Mijares: Orange County’s classified employees go above and beyond to support student success

Classified staff members are known for performing essential roles that promote the health, safety and success of all students.

In the face of a global pandemic, however, their actions were nothing short of awe-inspiring. Exhibiting ingenuity, creativity and dedication, these school employees more than met the moment to support schools and families.

If you’re not familiar with the term “classified employees,” you are certainly aware of their contributions. This group includes office clerks, custodians, instructional assistants, technicians, bus drivers, maintenance workers and other non-certificated staff members who make our schools and district facilities run smoothly and efficiently.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresClassified employees are often the first to greet students as they arrive on campus, and they’re the ones who clean our schools and lock the doors at night. As such, these employees forge strong connections with our communities, and they are deeply invested in student achievement.

It was no surprise then that these workers went above and beyond in the COVID-19 era to ensure that Orange County students had access to healthy meals, technology for remote learning, health and wellness supports, and campuses that met the highest safety standards once in-person instruction resumed. They performed these roles with patience, grace and reassuring smiles that were apparent in spite of face coverings.

Of course, many of these unsung heroes prefer to work quietly behind the scenes. But now is the time to pull back the curtain and give them a standing ovation.

The California Department of Education created the Classified School Employees of the Year program about 13 years ago to spotlight the contributions of these professionals, and while there are so many who are worthy of our praise and admiration, the Orange County Department of Education recently selected nine local winners by job category.

The 2021 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year are:

  • Allison Goettman, school clerk, La Habra City School District (Clerical and Administrative Services)
  • Miguel Laris, senior custodian, Westminster School District (Custodian and Maintenance Services)
  • Rosemary Tamayo, food services lead, Garden Grove Unified School District (Food and Nutrition Services)
  • Cassandra Palacios, licensed vocational nurse, Los Alamitos Unified School District (Health and Student Services)
  • Jessica Lee, paraeducator, Huntington Beach City School District (Paraprofessional)
  • Patricia Mendez, activity monitor, Santa Ana Unified School District (Security Services)
  • Adrian Prieto, HVAC technician, Anaheim Union High School District (Skilled Trades)
  • Chris Martinez, systems network technician, Magnolia School District (Technical Services)
  • Matthew Sobelman, bus driver, Huntington Beach Union High School District (Transportation Services)

These individuals will be formally celebrated by OCDE and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union during Classified School Employee Week, which begins Monday, May 17. Each is also eligible to compete for state and national honors.

They are certainly deserving of that and more, because these employees weren’t just honored for their technical skills; they were selected for the care, empathy and compassion they showed to others.

In the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out.”

We have endured a great storm over the past year. But the kindness and dedication of our classified workers was never more evident, and these are traits that will endure long after the pandemic is over.