Each year during the third week in May, we salute the important contributions of classified school employees during “Classified School Employee Week.”
And although we’ve already announced OCDE’s 2021 Classified Employees of the Year, we thought we’d take a closer look at these truly essential workers who’ve stepped up to serve students, staff and families across the county like never before.
So without further adieu, here’s more on each of this year’s winners, based on the nomination forms submitted on their behalf.
Allison Goettman, school clerk, La Habra City School District
Representing the Clerical and Administrative Services category, Allison Goettman is the school clerk at Imperial Middle School in the La Habra City School District. A La Habra alum, Goettman has worked in the district for 25 years.
Goettman is described as the kind of person you always want on your team. During a challenging school year, she continued to provide motivation to students and families struggling with the demands of distance learning by providing inspirational awards and support.
Imperial Principal Cathey Seighman says Goettman’s understanding and knowledge of the unique demands of adolescent children make her a true asset to the school and the entire district.
“She is positive, efficient, selfless, thinks ahead and is always going one step further to support others,” said Seighman. “Whether it be a parent, students or staff member, if you come to Allison with a question or an issue, she will go the extra mile every time to make sure it is addressed and resolved in the most efficient way possible.”
Miguel Laris, senior custodian, Westminster School District
Miguel Laris, senior custodian at Finely Elementary School in the Westminster School District, has worked in the district for 17 years. He is representing the Custodian and Maintenance Services category.
Laris is described by multiple colleagues as a trusted role model for students and a passionate supporter of staff and the community. Finely Elementary Principal Pamella LeMuiex said Laris knows that his role is more than just keeping the schools safe and clean. He genuinely cares about students and makes an effort to know them by name and greet them each day.
LeMuiex describes how students can’t wait to say good morning to “Mr. Miguel” each morning as they walk through the gate. She says you’ll often see students walking around with him at recess or just chatting with him while he’s working to clean the lunch areas.
“He truly understands that showing students he cares about them and their school help create an environment where everyone takes care of each other,” LeMuiex said.
Rosemary Tamayo, food services lead, Garden Grove Unified School District
Rosemary “Rosie” Tamayo, the food services lead at Violette Elementary in the Garden Grove Unified School District, is representing the category of Food and Nutrition Services. She has 27 years of experience in the district.
Tamayo has worked tirelessly to deliver countless meals to families, as well as worked at the district office helping to field phone calls and assist families who needed support during the pandemic. She is described as not only meticulously clean, organized and efficient, but a shining example of someone who’s deeply compassionate and committed to serving the students of Garden Grove Unified.
“Rosie is more than a lunch lady; she is an unsung hero with a big heart and is 100% dedicated to the families and students she serves,” said Agnes Lally, director of food services.
“Rosie knows all of the students by name and goes out of her way to make each child feel special. She is well-respected by staff who admire her kindness, humble nature and ability to get things done.”
Cassandra Palacios, licensed vocational nurse, Los Alamitos Unified School District
Cassandra Palacios, a licensed vocational nurse at Los Alamitos High School, is representing the Health and Student Services category. She joined Los Alamitos Unified in 2013 as an itinerant school nurse serving all nine campuses and in 2017 found her home as the full-time nurse at the district’s only high school.
As a school nurse, Palacios has played a pivotal role in carrying out the district’s comprehensive safety plan that allowed the high school to reopen for in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Gregg Stone, Los Alamitos High School principal, said Palacios is a tireless worker who puts the needs of students first.
“She realizes that health matters cannot always wait until the morning, and it is not uncommon for parents or staff to receive a phone call or email from her late into the night or on weekends,” Stone said.
Palacios, who has five children, has also served as a youth basketball coach, team parent for youth baseball, Girl Scout leader, room parent at Rossmoor Elementary, and as a board member for both the Los Alamitos High School football and girls basketball teams.
Jessica Lee, paraeducator, Huntington Beach City School District
Jessica Lee has served as a paraeducator in the Huntington Beach City School District for nearly 10 years, working at Ralph E. Hawes Elementary School. She was honored in the category of Paraprofessional.
