Sheri Saladow, Armando Gomez, Erik Estrada and Shannon Lauricella — all from Orange County — were named among California’s nine Classified School Employees of the Year for 2022.
Last year, astonishingly, three of the state’s nine top Classified School Employees of the Year worked at schools or districts in Orange County.
This year, it’s four out of nine.
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond shared the news late Thursday afternoon, announcing exemplary school workers in nine separate job categories, with one county accounting for 44 percent of the awards.
Sheri Saladow, a guidance technician at Aliso Viejo Middle School in the Capistrano Unified School District, earned top honors in the category of Health and Student Services.
Armando Gomez, a database specialist in Los Alamitos Unified, won the award for Technical Services.
Erik Estrada, a campus supervisor at Valley Vista High School in the Huntington Beach Union High School District, was recognized for Security Services.
And Shannon Lauricella, a school bus driver in the Garden Grove Unified School District, was honored in the Transportation Services category.
“With 58 counties in California, it is remarkable for one county to be represented four times on this distinguished list,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said. “This recognition speaks to how undeniably talented and dedicated the classified employees of Orange County are. Day in and day out, they perform roles that are essential to the health, well-being and academic success of our students.”
All four were chosen by a committee and approved by the state superintendent’s office after being named in March as the 2022 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year. The state based its selections on a number of factors, including work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, and testimonials from colleagues, according to a news release from the California Department of Education.
“This has been an incredibly challenging time for our students and families, and I want to congratulate these outstanding employees for going the extra mile to step up and support California’s students so they can continue to learn,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said. “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.”
Above and beyond
In education circles, the term “classified” generally refers to instructional assistants, custodians, office clerks, technicians, bus drivers, IT professionals, accountants and other non-certificated staff members who lay the foundation for teaching and learning. Established by the CDE in 2008, the Classified School Employees of the Year program spotlights workers who go above and beyond in service of their schools and districts. School districts start out by selecting their own top candidates, who can go on to earn county, state and national recognition.
Speaking of which, along with awarding employees in nine categories, the state nominates two individuals for the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees — or RISE — award, which is a national accolade that will be announced by the U.S. Department of Education in 2023. Lauricella, the bus driver from Garden Grove Unified, was named a RISE nominee this year, along with Gayla Hager, a food service lead in the Ramona Unified School District.
The other statewide Classified School Employees of the Year are Trudi Walsh, a school secretary for the Humboldt County Office of Education; Robert Estrada, a head custodian in the El Monte City School District; Renee Thompson, a classroom instructional aide in the Redding Enterprise Elementary School District; and Timothy Romine, a school mechanic in the Orcutt Union Elementary School District.
California’s premier classified employees were chosen from a pool of 123 nominations and will be honored in Sacramento on May 19.
In the meantime, here’s what the state had to say about Orange County’s recipients:
Health and Student Services
Sheri Saladow Guidance Technician, Aliso Viejo Middle School Capistrano Unified School District 18 years of service
The Aliso Viejo Middle School community has certainly been impacted by Sheri Saladow’s service as the school’s academic advisor. Sheri has always been an advocate for English language learners and students with disabilities. In addition to her role as academic advisor, Sheri is also involved in leadership at the district level. Sheri believes deeply in each student’s potential and epitomizes the role of academic advisor in supporting each student to meet their potential. She is committed to providing a safe equitable learning environment for all students.
Erik Estrada Campus Supervisor, Valley Vista High (Continuation) School Huntington Beach Union High School District 15 years of service
As campus supervisor for Valley Vista High, Erik Estrada has a long-standing relationship with the local police department within the community. This positive relationship allows both organizations to better serve and support the students throughout the district, whether on or off campus. Erik encourages students to stay out of trouble and supports them in making better choices and life decisions. Erik is able to walk that fine line between protecting the campus and ensuring a warm and welcoming school environment.
Armando Gomez Database Specialist, Los Alamitos Unified School District 6 years of service
Armando Gomez has created innovative ways for students to continue to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring they have the resources and Information Technology services to excel in their distance learning programs. Armando was and continues to be critical in the development, evolution, and implementation of the district’s virtual and hybrid learning models necessary during these two pandemic years. Armando also creates tutorial documentation for students and families on the use of the Student Information System.
Shannon Lauricella School Bus Driver, Garden Grove Unified School District 9 years of service
Shannon Lauricella, also a 2023 RISE Nominee, is known by other bus drivers as “our work mom.” Shannon continues to devote her time and talents to those less experienced drivers who want to talk or ask questions. During her “campus time,” Shannon assists teachers in a kindergarten classroom at Lawrence Elementary School, where she helps to guide students in various assignment and projects. Shannon is also a member of the district’s “Bus Roadeo” Team and mentors other drivers to prepare for a statewide competition that showcases and puts to the test the extensive skills of school bus drivers.