Mijares: Classified School Employee Week honors those who make teaching and learning possible

In every school district and at every community college, you’ll find employees who quietly lay the foundation for teaching and learning while nurturing a culture of kindness.

I’m referring to the women and men who keep our campuses clean, who maintain our educational technologies, who answer phone calls and are usually the first to greet students and their parents. I’m talking about those who feed our students, drive our school buses, run school and district offices, and provide vital instructional support.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresThey’re collectively known as classified workers, and this week we honor their service.

Since 1986, schools and districts across the state have hosted events associated with Classified School Employee Week during the third week of May. By contrast, the essential work of classified staff continues unabated all year long, often beginning before sunrise and extending into the evening hours.

As a school administrator, I can tell you it’s impossible to imagine our schools without their contributions, which typically exceed their job descriptions.

Our bus drivers can be the first to greet students each morning, setting a tone for learning by modeling warmth and kindness. The same can be said of custodians, who are responsible for the safety and appearance of our campuses — both of which have a direct impact on learning.

Our food service workers serve up care and compassion along with nutritious meals, which are scientifically linked to increased brain function and performance.

School secretaries and office assistants are on the frontlines of behavioral trends and personal concerns. They’re also often the first employees that students and their parents meet. As such, they influence first impressions and help define each school’s culture.

In the classroom, instructional aides provide one-on-one support and critical interventions to ensure each student’s needs are met.

There are countless examples. But last month OCDE trained the spotlight on six noteworthy individuals who were announced as the 2018 Orange County Classified Employees of the Year. The selection process took into account their work performance, leadership, commitment and involvement with their schools and communities, and each is now eligible to compete for state-level honors.

This year’s Classified Employees of the Year are Arthur Camarena, head custodian at Harbour View Elementary School in the Ocean View School District; Tizoc Castillo, an instructional assistant at Valencia Park Elementary School in the Fullerton School District; Chou Chiang, a cook at Los Alamitos Elementary in the Los Alamitos Unified School District; Patricia Ellis, a secretary at Estock Elementary in the Tustin Unified School District; Francine Harms, a school bus cover driver from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Transportation Department; and Sheree Newman, a prevention specialist 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.

Each of these staff members has distinguished themselves through dedication, creativity and character. Yet in so many ways they exemplify how classified workers throughout our county contribute to the success of our schools, often performing their duties quietly and behind the scenes.

This week, we pull back the curtain to recognize that work and the meaningful impact these employees have on our students.