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Education Awards

Classified Employee Award Winners


2017 State and Regional Classified School Employees of the Year


Carolyn Griffin-Bugert

2017 Washington State Classified School Employee of the Year
North Central ESD 171 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Carolyn Griffin-Bugert
Wenatchee School District

Carolyn began working in Wenatchee in 1998 on a three-week grant writing contract. Once that grant was secured, she was brought on to implement the grant. Now almost 20 years later, Carolyn has secured over 12 million dollars in grant funding for Wenatchee. Her own salary has been grant-funded since 1998. The grants she has written have been both federal and private, and she has sometimes found herself managing many large grants at once. All of this is handled in stride, as Carolyn is focused on the end goal of any grant she writes or administrates – meeting student needs.

Carolyn’s leadership is described as “transformational and life-changing” by Beth Stipe, executive director for the Community Foundation of North Central Washington. The programs initiated by her grant writing and management are respected and admired across the region, in particular the award-winning College Mentoring program. Carolyn’s efforts have also influenced the long-term planning of the district. Many of the initiatives started with a grant have continued to be funded by the district after the grant funding ended because of their tremendous success.

Carolyn has targeted her efforts on impacting graduation rates and post-graduate outcomes for some of the most needy students. To do this she has used large grants from GEAR UP and 21st Century Community Learning Centers along with numerous smaller public and private grants to increase the number of Latino and low-income students taking AP classes, provide financial support for students to go to college, strengthen alternative high school options that outperform the state averages, and much more. Carolyn’s success at securing grant funding has also engaged the local business community in providing matching dollars for many of the programs.

The success of the grants and programs Carolyn administers hinge on her expert collaboration. She believes leaders need to empower and value the people around them to achieve real and lasting success, and she knows that a network of collaborators is the strongest system for supporting students. She collaborates with numerous local community organizations (especially on her 21st Century Community Learning Center grant) to bring a broad array of activities and experiences to the after-school programs the grant funds. Carolyn has also started to work with smaller organizations on their grant applications – lending her considerable skill to other worthy causes and further strengthening the network of supports.

“As a former middle school and elementary principal, I have seen firsthand the benefit students gain from the focus these programs provide – especially low-income and minority students,” says Director of State and Federal Programs Bill Eagle. “Because of Carolyn’s work, many students over many years have come to believe in their ability to attend and succeed at the college level.”


Rhonda Christian

Northeast Washington ESD 101 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Rhonda Christian
Chewelah School District
Jenkins High School

Rhonda began working as a paraeducator in the district when her children were young and after serving as a volunteer. She moved to the high school as the Library & Media Assistant in 2000. Rhonda approaches her work with empathy first. Her own experience completing a long desired college degree while working full-time in the schools and balancing family obligations has given her a deep understanding of how easily students can become overwhelmed. She sees her role first as a caring adult who students can come to without fear of judgment. Rhonda is equally committed to creating a supportive environment for staff and an eager collaborator.

When she’s not instilling a love for reading and research, Rhonda’s time is peppered with planning school dances, coordinating mentorships, and recognitions. One of her signature programs is the school’s Renaissance program that rewards students during an assembly for a variety of achievements. This program aligns perfectly with her belief that we should look first at a student’s gifts and potential before we start analyzing deficiencies. Rhonda also coordinates the Link Crew mentoring program that pairs upperclassmen with younger students.

Rhonda’s work in the library and as a media assistant is invaluable to teachers and students alike. Because the school needs to use lower cost options, Rhonda teaches students and staff how to convert their files from home and how to use unfamiliar (but inexpensive) options – even building templates to mimic more familiar programs.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Rhonda Christian for the past five years as she’s befriended me, been my mentor, and a highly respected staff member at Jenkins Junior Senior High in Chewelah,” says alumna Mullein Jane Farneman. “I graduated in 2016 after spending four close years with Rhonda has her T.A. She continually proves to be my most significant inspiration as I keep in close contact with her throughout my post-graduate life. I have personally been able to see her positive impact on numerous students’ lives as she’s gone out of her way to ensure their well-being.”


