“What more can we do for our kids?” In their own words, this is the driving question for our recent Crystal Award Employee of the Year honorees.
How do I get better? How do I help more kids? How can I show more care, more dedication, more compassion in my work? What would the world be like if we all lived our lives in pursuit of answering these questions every day?
Last month in Clovis Unified we had the privilege of honoring 32 employees from across the district and across job descriptions for doing exactly what I described above. These are amazing individuals, and from within that group of amazing individuals, three have been singled out by their peers for even greater recognition.
The three, principal of Pinedale Elementary Debra Bolls, Miramonte Elementary kindergarten teacher Ellen Youssef and Pinedale plant supervisor Ray Zavala are our Clovis Unified nominees for the Fresno County Employee of the Year program.
Our Crystal Award winners are an amazing group who stand out from an already amazing team of employees, and our Fresno County nominees are stellar examples of caring for students. In their nomination packet, each of these three nominees shared some of their personal philosophy about education, their role at our schools and their motivation for serving our students. As I read through the letters, I was overwhelmed at the degree of compassion and passion that each of these individuals has for our students.
Bolls, who overcame her own challenges during childhood, has great compassion and empathy for students on her campus, where many come from economically disadvantaged households. “How do we empower students, parents and members of the community to change the trajectory of poverty?” she asks herself. “My answer is this,” she says, “We do it by promoting college readiness skills in our students, meeting their social and emotional needs and surrounding our students with the very best role models and mentors. For our parents, we empower them to further their education and equip them with the knowledge to navigate the school system.”
Putting action to her beliefs, Bolls has started academies to help parents in her community better understand how they can participate in their child’s education, and helped several get jobs of their own to create a more stable economic environment at home. She started the first elementary Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program in Clovis Unified. AVID’s focus is empowering students to see that college is achievable. Bolls is a great example of the difference that our school leaders can make to their local community and in the lives of individual students on our campuses through the culture they create and the compassion with which they lead.
Across the district at Miramonte Elementary, Youssef is another example of what care brings to the classroom. For 21 years, Youssef has given her all to help her students see that school is a safe place and that learning is fun. “What they experience in my classroom will affect their approaches to learning,” Youssef says. Therefore, she invests herself fully in creating a learning environment that helps build interest, joy and enthusiasm for school.
And it pays off. One of Ellen’s former students, an extremely shy young girl in kindergarten, came back to visit and thank her former teacher for helping her to blossom into a straight-A student who wants to become a doctor. A few months after being re-introduced to her then-junior high school aged former student, Youssef learned that the young girls’ father had been diagnosed with cancer.
Throughout her parent’s treatment, Youssef remained an encouraging shoulder to lean on and a mentor to the girl, who later graduated with honors. “I was asked … to present her with the Principal’s Medallion at a ceremony held during her eighth-grade graduation,” Ellen recounts. What great pride she took in the success of a student who first saw that learning could be fun in Mrs. Youssef’s kindergarten class. A caring teacher has the power to transform lives and to transform the future.
Zavala, our third Fresno County Employee of the Year nominee, is proof that everyone can make a difference. Zavala’s job as Pinedale’s plant supervisor is to take care of his school’s physical buildings and grounds, but to Zavala that’s just the start. “School should be a place where all kids have to worry about is their next assignment and how great they are going to do on it,” Zavala says. “As plant supervisor of Pinedale Elementary, I get the chance to take care of a place and the people that are near to my heart.”
He is devoted to making sure that every child feels “welcome, loved and missed” when they are absent from school. After work, he has taken on the job of coaching the school’s wrestling team, where he has become both mentor and coach to his team members. “With hard work, teamwork and a belief that we could do it, our kids learned they can succeed,” he said of the experience. “That’s a lesson they can use throughout their entire lives.” And succeed they have. This year, Zavala’s wrestlers won the Clovis West Area Wrestling Championship for the first time in 17 years!
All of us have the power to make a difference in this world, and Bolls, Youssef and Zavala are great examples of people who, in their daily lives, are doing exactly that for the students of Clovis Unified. I am so proud of this trio, and of the thousands of employees in our district who care for and care about our students each and every day!