There is a common thread that connects the nine exemplary school workers who were announced as the 2022 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year. The contributions they make toward their schools, districts and students go beyond what is included in their job descriptions. They take pride in their profession and that translates to better learning environments for educators and students.
While the Orange County Department of Education did announce the winners in March, the department wanted to honor the finalists again by letting others know who they are and why they are deserving of the recognition during Classified School Employee Week, which is on the third week of May. That week falls on May 15 to May 21 this year.
“The Classified Employees of the Year stand proudly as exemplars of the essential work being done by over a quarter of a million classified employees around the state of California,” California School Employees Association Chapter 468 President Alan Kaun said. “From the frontlines in the classroom to behind the scenes at district offices, they have elevated education and improved the lives of the staff, students and communities they serve.”
Below are photos of each finalist taken by OCDE’s Media Services team and short biographies based on the nomination forms submitted on their behalf.
Sonia Arreguin, administrative technician, Alternative Education, Orange County Department of Education
Sonia Arreguin works for OCDE’s Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education Schools and Services division, known as ACCESS. She was honored in the Clerical and Administrative Services category.
Arreguin has worked as an administrative technician in ACCESS for six years, supporting multiple managers in a wide variety of responsibilities. She has earned a reputation for being resourceful, intuitive and always ready for a challenge. She continually demonstrates an ability and willingness to take charge of projects and to successfully anticipate and navigate through problems or issues that arise.
Colleagues describe Arreguin as a hard worker and an extremely driven person, qualities she credits to being a first-generation immigrant and seeing her parents work hard to achieve the American dream. She learned from them to do the very best that she can in all aspects of her life, including helping others. That is one of the reasons she values working in the English learner department.
“I understand the population I serve because I am an English Learner myself,” she said. “I can empathize with them, and that motivates me to provide them the support they need to be successful.”
Evan Jacobs, paraprofessional and behavior interventionist, C.E. Utt Middle School, Tustin Unified School District
In addition to supporting students with special needs as a paraeducator/behavior interventionist, Jacobs also volunteers his time with the school’s Wednesday intervention tutorial for general education students and hosts a short screenwriting elective to inspire students to write. He is also a published author who writes novels for a middle school audience and has donated his books to the Utt library.
“I am honored to receive this recognition,” Jacobs said. “Truly honored. I want to help all students have as successful of a day as possible, and this recognition makes me want to do even more.”
“Our classified employees are critical in providing safe, healthy, innovative, caring and inspiring learning environments for students and staff,” TUSD Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnson said. “Evan epitomizes the love, care and attention so many of our TUSD staff bring to work each day to ensure that our students are successfully meeting their goals.”
Shannon Lauricella, bus driver, Garden Grove Unified School District
Shannon Lauricella has served as a bus driver transporting students with special needs in the Garden Grove Unified School District for eight years. During a surprise celebration in March, Superintendent Gabriela Mafi congratulated Lauricella on the recognition and thanked her for her many contributions to the district.
Lauricella, who earned a five-year safe driving award in 2018, helps organize the district’s annual Bus Roadeo safe-driving competition, mentors other bus drivers, and has a special awareness for connecting with and caring for students with special needs. During the pandemic, she helped deliver school supplies and homework packets, cleaned classrooms, and volunteered at the district’s vaccination clinic.
“Everyone who knows Shannon can see her love for her job, how much she puts into it, and how rewarding it is to her personally,” said Javier Rodriguez, director of Maintenance, Operations and Transportation. “It’s this type of person who boosts the morale of an entire team. She effortlessly develops rapport with students and parents, giving families peace of mind that their child is safe and looked after by someone who truly cares about them.”
Sheri Saladow, guidance technician, Aliso Niguel Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
Sheri Saladow has worked as an academic advisor in the Capistrano Unified School District for 17 years. Colleagues say she is deeply invested in the success of her school and all of its students, modeling flexibility while also being highly organized and detail-oriented.
In March, a gathering of colleagues, family members, and school and district dignitaries surprised Saladow with the news that she was the 2022 Orange County Classified School Employee of the Year in the Health and Human Services category.
“She just always cares about kids,” said former Principal Cynthia Steinert. “Everything she does focuses on the children within our district, and in her family, with her friends, and it just makes all the difference in the world when you have someone who cares that much.”
“I’m still speechless,” Saladow said. “I can’t believe it.”
“There’s just so much love in this district that people don’t realize,” she said. “We are a family. This district cares about kids, and it cares about all the kids. And it cares about its staff. I’m fortunate that my kids went to school in this district, that they both were college graduates, and that I was able to play a role here.”
Lorena Simerson, nutrition services assistant, Santa Ana Unified School District
Simerson, a nutrition services assistant at Lorin Griset Academy, has worked for SAUSD’s Nutrition Services department for more than 20 years.
