District honors outstanding teachers, staff

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

District honors outstanding teachers, staffSierra Sands Unified School District administrators and Employee of the Year winners. – Photo by Laura Austin


Hundreds of faculty, staff, family and friends of Sierra Sands Unified School District gathered last week to celebrate Employee of the Year honorees for the scholastic year, as well as the scores of other who were nominated for the distinction.

“According to a recent Gallup Poll, roughly 80 percent of Americans give grades of a C, D or F to our nation’s schools,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. David Ostash, who emceed the event on behalf of the district.

“This is despite the fact that 70 percent of public school parents give their children’s current schools an A or B rating.” He attributed this to the barrage of negative messaging that damages the public school brand.

“So I would say that failing schools are ‘fake news,’ and the truth is that public schools are composed of highly dedicated, hardworking, genuine professionals such as you. We are ordinary people who do, on the daily, extraordinary things.”

Ostash praised the 117 employees gathered — each of whom had garnered at least one nomination — for their powerful commitments to creating safe, engaging, positive environments for the thousands of students within the district.

“I truly believe in public education as the primary strength of a free nation — one that affords true opportunity.”

Kathleen Pasztalaniec, the special day class teacher at Richmond Elementary School, won Primary Teacher of the Year. Her nomination cites her mentorship of new teachers as well as her role in creating and implementing benchmarks and pacing guides. “She is always willing to step up and help with programs and projects for the school whenever needed and without ever being asked,” Ostash said.

Annie Jorgensen, fourth-grade teacher at Inyokern Elementary School, was named Intermediate Teacher of the Year. “Jorgensen goes above and beyond in everything she does.” In addition to her teaching position, she supervisors Battle of the Books, leads the Junior Audubon Club, runs the spelling bee, leads the Anchored4Life Club and contributes to numerous other causes at the school. “We are very fortunate to call her an Inyokern Unicorn!”

Amy Bond, the special day class teacher at Murray, won Middle School Teacher of the Year. Dealing with autistic students, Bond maintains high expectations and engages her students in difficult, relevant curriculum across all disciplines. “Amy believes in her students and their ability to do anything they attempt.” She is there when they arrive and stays until they leave, helping them reacclimate through the transitions of the day. “What makes Amy Bond stand out from others is her dedication, care for her students and her sense of fun and humor.”

(See also a feature honoring Bond’s military service, Section B)

Marla Cosner, who teaches history at Mesquite, was selected High School Teacher of the Year. “Marla reaches each and every one of her students in ways that get them to realize new things about themselves,” said Ostash. “Through positive words, affirmation and a genuine display of commitment to her students, she is able to create a culture for her classroom where students who may not have ever felt like they belonged in school, now feel like they belong.” He also praised her personal involvement with Ridgecrest Musical Enrich-ment Society, which has raised more than $130,000 for district schools.

Special Projects Teacher Julie Frisbee won Education Support Staff Member of the Year. “In this role she makes herself available to support a wide range of needs in our district,” said Ostash. “She can always be counted on to solve or illuminate questions or to meet the ever-changing instructional needs in our district and state. She is often a quiet but formidable observer, alerting us to what challenges await us on the horizon. Her colleagues view her as a rock — we can always count on her.”

General maintenance worker Jesse Beitness earned the Auxiliary Classified Employee of the Year award. “He’s is a great team player — he approaches every job with a positive attitude. Jesse understands that the maintenance and operations department is a service organization and Jesse excels in customer service.” This year he took the initiative to sort, assemble and deliver truckloads of donation furniture. “We consistently receive compliments from the school sites regarding Jesse’s can-do attitude and the quality of his work.”

Pierce Elementary School custodian Isaac Cheeks was named Classroom Support Staff Employee of the Year. Ostash said that over the summer, Principal Tracey Freese was working in preparation for the year when she noticed a car parked outside the school, and a discouraged-looking person in the driver’s seat. Upon introducing herself, the man identified himself as a former Pierce student whose life was positively impacted by Cheeks. “He said he will never forget how kind he was to all of the students, and that they all had lots of respect for him.” P.S. – Freese told him that remains the case today. “This story serves as a reminder, that we never know how far our kind words and deeds will impact the lives of the students who cross our paths. Thank you, Mr. Cheeks.”

Earning an honor in the same category was SELPA Paraprofes-sional Sheila Goldal. “Sheila is what every teacher dreams of in a paraprofessional,” said Ostash. “She is efficient and looks for ways of assisting the students and teachers.” She keeps things organized, and helps serve the complicated needs of students in a quiet yet competent manner. “Sheila Goldal personifies the attributes of the successful paraprofessional.”

Payroll technician Michelle French won Office Support Staff Member of the Year for her work in the business office. “Michelle is truly one of our most outstanding employees,” said Ostash. “She demonstrates an extraordinary work ethic with a positive attitude. She is extremely reliable, has strong organizational communication skills and understands the relevance and importance of teamwork … she is always willing to mentor and assist others as they come onboard in new positions.”

Richmond Elementary School Office Manager Connie Williams also won for Office Support Staff Member of the Year. She worked her way up from substitute paraprofessional to librarian to her present position, earning herself along the way a reputation as a “go-to person” who understands the school. She has helped organize fundraisers that have earned some $15,000 annually for the school, while managing a multitude of scheduling, administrative and special-project-related tasks. “And we all know that Connie is very well liked and respected by everyone at Richmond.”

A surprise award went to Kirsti Smith, principal of Murray Middle School, for Administrator of the Year. “Kirsti leads by example and always makes herself accessible to everyone,” said Ostash. In addition to helping her school earn Gold Ribbon status in 2015, she helped overcome countless hurdles and challenges to move Murray off the base this school year. “Our district is filled with people who work hard, but no one works harder that Kirsti.” She is also an honoree of the Association for California School Administrators and a volunteer in the community. “Kirsti’s accomplishments are impressive and inspiring and deserving of recognition.”

Story First Published: 2018-05-18