Mijares: Classified school employees lay the foundation for teaching and learning

They run our school offices and keep our campuses clean. They serve up healthy meals, support educational technologies, provide one-on-one instruction, and so much more.

I’m referring, of course, to our dedicated classified employees, who profoundly impact the daily operations and cultures of our public schools.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresThe term “classified” refers to a broad category of non-certificated staff members whose ranks include instructional assistants, custodians, office clerks, technicians, bus drivers, IT professionals, business administrators and others who perform essential duties that lay the foundation for teaching and learning.

These employees often have deep connections to our schools and communities. Many are the first to greet students as they arrive each morning.

In Orange County, we are incredibly fortunate to have professionals of the highest caliber filling our classified positions, making sure our campuses are safe, supportive and engaging learning environments for more than 475,000 students.

All deserve our recognition and respect, but six have been singled out as this year’s Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year based on a criteria that includes work performance, leadership, commitment and involvement with their schools and communities.

That distinguished field includes Deborah Watkins, a central kitchen cook with the Westminster School District has been named as one of California’s six Classified School Employees of the Year.

school employees hold up plaques they received at ceremony

From left, Maria Mejia, Noah Valadez, Deborah Watkins, Gabriel Ramirez, Anna Lopez and Kelly Prouty are the 2019 Orange County School Employees of the Year.

There’s also Kelly Prouty, a school secretary at Edison High in the Huntington Beach Union High School District; Anna López, a community liaison for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District; and Noah Valadez, a flooring repair worker for the Ocean View School District.

Rounding out the list are Gabriel Ramirez, a bus driver in the Los Alamitos Unified School District, and Maria Mejia, a bilingual instructional aid for Wakeham Elementary School in Garden Grove Unified.

Suffice to say, their roles are vastly different. Yet they share important traits like dedication, creativity, kindness and a drive to put students first. And now they have something else in common: Each is eligible to compete for Classified School Employee of the Year honors at the state level.

As we take part in events and celebrations tied to Classified School Employees Week, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate and commend Deborah, Kelly, Anna, Noah, Gabriel and Maria. At the same time, I wish to thank the thousands of classified employees throughout the county who perform roles that are essential to the health, safety and academic success of our students.