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California Department of Education
News Release
California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #21-42
May 27, 2021
Contact: Communications
E-mail: communications@cde.ca.gov
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces 2021 California Classified School Employees of the Year

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today honored nine outstanding classified school employees for their dedication to California’s public school students. Up to two of the nine are also eligible to be nominated for the second annual Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award, a national honor which will be announced by the U.S. Department of Education in 2022.

“The pandemic has made this an incredibly difficult year for students and families; meeting students’ basic needs as well as their social and emotional needs is more important than ever,” said Thurmond. “Our outstanding classified employees have made heroic efforts to step up and support California’s students so they can continue to learn. These dedicated employees make sure kids have healthy meals, safe transportation on school buses, and someone to talk to during difficult and unexpected changes—helping keep them safe and supported in their lives and in their education.”

The annual program honors outstanding classified school employees from the following categories: Paraprofessional Services, Clerical and Administrative Services, Transportation Services, Food and Nutrition Services, Custodial and Maintenance Services, Security Services, Health and Student Services, Technical Services, and Skilled Trades Services. This year’s recipients were chosen from 123 nominations statewide.

A selection committee evaluates the applications using eligibility criteria and performance documentation in work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, local support from colleagues who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work, enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and the school, and any other areas the school deems exceptional and pertinent to the CSEY Award. Finalists are approved by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction or his designee.

The 2021 Classified School Employees of the Year are (information contained in the following biographical sketches was excerpted from their nomination forms):

Clerical and Administrative Services: Natalie Hung, Secretary, Castro Valley Elementary, Alameda County, 8 years of service

Natalie’s work ethic and performance are unparalleled. This year, she was instrumental in the school’s transition to distance learning. She spent countless hours in the school office when many employees were working remotely. It became Natalie’s mission that all students would have everything they needed to be successful learning virtually. This led to her organizing the distribution of hundreds of Chromebooks and portable Wi-Fi devices to families, supporting families when they ran into technical difficulties, and helping teachers troubleshoot connectivity issues with students. She also coordinated material pick-ups and would stay late to accommodate working parents.

Custodial Services: Dan Luu, Lead Custodian, John Baldwin Elementary School, Contra Costa County, 15 years of service

Dan’s dedication and love of the school grounds is comparable to someone caring for their own home. Dan arrives early in the morning to clean, walk the grounds, and to ensure that the campus is at its best for students, staff, and community. The demands of a lead custodian’s job changed dramatically with school closures and the subsequent reopening for small groups, child nutrition distribution, and hybrid reopening. While the school was physically closed, Dan was hard at work cleaning out storage rooms in anticipation of furniture storage, and he later helped create a new cleaning schedule to accommodate for a.m. and p.m. student cohorts. Dan leads through example and mentorship. He ensures that each employee under his guidance is trained in all facets of the position, from familiarity with their runs, summer cleaning expectations, proper use of equipment, safety practices, how to engage in site inspections, and emergency preparedness.

Food and Nutrition Services: Rhima Blenkhorn, Café Team Lead l, Orchard Elementary School and Twin Rivers Unified School District, Sacramento County, 13 years of service

Rhima has one of the most complicated food service operations in our district. She serves meals to students in preschool, elementary, and middle school all while implementing three different menus. Many Orchard students require special diets due to food allergies and food modification needs. Rhima prepares and serves these meals with great care and attention, ensuring the meals are tasty and appealing to each student. Rhima also trains other Cafeteria Team Leads from Twin Rivers USD on preparing food for students with special needs and actively participates in department programs and events by sharing her expertise when it comes to creative menus, new entrees, and recipes. She is always the first to volunteer for trying out and piloting new programs. She was one of the first to bring salad bars to her site and was instrumental in piloting breakfast carts for seventh and eighth grade students.

Health and Student Services: Pamela Wampler, Licensed Vocational Nurse, San Joaquin County Office of Education, 20 years or service

Pam is a Licensed Vocational Nurse and an exemplary member of the nursing staff for the county’s Special Education Department. The department serves more than 1,000 students who have moderate to severe disabilities or extensive support needs. Although based at a preschool site, Pam serves all students in the Special Education Department, ages birth to twenty-two. When students started returning to hybrid in-person instruction in September, Pam assisted school nurses with contact tracing by contacting parents, educating them regarding public health quarantine guidance, and following up. Pam also helped facilitate training around PPE and COVID with Special Education staff. She administered immunizations at the County Office of Education’s clinic, which vaccinated more than 13,000 education employees in San Joaquin County. She willingly worked overtime to help the team accomplish this great service to the community.