She received the news about her award during a surprise visit to the school by Superintendent Jerry Almendarez, members of his executive cabinet and other district leaders.
Simerson is described by co-workers as dedicated, helpful, positive — and always ready to serve. Her compassionate personality and excellent work ethic shone through when she helped provide free, healthy meals to thousands of children during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how immensely important the school cafeteria is to the community, and Lorena has been on the front lines putting the needs of others ahead of her own,” said Josh Goddard, SAUSD’s director of Nutrition Services. “Amidst a chaotic situation, Lorena has stood out for her calm, dependable, focused personality. Her presence on the frontlines brought courage to those working around her and hope to the families she served meals to.”
“She is a force for good, and we are all immensely lucky to know her and honored to witness her daily achievements,” he added.
Jason Munier, day custodian, Arbolita Elementary School, La Habra City School District
With genuine pride for where he works and lives, Jason Munier is being recognized for going beyond his job description as a custodian for Arbolita Elementary School in the La Habra City School District.
School leadership is constantly impressed by Munier, who ensures faculty, staff and students have a clean and safe environment to thrive. The students call Munier “Mr. Jason.” He’s someone who they can depend on to greet them as they walk onto campus, direct traffic during drop-off and keep their playground equipment in tip-top shape.
“Mr. Jason is always there to help,” Principal Jennifer McCully-Rodriguez said. “When he is out sick or off campus, the difference is noticeable. The feeling around campus is different.”
Munier is committed to doing what is best for students and their community. Not only does he keep the school looking pristine, he also makes it a point to be a friendly face on campus.
“He is always there to greet students and staff with a warm, ‘Good morning!’ and a big smile that shines through his mask,” a counselor said.
Erik Estrada, campus supervisor, Valley Vista High School, Huntington Beach Union High School District
Everyone at Valley Vista High School has a story, and campus supervisor Erik Estrada makes a point to get to know them. After 15 years of supporting the security services department, Estrada is the longest tenured staff member at VVHS in the Huntington Beach Union High School District.
Estrada combines his passion for keeping the campus safe with being the voice of reason for students whenever they experience hardships on and off campus. Valley Vista High Principal Jessie Marion recalls an instance when Estrada prevented a student from jumping off an overpass above a busy freeway.
“While many consider Erik a hero for having the skills and the relationship with this student to help him in his time of need, Erik simply sees this as doing his job,” Principal Jessie Marion said.
At home, Estrada has taken in and raised multiple children in addition to raising his own daughter.
“All of his kids have graduated from high school, except for one who will enter kindergarten next year,” a coworker said. “He is a hardworking man, working three jobs, and is dedicated to supporting his wife and children.”
The school principal says there are many people deserving of the recognition, but Estrada is overdue for this award.
Luis Camarena, skilled maintenance worker, Ocean View School District
Luis Camarena is celebrating 16 years as a skilled maintenance worker for the Ocean View School District. While he is celebrating that milestone, his peers and colleagues throughout the district are counting the ways they’re appreciative of him.
“His overall work is impeccable,” said Kimberly Slack, maintenance and operations supervisor. “Luis approaches each task with a high level of accuracy, competency, thoroughness and neatness.”
Camarena is considered the district’s facilities department’s “go-to” guy for carpentry, painting, electrical services, HVAC, window repair and replacement, and, most recently, plumbing.
When the department’s maintenance plumber left, Camarena approached his management team and asked them to assign plumbing work orders to him until a replacement was hired.
“To date, Luis is leading the department in plumbing repairs,” Slack said. “He has taken it upon himself to organize plumbing projects with his fellow coworkers, communicates effectively with site staff and administrators and identifies materials needed to complete projects. This can be said for all work he performs.”
His supervisor believes Camarena is a positive reflection of the Ocean View School District.
Armando Gomez, database specialist, Los Alamitos Unified School District
The information technology team at the Los Alamitos Unified School District works to ensure that students, faculty and families are well equipped to achieve excellence in their “Four As” — Academics, Athletics, Activities and the Arts. Their fifth A is Armando Gomez, who has been honored for the work he puts in as a database specialist for the district and nine schools.
“The finest leaders make a lasting impact by leading by example,” said John Spiratos, director of Information Technology. “Armando is a servant-leader who truly inspires, motivates and supports all stakeholders of the Los Alamitos USD and community.”
Gomez has been in his position for six years. He’s often overheard supporting elementary students, parents and grandparents whose native language is Spanish through troubleshooting and navigating the online learning platform.
“He’s gained the trust of our users and fellow employees,” a colleague said. “They know if Armando is involved, then it will be taken care of. Not only is he a model employee, but he is an exemplary human.”
Gomez is not only proud of where he works, but he’s also proud of his family. He is a dedicated father who finds time to attend family events and coach his children, and he often brings them to school and community events.