Characterized by her peers as the “go-to resource,” Lee supports students in Hawes’ moderate/severe special education day class. From creating innovative technology resources for teachers and students, to developing new health and safety protocols, Lee does it all with a smile.
“She supports many, takes on the most challenging situations, and is there at the ready anytime someone is in need,” Hawes Principal Julie Jennings wrote in her nomination. “She helps us problem solve and thinks about the students she supports 24/7 — often texting classroom teachers to ask if she can purchase items she is certain her students would love. She truly goes above and beyond in all that she does.”
Patricia Mendez, activity monitor, Santa Ana Unified School District
Patricia Mendez, an activity monitor for the Santa Ana Unified School District, is being recognized in the Security Services category. Mendez has worked at Esqueda Elementary for 10 years, where she’s known on campus for her caring attitude and her ability to connect deeply with families.
Most recently, Mendez has given hope to many Esqueda families during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them with advice and support, keeping a supply of extra Chromebooks on hand for them to use and by arranging to have food delivered to their homes.
Known on campus as “Ms. Patty,” colleagues say Mendez has the foresight and deep understanding of the unique needs of her community. Parents feel comfortable coming to her with questions, concerns and needs because she always listens to them with an open heart, as said by her peers.
“We rarely come across truly special people like Mrs. Patty Mendez, but when you meet them they change your outlook on life,” said Kevin Tonai, principal of Esqueda. “I am proud to work by her side each and every day!”
Adrian Prieto, HVAC technician, Anaheim Union High School District
Representing the Skilled Trades category, Adrian Prieto is a heating ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, technician in the Anaheim Union High School District. As an HVAC technician, Prieto is directly responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all HVAC units at four of the district’s largest school sites — that’s a total of more than 380 units.
Prieto’s colleagues describe him as being “an encyclopedia of knowledge” when it comes to troubleshooting and resolving issues with problematic HVAC units. His guidance and foresight has been a tremendous asset during the pandemic as the district worked to replace HVAC units and make campuses as safe as possible for students and staff.
“His love and passion for work and willingness to share his knowledge with his co-workers, as a coach and a mentor, is very admirable,” said AUHSD Energy Manager Juliann Ferguson. “He has consistently met and exceeded established expectations and his customer service is exemplary.”
Chris Martinez, systems network technician, Magnolia School District
Representing the Technical Services category, Chris Martinez is a systems network technician for the Magnolia School District. Martinez has served in this role for seven years and has worked in the district for 13 years.
As the district’s network technician, Martinez supports staff, faculty and students with everything ranging from device repairs, configuring computer software, replacing cables or organizing new technology in classrooms. And, throughout the pandemic, Martinez stopped at nothing to make sure devices were in the hands of the students and families that relied so heavily on technology for distance learning.
“Chris’ dedication to getting technology into the hands of students and staff during the pandemic was admirable,” said Magnolia School District Director of Technology Jason Pomeroy. “He was in charge of two distribution teams, covering nine sites and handed out more than 3,000 Chromebooks over a five-day period during some of the hottest days in August.”
Martinez is also said to be deeply committed to serving his community. He serves as the coach of many youth soccer teams and is passionate about donating his time to support fundraising efforts across the district.
Matthew Sobelman, bus driver, Huntington Beach Union High School District
Honored in the Transportation Services category, Matthew “Matt” Sobelman is a bus driver with the Huntington Beach Union High School District. He serves students in the district’s special education department and goes out of his way each day to make sure everyone who rides his bus has a positive experience.
Coworkers say Sobelman is a champion for all and is always looking for ways to help. When campuses were forced to close due to the pandemic, Sobelman went right to work. From cleaning and sanitizing buses, to floor resurfacing and organizational projects, he wore many hats and provided help wherever needed.
“When busses were not servicing students during the pandemic, Matt was eager for ways to help,” said Jeff Hutchings, HBUHSD manager of maintenance, operations and transportation. “He weeded the grounds, washed countless buses from top to bottom and many more tasks — all with a smile.”
When Sobelman isn’t driving his bus, peers say you can find him promoting various district fundraisers and volunteering his time with local organizations like CHIPs for Kids, CSEA committees and more.