Established in 2008 by the state Department of Education, the Classified School Employees of the Year program annually spotlights the contributions of staff members who have performed exceptionally in support of public schools and students.
Classified workers include instructional assistants, custodians, office workers, technicians, bus drivers and other non-certificated staff members, and finalists were selected based on their work performance, leadership, commitment and involvement with their schools and communities.
This year’s Classified School Employees of the Year are Ilse Taborga and Karen Allison of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, Alicia Helm and Clare Shweyk of the Ocean View School District, Norman Dobrofsky of the Huntington Beach Union High School District and Elvia Preciado of the Anaheim Union High School District.
“Classified workers contribute mightily to the success and wellbeing of our students, and the 2017 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year have further distinguished themselves through their dedication, diligence, creativity and character,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “On behalf of the Orange County Department of Education, I want to personally congratulate and commend this year’s honorees for performing essential work at an exceptional level in support of our schools and communities.”
Once again, a committee comprising community representatives and educators selected OC’s top classified workers in the areas of Child Nutrition; Maintenance, Operations and Facilities; Transportation; Paraeducator and Instructional Assistance; Office and Technical services; and Support Services and Security.
Along with celebrations at their own work sites, the 2017 honorees were formally recognized during Wednesday’s meeting of the Orange County Board of Education, where trustees presented each with a special certificate and a $500 check from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. In addition, SchoolsFirst sponsored a full page ad in Wednesday’s Orange County Register.
And here’s a little more on each of Orange County’s Classified School Employees of the Year, based on their introductions at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Ilse Taborga, representing the category of Support Services and Security, is a school community facilitator for Adams Elementary and Ensign Intermediate schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, where she’s served for 14 years.
At age 7, when her family emigrated to the U.S. from Bolivia, the first school she attended was Wilson Elementary in Newport-Mesa, and although she was only there for six months, she maintained a strong emotional connection to the community. After graduating from college, her first job brought her back to Wilson Elementary, along with Estancia High School.
Whether families are going through difficult financial times, seeking social or emotional support, or just wanting to take a more active role in their child’s education, Taborga is the go-to person, helping families navigate the system by connecting them with resources such as health services, transportation and academic support.
She also interpretes for Spanish-speaking parents so they can be a part of important conversations and training opportunities. Regardless of the topic or program, Taborga consistently looks to bring the parents into the discussion.
And then there’s this story: When a family from one of her schools lost their apartment and their belongings in a fire, Taborga immediately took action. That same day, she delivered food, backpacks, clothing, supplies and keys to a hotel room. And she continued to support the family and even helped them secure a new apartment.
Karen Allison is the cafeteria manager at Adams Elementary School in Newport-Mesa, and she is representing the category of Child Nutrition. She has also been with the district for 14 years.
Before joining Newport-Mesa, Allison operated a licensed family child care home. During that time, she participated in the federal Child Care Food Program, which sparked her passion for child nutrition.
Allison is deeply committed to instilling healthy habits that begin in childhood. Even though she serves more than 600 meals per day, she always makes time to talk to students about the importance of nutrition as a way to stay strong, alert and ready to learn.
Along with her focus on health and wellness, Allison contributes greatly to Adams’ warm and welcoming atmosphere. She’s known to freeze fresh fruit to make popsicles. She dresses up as Dr. Seuss characters and reads to the kids. She participates in pie-eating contests and wears food-related costumes on Halloween — dressing up as pizza, grapes, ketchup and mustard.
Allison knows students by name, greets them with enthusiasm and extends additional support to those with special needs. Colleagues say what she enjoys most is serving students and being part of a school community.
Norman Dobrofsky has been a school utility worker in the Huntington Beach Union High School District for eight years. He is currently the custodian at Valley Vista High School — and he’s an Orange County Classified School Employee of the Year, representing the category of Maintenance, Operations and Facilities.
Before becoming a classified employee, Dobrofsky spent 16 years in the grocery store industry. In his second career, he has distinguished himself with a service-oriented approach and a “can-do” attitude.
Coworkers say the safety and the needs of students, staff and guests are always Dobrofsky’s top priority, and he goes out of his way each day to make sure everyone who visits the campus has a positive experience. In fact, he’s said his favorite part of the job is connecting with students, and he often uses his sense of humor to build relationships.
Indeed, Dobrofsky contributes in ways that go far beyond his job description. He oversees the school recycling program, which helps provide student scholarships. He volunteers during breaks and after school to tutor students in math. And he dresses up as Santa Claus and donates presents to Valley Vista families.
Above all, Dobrofsky takes time to get to know students, emphasizing the importance of pursuing what they enjoy in life, whether it leads to college or finding a career they love.
Alicia Helm has been a bus driver for the Ocean View School District for 29 years. As a county Classified School Employee of the Year, she represents the category of Transportation.
Helm has a deep connection to Ocean View, where she was a student from kindergarten through middle school. These days, she has three grandchildren of her own who are enrolled in the district, so she’s leaving a legacy in more ways than one.
Each day, Helm’s job is to drive students with special needs, and it’s a role she embraces. She says she loves providing door-to-door service from each student’s home to his or her school because she gets to know the kids and their families on a personal level.
In fact, Helm often gets to drive the same students from the time they are in car seats to the time they graduate from middle school.
Helm has earned a reputation for being caring and compassionate with all of her students, and she goes above and beyond to see that they’re comfortable on her bus. She has also built outstanding relationships with the teachers, aides and staff at the schools. They take it to heart when she advises them that one of her riders is having a difficult morning, and they know she’ll take the extra time to make their day brighter.
Clare Shweyk is a library specialist at Hope View Elementary School in the Ocean View School District, and she’s representing the category of Paraeducator and Instructional Assistance. For the past 13 years, she has exemplified hard work, excellence and service to her district.
Before she started working at Hope View,Shweyk served as a parent volunteer, giving her a unique perspective. What she enjoys most about her current role is the fact that she gets to work with every single child, starting from their early years as antsy young learners up through the time they leave for middle school as focused, avid readers.
Her No. 1 goal, she says, is to inspire a passion for literacy. If a student finds reading boring, she’ll inquire about their interests and find books that resonate. When reading aloud, she often acts out character voices and engages in hands-on activities that bring books to life. She even sings with students and teaches them movements to accompany the songs.
When Hope View was temporarily shuttered in 2014, sending students to three different campuses throughout the county, Shweyk created a mobile library and traveled to each site so students didn’t miss out on library time. She even traveled to the district bus stop and greeted children as they arrived after school so each would be comforted by a familiar face.
Elvia Preciado has been with the Anaheim Union High School District for 15 years, currently serving as the senior administrative assistant at South Junior High School. She is representing the category of Office and Technical.
Once again, Preciado is a product of her district, growing up in Anaheim. She started her career as an instructional aide, and when she moved into the school’s office, she never lost her passion for connecting with students. She knows the importance of building safe, trusting relationships — especially during the transition years of middle school.
As soon as visitors enter the front doors of South Junior High, they receive a warm welcome from Preciado. Her principal has shared that her energy, spirit and selflessness has transformed the office culture and created a positive environment for students, staff, parents and community partners.
Preciado has been involved in community service projects, ASB event planning, intramural sports and field trips. She also plans events designed to help faculty and staff build relationships, and she is her school’s Health Ambassador, which often involves volunteering to facilitate healthy activities for staff.
Once, when a student was having behavioral issues, she suggested he take an elective class as her office aide, as she felt the role could promote positive affirmations and the right kind of attention. And, we’re told, she was right.