Paraprofessional Services: Aven Callahan, Library Assistant l, S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Riverside County, 7 years of service

Not only has Aven excelled in her role as library assistant, she has gone well beyond that role to support the school and district. She volunteers to judge spelling bees and science fairs, participates in afterschool activities, and helps out wherever she is needed. She completely revamped the library, creating a functional and inviting space for our students. She also created a Maker Space Program that promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills by exposing students to hands-on learning opportunities. Aven’s always identifying ways to combine fundraising and community involvement. Each year, she runs a book fair that the kids absolutely love and that brings parents and families to the school. She also writes grant requests showing the community the great programs the school has to offer and has successfully secured four grants to support her library programs.

Security Services: Patricia Mendez, Activity Monitor, Manuel Esqueda Elementary School, Orange County, 10 years of service

Patricia is not only an outstanding activity monitor and supervisor, she’s also an ambassador for Esqueda K–8 School and the surrounding Santa Ana community. She has helped the school with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) incentives and awards for students and organized work teams to help teachers prepare supplemental materials for classrooms. Through a collaborative project with Esqueda and Chapman University, Patricia arranged for parents to take learning walks through classrooms to help parents better understand the 21st-century learning that takes place in classrooms today. She is also involved in a local district project, Santa Ana Early Learning Initiative, which seeks to bring parents closer to the classroom so they can provide more support for their child’s education.

Skilled Trades Services: Adrian Prieto, HVAC Technician, Anaheim Union High School District, Orange County, 24 years of service

As a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Technician, Adrian is directly responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all HVAC units at Anaheim High School, South Junior High School, Katella High School, and Sycamore Junior High School. These four sites have approximately 380 HVAC units. By utilizing his unparalleled knowledge and expertise in this field, Anaheim Union High School District estimates that Adrian saved the district more than $380,000 last year alone. Adrian is not only an outstanding HVAC Technician but also a committed member of the community who genuinely cares about the well-being and happiness of others. When the pandemic first began, he volunteered his time to help distribute food packages to those who were in need and donated money toward purchasing masks for those who could not afford them. When one of the maintenance team members lost a family member and was not able to afford the burial costs, Mr. Prieto took it upon himself to gather enough funding to pay for them.

Technical Services: Chris Martinez, Systems Network Tech II, Magnolia School District, Orange County, 13 years of service

Chris has served as an integral member of the technology team at Magnolia School District for the past 12 years. Chris is fondly known as the “go-to person” in technology as he seems to always do what is best for students. This past summer, Chris was committed to getting technology into the hands of students and staff as he worked tirelessly to distribute over 3,000 Chromebooks in the month of August. Chris organized two distribution teams to cover our nine school sites. He will happily work on a Saturday to fix classroom technical issues so instruction is not interrupted, and he will step in to support teachers and kids whenever there is a need. He’s also been influential in building a state-of-the-art technology team, and he’s skilled in both English and Spanish, which allows him to communicate and build a rapport with many students and their families.

Transportation: Tony Williams, Bus Driver and Custodian/Maintenance, Igo-Ono-Elementary School and Igo-Ono-Platina Union School District, Shasta County, 8 years of service

Tony takes the time to get to know each student so he can greet them by name with a smile as they board the bus. He serves as "bustodian" to make the campus shine and operate smoothly in addition to driving, maintaining, and inspecting buses. He’s responsible for all aspects of the district’s transportation program. Not only does he transport students and complete vehicle safety, he also checks operating systems on small and full-sized buses. He maintains records, completes licensing requirements, schedules all necessary maintenance, and creates bus routes as needed. This year, in addition to fulfilling all his regular duties, he has implemented multiple new protocols to ensure student safety during the pandemic. His positive relationship with students means there are never problems on the bus, and students arrive happy and ready to start their school day with a positive mindset.

Please visit the California Department of Education Classified School Employees of the Year web page for more information. The program is co-sponsored by the Classified School Employees Association and our Presenting Sponsor, San Mateo-based California Casualty. California’s Classified School Employee Week, established as an official week of statewide recognition in 1986 through Senate Bill 1552, was celebrated from May 16 to May 22, 2021.

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

Last Reviewed: Friday, May 28, 2021
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