OCDE has announced this year’s top classified school employees for Orange County.
Six county finalists were selected from among 64 nominations based on their work performance, leadership, commitment and involvement with their schools and communities. Each is now eligible to compete for state-level honors.
The 2018 Orange County Classified Employees of the Year are: Arthur Camarena from Harbour View Elementary School in the Ocean View School District, Tizoc Castillo from Valencia Park Elementary in the Fullerton School District, Chou Chiang from Los Alamitos Elementary in the Los Alamitos Unified School, Patricia Ellis from Estock Elementary in the Tustin Unified School District, Francine Harms from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Transportation Department and Sheree Newman from the Westminster School District’s main office.
In addition, Kay Nakauchi, a certificated personnel secretary for the Huntington Beach Union High School District, was selected to receive the County Superintendent Special Recognition Award for her longevity, resilience, kindness and perseverance in service to students, families, colleagues and community members.
The Classified School Employees of the Year program was established in 2008 by the California Department of Education to spotlight the valued contributions of classified workers, whose ranks include instructional assistants, custodians, office clerks, technicians, bus drivers and other non-certificated staff members.
In Orange County, these employees are responsible for making sure campuses are safe, supportive and engaging learning environments for approximately 500,000 students.
“On behalf of the Orange County Department of Education, I want to congratulate and commend the 2018 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said.
“These individuals truly exemplify the spirit and intent of this award through their commitment, creativity and character,” he said. “Suffice to say, our county is incredibly fortunate to have staff members performing at this level and contributing extraordinarily to the success of our students and schools.”
Along with celebrations at their work sites, the six Classified School Employees of the Year were honored at Wednesday’s Orange County Board of Education meeting. Trustees presented each with a special certificate and a $500 check from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, which also sponsored a full page ad in the Orange County Register.
Here’s more on each of this year’s winners from their introductions at Wednesday’s meeting:
Arthur Camarena, the head custodian at Harbour View Elementary School, is representing the category of Maintenance, Operations and Facilities. He’s been with the Ocean View School District district for 20 years.
According to Harbour View’s PTA president, Camarena has earned celebrity status on his campus. In the mornings, as students and parents arrive, he greets everyone with a warm smile, a wave and often a high-five.
His principal says his work ethic is unsurpassed, making him a vital part of Harbour View’s success, and Camarena takes great pride in his work. Whether attending to daily maintenance needs, managing the evening custodial staff or taking preventative measures, Camarena is always ready and willing to help.
It turns out that one of the school’s most popular fundraisers encourages families to bid on the opportunity for their child to work side-by-side with Camarena as “Head Custodian for the Day.” Camarena enjoys showing students how to do the important work of keeping the campus safe and clean.
He also works weekly with adult students who have special needs, providing guidance and support as they learn the skills required to be a school custodian. Camarena loves this part of his job and feels like it’s his way of giving back. As a student, he received individualized support through a resource program, and he believes it made an impact. He hopes the students he trains will someday work for the district.
Camarena treats everyone in the school community like they are family, and some of them actually are. His wife is a resource teacher at Oak View and he has two children who attend Ocean View schools.
Tizoc Castillo, representing the category of Para-Educator and Instructional Assistance, is an instructional assistant at Valencia Park Elementary School. He’s been with the Fullerton School District for 10 years.
Colleagues say Castillo works diligently to support students during intervention groups. He builds a positive rapport by expressing kindness, patience and humor. When he notices students who are struggling with their behavior or academics, he encourages them with a heartfelt pep talk and teaches them the skills needed to do their absolute best. When students have trouble with reading comprehension, he uses sound instructional practices that are clear and easy for them to grasp, allowing them to catch up quickly.
Castillo coordinates Career Day, Saturday School, Student Intervention Teams and Social Committees. He is involved in the Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Sixth Grade Camp, Family Literacy Night and Fitness Bootcamp.
He is also known for his ability to build relationships. In the mornings, he can be seen on the playground greeting students or interacting with their parents. His supervisor shared that she recently observed him saying hello to students in English, Spanish, French and Vietnamese.
In fact, Castillo, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in French Literature from Cal State Fullerton, is fluent in English, French and Spanish, and he’s studied some German, Japanese and Arabic. He says he makes a point to learn a few key words in all the languages his students speak so he can connect with them and their families.
Chou Chiang, a cook at Los Alamitos Elementary School, is representing the category of Child Nutrition. He’s been with the Los Alamitos Unified School District for eight years.
Colleagues describe Chiang as diligent, committed and kind. He never wavers from his focus on delivering the highest quality food in an environment that is friendly and clean. Some days he prepares entrees such as spaghetti with meat sauce for all six elementary schools, which equates to nearly 1,800 meals. This huge responsibility comes is in addition to his daily duties on his own campus. Chiang can handle multiple tasks seamlessly — and make it look easy.
Chiang says his favorite part of the day is serving students during lunchtime, which gives him a chance to greet his young patrons and ask how they’re doing. One of the joys of working in the kitchen, he says, is that he gets to know kids year after year, and he enjoys seeing them grow up.
