great degree of diligence and caring into the meals she serves and also into her relationships with students, staff members, and parents. Her work ethic is excellent, her attitude is always positive, and her enthusiasm never wavers. Ms. Thurmond leads by example by demonstrating healthy eating habits and is tremendously successful in getting the students to make the same healthy choices. When the season allows, she prepares the salad bar with the school garden harvest, nurturing the students' love of fresh fruits and vegetables they've grown on site.  
  • Maintenance, Operations, and Facilities: Robert Lownes, Custodian, Five years current position, West Side School, West Side Union Elementary School District, Sonoma County Office of Education: Mr. Lownes had retired from work as an appliance repairman when he came to the rural one-school district in 1977. At the time, the school was in the midst of a major construction project that was followed by a devastating school fire. The disaster presented the district with challenges beyond anything it had ever experienced. They were able to unify as school community due in large part by Mr. Lownes' incredible optimism, can-do spirit, and ability to fix anything. He is by nature frugal and resourceful and was able to save the district a considerable amount of money. While he may technically be their custodian, his work performance, involvement, leadership, and commitment to West Side School far exceed the job title. His breadth of knowledge is incredible. Mr. Lownes is their go-to guy and a marvel at solving problems.  
  • Office and Technical: Suzie Whitfield, Secretary, 19 years in current position, El Portal Elementary School, Mariposa County Unified School District and Office of Education: It is well-known that the heart of any school is the school secretary. This is especially true in the two small rural schools of El Portal Elementary and Yosemite Park High, where every staff member wears many hats. Ms. Whitfield is no exception. Her colleagues say she is certainly the heart and soul of our schools, making them truly unique and special places to learn. She handles the school correspondence, manages the filing system, and operates all the office equipment, handles the supply ordering for the entire schools, bookkeeping, and personnel paperwork. She is the technology support staff, the substitute cafeteria worker, school health aid, and switchboard operator. Not only does Ms. Whitfield go far and above the call of duty, but she does it all with a calm demeanor, a caring heart, and a warm smile.
  • Para-Educator and Instructional Assistance: Daniela Cupples, Computer Resource Assistant, 15 years in current position, Wildwood Elementary School, Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools: Ms. Cupples is dedicated to student learning in the area of technology and is always thinking of avenues to engage students in applying technology as part of their daily lives. Her talents and rich background growing up in Switzerland coupled with a master's of arts degree in educational technology provide a skill base so badly needed in our schools today. Ms. Cupples' deep desire to successfully infuse technology into the curriculum as a tool to inspire and motivate our students will help them become the digital natives of tomorrow—just the type of future workers and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs across the nation are creating. In addition to giving students computer experience, she provides technical support at three different school sites where she sets up and maintains the setup of both computer lab and classroom computers, peripherals, and the installation of software. Ms. Cupples replaces defective parts, troubleshoots hardware and software issues, maintains student databases—well, the list of her contributions appears to be endless.
  • Support Services and Security: Teresa Sharley, Child Welfare and Attendance Officer, 12 years in current position, Tulare City School District, Tulare County Office of Education: Mrs. Sharley has given much of her time and her own financial resources to support district families who have fallen on hard times and can not support themselves. It is her dedication to Tulare's homeless youth that makes her so deserving of this award. In many ways she supports the homeless youth of Tulare as she does her own four children, with respect, compassion, and understanding. Mrs. Sharley knows that her efforts today could possibly make all the difference in the life of a homeless child tomorrow. She is also responsible for monitoring attendance for 14 schools, as well as overseeing every aspect of discipline, from the school site to the courthouse. Possibly the most rewarding facet of her job is her involvement with community shelters, where she helps provide children with some of the simple necessities most of us take for granted. Most recently, she has begun to help foster children within the schools. She goes above and beyond what is asked of her in her job. She is truly amazing.
  • Transportation: Richard Melo, Equipment Mechanic and Driver, 19 years in current position, Transportation Department, Oakdale Joint Unified School District, Stanislaus County Office of Education: Mr. Melo is responsible for maintaining our district buses, delivery trucks, and vans, in addition to driving a bus when necessary. As a bus driver, he is able to resolve conflicts and other difficult situations with remarkable patience and admirable tact. He has excellent technical skills and is committed to ensuring that students and employees are safe in their travels. Mr. Melo is a lifelong learner and continuously seeks further education so he is able to give his profession more than 100 percent. He also serves on a number of nonprofit community organizations. He shows great concern for the welfare of others and is actively involved in finding solutions to difficult challenges especially the deep and dramatic budget cuts currently faced by education. He is a true humanitarian. Mr. Melo emulates warmth, humility, and compassion as he serves others and always expresses appreciation to others for their efforts.

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 at a luncheon May 24, 2012 at the Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza in Sacramento put on by the CDE and event sponsors. The event coincides with California's observation of the Classified School Employee Week, May 20-26, 2012.

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.

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

Last Reviewed: Monday, June 13, 2016
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