Ojai Unified School District Employees of the Year (from left to right) Jacquie Wegerbauer (A Place to Grow), Kate Spiva (San Antonio), Christopher Hess (Mira Monte), Agustin Andrade (District Office), John Gonzalez (Mira Monte), Carol James (Meiners Oaks), Merv Van Auker (Nordhoff), Gabi Becker (Topa Topa), Susan Duran (Nordhoff), Karin Dingman (Topa Topa), Joyce McCarthy (Matilija), Mikyla Avakian (Meiners Oaks), and Lorie Alford (Matilija).
It was “standing room only” in the Board room at the Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) on Tuesday afternoon, June 6 as the Ojai Education Foundation joined OUSD for its annual "Employees of the Year" presentation and reception. The presentation takes place each June just before the monthly School Board meeting, and honors “certificated” employees (teachers) and “classified” employees (support staff) from across the District who have gone "above and beyond" during the school year to deliver a superior public education experience for the youth of the Ojai Valley. This year, 13 employees representing seven Ojai public schools and the District office were each honored by their peers, fellow teachers and principals during the presentation.
Therese Hartmann, OEF co-president opened the presentation with poignant remarks about the impactful contribution of teachers and staff throughout OUSD. “Now, at a time when educators are courageously raising the bar, the job of our local teachers and staff has never been more critical to the success of our children and to the prosperity of the Ojai Valley. In the opinion of the Ojai Education Foundation, teachers and our support staff are (both) nation and community builders. It is therefore with great pleasure and a keen sense of pride, that we honor the teachers and staff chosen for their outstanding performance. We congratulate each and every one of you for providing the kind of leadership to be the change we all want to see in our Ojai Valley,” said Hartmann.
Elaine Reasor, retired teacher from Topa Topa emotionally described the impact 2nd grade teacher and honoree Karin Dingman has made not only to the students she teaches, but to teachers as well. “When I think of Karen, I think of a remarkable and respected role model, and an inspiring and attentive 2nd grade teacher. But when I really think of who she is, what makes her special, it’s her generosity. She just shines in her generosity.”
Kate Spiva, 4th grade teacher at San Antonio, thanked fellow honorees and other recipients in the room when accepting her award, “I’m looking around the room and see so many (of my) inspirations along the way. From my 1st grade teacher Ms. Oakland, to the first teacher whose room I worked in when I wanted to become a teacher (Karin Dingman, fellow honoree), to my mentor-teacher Mr. Greg Lepine. This is such an amazing honor and an amazing District.”
Alex Triggs, 3rd grade teacher at Mira Monte said of honoree Chris Hess, her fellow 3rd grade teacher at Mira Monte, “(He) and I go way back, 19 years back, when I was a 3rd grader in his class at Mira Monte. He inspired me to learn and grow as an 18 year old kid, and to this day. And now I teach 3rd grade with him at Mira Monte and I’m reminded all the time why I wanted to be a teacher. I thank Chris for that. You’re so deserving of this recognition.”
After receiving his award, Hess then joked that he and fellow honoree John Gonzalez, also from Mira Monte “were there to fulfill a male / female ratio quota for the awards.” He then described why Gonzalez, who served 22 years for the District as a custodian and is also retiring after this year really deserved the award, “(It’s) for his merit, his hard work, his kindness. Over the years we’ve seen it’s clear that John’s character goes far beyond keeping a clean, safe campus.”
District employee Agustin “Auggie” Andrade, serves as the one of the District’s skilled maintenance workers and has held various positions for over five years. He was described by Hank Bangser, OUSD superintendent, as “leading the Cavalry” when it came to the support he provides the District in quickly addressing and resolving maintenance issues . “Auggie is the OUSD version of the ‘Cavalry’”, said Bangser. “When something is broken, and everyone thinks nothing will get done, (once) they hear ‘Auggie is on his way’, everyone chills. He has an amazing skill set, and I marvel at what he does”.
Tiarzha Taylor, OEF co-president, also recognized the incredible work of the honorees, “We are so grateful to each of the recipients for all they have given, whether in front of the classroom, or behind the scenes. Through their guidance and leadership, they help the children of the Ojai Valley become the best version of themselves.”
Following the presentation, the School Board began their official meeting and also recognized the following students, staff and retirees: Jennifer Patino, 12th grader and student representative to the Board, Nordhoff; Tom Friedman, videography teacher at Nordhoff, retiring after 11 years of service; John Gonzalez, custodian at Mira Monte, retiring after 22 years of service; Martha Lepine, kindergarten grade teacher at Meiners Oaks and 2016 OEF Education Co-Hero of the Year (along with her husband Greg Lepine), retiring after 22 years of service. Sandra Johnson, occupational therapist, recognized by the CDE and Linda Lagos, nutrition services worker, were both were recognized by the California Department of Education and the Ventura County Office of Education as County-wide classified Employees of the Year.
Each Employee of the Year recipient and retiree received a Plaque and dinner certificate for two from The Ranch House underwritten by the Ojai Education Foundation.