Stepping outside his role, Chiang has been called upon numerous times to assist as an interpreter for students and parents. Recently, a child who moved from another country was having a hard time adjusting because he didn’t speak English. Chiang was able to communicate with him and help him make new friends. He also volunteered to keep the boy’s parents updated with phone calls and meetings.
Chiang understands what it’s like to emigrate from another country, having moved to the U.S from Laos in 1981. He says he had a hard time adjusting initially because he didn’t speak English, and that’s why he loves giving back.
Representing the category of Office and Technical, Patricia Ellis is the secretary at Helen Estock Elementary School in the Tustin Unified School District, where she’s worked for 18 years.
Ellis is responsible for managing the office of a bustling school with 600 students and about 60 staff members. She has a strong personal connection and dedication to the district, as both her sons went to Tustin schools. She takes the time to get to know students, parents and staff on a personal level, which makes everyone feel welcome and appreciated.
Coworkers say Ellis strives to create a warm, inviting environment where people are comfortable asking questions and seeking support. Once, when Ellis learned a family was in need of a stroller, she quietly delivered one to their door, without fanfare or any desire for recognition.
When Lambert Elementary closed and its student population needed to merge with Estock before the 2016-17 school year, Ellis was instrumental in the logistics and planning. The number of students at Estock doubled from 300 to 600, which required bringing in new staff and expanding facilities. Ellis managed to stay cool, calm and collected as she attended to details that ensured a smooth transition.
Ellis is said to enjoy a challenge, and she gets her share. She recently supported her school’s transition from paper registration to online enrollment, spending hours each day helping families navigate the process. Her persistence paid off as 99 percent of families successfully completed their online registration.
Francine Harms — or “Miss Frankie,” as she’s known to students — is representing the category of Transportation as a school bus cover driver, which involves managing 56 bus routes. She has served the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 12 years.
Analytical and meticulous, Harms utilizes her skills to build efficient routes, including specialized after-school clinic routes for students with special needs. She also trains and mentors new drivers. She is ready to step into any transportation role at a moment’s notice, including being a backup driver or going out on rescue missions when issues arise on the road.
In addition to being a stellar employee with an impeccable work ethic, Harms’ warmth and charisma have established a sense of camaraderie and a positive work environment for her team. Her superintendent lauded her ability to build relationships and bring a family approach to the department’s work in support of students.
Those who work with Harms say she loves people, and it shows. She particularly enjoys having meaningful interactions with students, which can lead to enduring friendships. Recently, she picked up a 20-year-old student who happened to be on her very first route with the district 12 years ago. That made her day, she says.
Harms has also supported students with special needs by taking part in the district’s “Bus in the Classroom” program. Along with teaching students how to get bus tickets and select their bus routes, she explains what to do if they miss the bus. These important skills help students connect with the world and participate in typical daily activities outside of school.
Sheree Newman is a prevention specialist, representing the category of Support Services and Security. She has been with the Westminster School District for 15 years.
To say Newman wears multiple hats is an understatement. She is involved in every aspect of student wellness, including substance abuse prevention, foster youth, services for homelessness, parent education, family engagement, behavioral intervention, suicide prevention and attendance review.
Newman is tireless in her support of students and families, ensuring they feel welcome and supported. When an apartment complex was involved in a fire and several families were impacted, she was determined to find temporary housing, clothing, food and transportation so the children wouldn’t miss a day of school.
Considered a resource guru, she often works with community agencies to provide students and families with food, clothing and school supplies throughout the year. She also coordinates a program to ensure that families in need have food and gifts during the holidays.
Newman exemplifies going above and beyond, working day and night behind the scenes to help families. While others may succumb to emotional fatigue when working with so many families impacted by crises, Newman remains focused on the primary goal, which is making sure kids have every opportunity to receive a high quality education.
Over the past five years, Newman has also persevered through her own battle with cancer. A role model for resilience and kindness, Newman helps others find their strengths and then builds upon them.
Kayoko Nakauchi of the Huntington Beach Union High School District is the recipient of the County Superintendent Special Recognition Award for her longevity, resilience, kindness and perseverance in service to students, families, colleagues and community members.
Nakauchi is a certificated personnel secretary, and she has been with the district for an astounding 61 years. She began her career in 1957, just two years after graduating from Huntington Beach High School.
Nakauchi helps certificated staff members navigate the school system from recruitment to retirement, and she considers her interactions with others the best part of her job. As a credential analyst, she is involved in all technical aspects of teacher credentialing, fingerprinting, contracts and salary placement. She is extremely knowledgeable, very patient and always willing to help with a smile.
As the longest tenured employee in the district, Nakauchi has certainly seen a lot of growth and change over the years. In fact, she has outlasted at least 10 superintendents while serving thousands of teachers and administrators. One of the things she enjoys most, she says, is honoring retirees at the district’s annual banquet.
Loved and respected throughout the district, Nakauchi learned a lot about perseverance from her parents.
During the Second World War, her family was forced to abandon their home in Westminster and relocate to the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp. After two years, they were permitted to leave the camp because her father agreed to take a job away from the West Coast, in New Jersey. Nakauchi’s family worked hard and eventually made it back to California. Along the way, her parents taught her that no matter what happens in life, it’s important to be dignified and work through the hard times.