Six OC school employees recognized for work supporting education

The Orange County Board of Education on Wednesday honored six dedicated school professionals as the Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year.

The 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 2019 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year are: Maria Mejia, a bilingual instructional aide from the Garden Grove Unified School District; Noah Valadez, a maintenance worker from the Ocean View School District; Deborah Watkins, a cook in the Westminster School District; Kelly Prouty, a secretary at Edison High School in the Huntington Beach Union High School District; Gabriel Ramirez, a bus driver in the Los Alamitos Unified School District; and Anna López, a community liaison at the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

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.

The California Department of Education established the CSEY program in 2008 to recognize exemplary public school employees who serve students in preschool through grade 12. Sixty-four nominations were reviewed by an OCDE judging panel and finalists were selected based on work performance, leadership and commitment to school/community involvement and going above and beyond.

“The common thread seen with all of our finalists is that they do their work with enthusiasm and integrity,” said Nicole Savio-Newfield, administrator in OCDE’s Educational Services division. “They are extremely productive and technically proficient, and they are leaders in their schools and communities.”

Trustees presented each with a special certificate and a $500 check from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union.

Here is a short bio on each of the six honorees:

Maria Mejia, Garden Grove Unified School District

Maria is a bilingual instructional aide who has been with the district for 29 years. She works in a kindergarten class where she helps with everything from instruction to classroom management. Maria says the active environment helps to keep her young and alert. She feels blessed to work with caring teachers and families. She always tells the kids, “We’re not just preparing you for first grade; we’re preparing you for life.” Other than academics, the top three things she aims to instill are to be honest, to be organized and to be a good person who is ready to serve.

Noah Valadez, Ocean View School District

Noah works in the district’s maintenance department and has been with the district for 30 years. Noah is responsible for fixing everything from floor to ceiling and beyond – including playground repairs. He shared that one of his favorite things to fix is broken swings because he loves to see how happy the kids are when they can get back on and fly again. He takes great pride in his work and it shows. He has a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for keeping staff and students safe.

Deborah Watkins, Westminster School District

Debbie is one of the main cooks in the district’s central kitchen. She has been with the district for 24 years. Debbie starts her day bright and early at 5:30 a.m. with a smiling face and a can-do attitude. The kitchen prepares and delivers over 6,000 meals per day. In addition to her regular duties, Debbie prepares meals for 50 students who have food allergies or special diets. Her meticulous system for knowing what each student needs and her attention to detail have contributed to the safety and health of children for 24 years.

Kelly Prouty, Huntington Beach Union High School District

Kelly is the secretary at Edison High School and has been with the district for 14 years. She is responsible for managing the office of a bustling school with 2,500 students and 250 staff members. Kelly is known for being a problem-solver who is never afraid to jump in and help. Her main role is to support the principal, which means she is involved in every aspect of the school from attendance and budgets to safety and supervision. She is the go-to person for everyone on campus. Her principal shared that Kelly is a true leader who makes everyone feel like they are the most important person.

Gabriel Ramirez, Los Alamitos Unified School District

Gabe is a bus driver who serves students from preschool all the way up to the adult transition program. He cares deeply about his students, and goes above and beyond to make sure they feel welcomed and valued every time they enter his bus. Gabe shared that his favorite part of his job is being with the kids. He has been on the same route for 25 years and he loves seeing the students grow up. He tries to make their bus rides memorable by asking about their lives and sharing funny stories. Gabe loves to laugh and said that the kids make him laugh every day.

Anna López, Fullerton Joint Union High School District

Anna is the district’s community liaison. In this role, she ensures that students and families have the resources they need to be successful. Her work involves foster youth and homeless services, parent education, family engagement and support for English language learners. Anna is passionate about making sure that parents are included, informed and involved. Anna loves her job every day and is grateful to give back to the community.