‘Most important profession’ honored

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘Most important profession’ honored“Teachers have the capacity to shape the minds and futures of many — and they do so at all kinds of critical life stages.” So writes Dr. Glenn Geher in an article entitled “Teaching: The Single Most Important Profession” from Psychology Today.

With the converging observances of Teacher Appreciation Week, National Day of the Teacher, California Day of the Teacher, Classified School Employee Week and Education Support Professionals Day, Sierra Sands Unified School District honored its Employees of the Year in a Tuesday ceremony at the Kerr McGee Center.

SSUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. David Ostash, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, continued to cite excerpts from Psychology Today, detailing the various phases of learning development that teachers help shape — from cultivation of curiosity to development of critical thinking skills.

“In combination, across an individual’s lifespan, it is an army of teachers who have ultimately shaped how that individual understands the world and his or her place in it.”

Those teachers are supported by classified staff members — often the first to greet and feed children, help keep their campuses safe and clean and see students safely off campus.

“We are in this together,” said Ostash. “With almost 600 employees, on any given day, any one of us can and does make an impact. We make impacts on students, on parents, on community and on one another. All of you are gathered here this evening because you have made positive impacts. I think we should constantly remind ourselves that among the hundreds of ordinary decisions each of us makes every day in the discharge of our duties, we make extraordinary impacts on people in ways we usually do not anticipate.

“True educators, like those who fill this room, do what we do to pay it forward,” said Ostash. “They plant seeds that can blossom years later and alter their course down the road, and of course to enrich students who are eager to learn from you too.”

This year Sierra Sands received about 200 nominations for 100 different teachers. This year’s winners, along with their categories and some of the comments from those who nominated them, are as follows:


Primary Teacher of the Year — Stefanie Freund

Special Day Class, Richmond

“Stefanie runs one of the most challenging rooms in the district. She sets high expectations for her students then help and support them to meet those expectations. The progress the students make in her room each year is amazing because she goes above and beyond for them.

“Stefanie has great rapport with not only her students but also with parents. One parent wrote, ‘She goes above and beyond for disabled children! I think many parents can agree we truly feel her love for them.’”


Intermediate Teacher of the Year — Dulce Baca

3rd Grade, Faller

“Mrs. Baca is a held in high regard by all at Faller School including students, staff and parents. She is an exceptional, distinguished teacher. She is influential in so many of our students’ success. She builds strong relationships with her students and families and is very respected throughout our campus. She has an empathetic, warm relationship with the students, and they love being in her class.

“She goes above and beyond to engage her students in learning, she keeps it fun and exciting while always encouraging them by celebrating their successes.”


Middle School Teacher of the Year — Laura Olinger

Music, Murray and Monroe

“Can you imagine walking into a room full of 40 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds eagerly waiting for you to teach them how to play a stringed instrument? Laura Olinger does this every August, and then every May these students put on the most amazing concerts.

“Ms. Olinger has changed my life in so many ways not only musically, but also in always being there for every one of her students. She has taught so many students, not only the technical side of music, but also how to find joy and fun in the music.”


High School Teacher of the Year — Dan Gerbracht

History, Burroughs

“Mr. G. teaches his students how to think, not what to think — to ask questions, to think for themselves. He pushes his students to be the best they can be.

“Mr. G is a gifted teacher who brings out the best in his students. It’s clear that he truly cares about developing the minds of his students. He inspires them to think critically, not just about his course material but about the world in general. He is preparing our students to be successful not just in college, but to lead the next generation.”


Support Staff member of the Year — Katie Benadom

District Technology Coach

“If you have ever had the pleasure of working alongside Katie, you soon recognize that she is an extraordinary educator.

“Katie is a model to all around her, and I would follow her wherever she may go. Watching Katie work with students, teachers and parents has touched my heart, and nothing would keep me away from the magic she spreads during these moments.”


Aux. Classified Employee of the Year — Krissana Dennis

Food Service at Murray

“Krissana started working for the district in 2007 and became a part of the nutrition department in 2015. Krissana quickly learned her job duties, and being a team player, has always been there to help fellow employees.

“The best part about Krissana is her motivational spirit. She loves to celebrate all the traditional holidays and also reminds us of a few nontraditional like National Pirate Day and School Lunch Hero Day to name just a few. And yes, we do dress up!”


Aux. Classified Employee of the Year — Michele Williams

Research Assistant, Curriculum-Instruction

“It is a challenge to highlight all of the ways in which Michelle is an exemplary staff member. She is a professional of high character, which guides all of the work she does for the district and her family. She always delivers the highest quality of work and supports administrators and teachers in achieving their high-quality work. She navigates through challenging data vetting processes involving all site and district administrators with both grace and fortitude.

“With all of the endless changes she has endured, she is described by those who work closest with her as a saint.”


Classroom Support Employee of the Year — Cathleen Della Santina

Paraprofessional, Faller

“Students trust that Cathy has their best interest in mind. She takes direction well and has initiative in managing her daily schedule. No task is too hard or impossible for her.

“She goes to great lengths to accommodate the needs of teachers, students and staff. She has a warm demeanor and communicates well. She is flexible and is always willing to do whatever it takes to provide the best service to our students. Cathy demonstrates her dedication each and every day.”


Classroom Support Employee of the Year — Jennifer Worley

Computer Paraprofessional, Inyokern

“As the ‘computer para’ at Inyokern, she is constantly searching for engaging, relevant lessons to teach young students not only about how to use computers, but also how to safely and smartly use computers.

“She is passionate about helping kids learn math and science; the best part is that she makes them think it’s fun! She has also become an unofficial computer troubleshooter and frequently gets requests from students and staff for all manner of ‘Fix this, please!,’ and she does!”


Office Support Staff Member of the Year — Dawn Farrell

Attendance Clerk, Burroughs

“She has a vivacious personality which allows her to manage both students and the community with a positive approach. Her laugh is contagious, and her positivity is undeniable. In addition, she is one of the most ‘spirited’ adults on campus.

“She is the most incredible person I’ve ever met. She brightens up everyone’s day when they visit the attendance office, and her creativity amazes me. She’s great! She is employee of the century!”

“She is fair, loving, and stern when she has to be. She is all that Burroughs could want as a representative of the school.”


Administrator of the Year — Michelle Savko,

Asst. Superintendent, Curriculum/Instruction.

“Working with Michelle has helped define and solidify my teaching philosophies. The very first thing she ever said to me was, ‘It’s not about you. It’s about the students.’ That has stuck with me every day since.

“Michelle is a visionary leader and she has always clearly communicated her vision for our school and now our department. Her focus is on how we can help students experience high levels of academic and social success.

“Thanks to Michelle we have the right drivers to ensure student success and for building the capacity of all our educators and staff.”

Pictured: Employees of the Year (from left), flanked by Ernie Bell and Dr. David Ostash, are Dawn Farrell, Jennifer Worley, Katie Benadom, Cathleen Della Santina, Michelle Savko, Michelle Williams, Dulce Baca, Stefanie Freud, Laura Olinger and Krissana Dennis. Not pictured is Daniel Gerbracht. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-05-10