Daniel Holzer

ESD 105 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Daniel Holzer
East Valley School District
Terrace Heights Elementary

Dan began his professional life in the retail grocery industry. In 1996 he made the move to work in education because he wanted a professional life that allowed time for family. Dan approaches his work with a customer service mindset. He focuses on a list he got at a workshop early in his career that includes tips like: perform a small act of kindness, do more than people expect, and be a self-esteem builder. Giving a car a jump, fixing eye glasses, clearing snow off a car, or cleaning a student’s pants after an accident are all just part of the daily routine. When a kindergarten classroom couldn’t get to the pumpkin patch for their field trip, Dan grabbed his pick up truck and brought the pumpkin patch to them. In the dead of winter, Dan will don a Hawaiian shirt, put on the Beach Boys, and barbecue lunch for the staff.

Although his primary responsibility is building custodian, Dan knows he is also a custodian of students. He understands that adults who are friendly and trustworthy make a huge impact on student success. Dan has become one of those adults. He frequently walks with the mileage club, ducks into the gym to play a round of badminton, or stops to help with a math problem. He also awards the coveted “Golden Dustpan” award monthly to the cleanest classroom.

Because keeping kids safe at school is the first step in student success, Dan also serves on the district crisis team and strategic plan committee. He is always looking for potential collaborations with public safety and community organizations, recently suggesting including local churches in their evacuation plan.

“Mr. Holzer is a highly motivated professional with an infectious ‘can-do’ attitude that guides how he works to accomplish all of his goals on a daily basis,” says Superintendent John Schieche. “Dan works tirelessly while devoting countless hours to produce quality work both within and outside of the school system. He has truly made a mark in making our schools and community a better place to live and learn.”


Mary Ann Sturdivan

ESD 112 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Mary Ann Sturdivan
Woodland School District
Woodland High School

Mary Ann began her career after years of volunteering in the public schools her four children attended. In her first job as a special education paraeducator she worked with students who faced multiple obstacles to success, including neglect. Mary Ann witnessed how the lack of life’s littlest necessities can be devastating. In her current role as Woodland High’s career program specialist she strives to bolster students’ skills and confidence in their own ability, but she never forgets all those necessities that often get overlooked. Mary Ann has established a student pantry with food, clothes, and hygiene products for those in need and a special occasion dress drive. Students know her door is always open, and she is a skilled counselor who colleagues describe as a calming influence when things get stormy for students.

Mary Ann’s work began with primarily overseeing the school’s culminating project, but it quickly expanded. Over the past four years, Mary Ann has created an online form for local scholarships, built and maintained a service opportunities webpage to help students complete that graduation requirement, and helped organize Woodland’s first career fair. She’s now working with the local port to organize a CTE fair. The results speak for themselves. Scholarship applications have increased steadily and now 100% of seniors complete the culminating project and service requirement. Now Mary Ann is working with the school board to research alumni contact information for the district’s new post-graduate survey.

“Woodland is a small town with what might appear to be few resources and yet Mary Ann works diligently to capitalize on what resources we do have and our town’s spirit and love for its schools,” says teacher Shari Conditt. “Simply put, she epitomizes a slogan we have here: Woodland – Where Community and Schools Connect.”


Paul Christian

Capital Region ESD 113 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Paul Christian
Southside School District

Paul has always had an interest in fixing things and working hard. As a single parent, he began volunteering at Southside in 2002. As a skilled maintenance worker, Paul was often tapped to help with events and he accepted a position as custodian & maintenance manager at Southside ten years ago. Paul says it still doesn’t feel like a job, and that’s probably because he approaches it as more of a vocation or calling. When you’re in charge of maintaining buildings and keeping kids safe, it can be easy to hyper focus on the minutiae, but Paul always has the big picture goals in the forefront of his mind – helping kids grow into happy successful adults.

Paul seems to be everywhere – on the playground, setting up a classroom, cleaning up a student who’s had an accident, providing overnight security for the booster club auction, synchronizing HVAC maintenance. No matter where Paul is, you can be sure he is listening to students. Paul approaches his work as an educator with the nuance of a veteran. Testing different tactics or conversation topics until he finds the right one for that student.

Paul has a natural ability to connect with students and a deep commitment to community. He took a pie in the face to celebrate students meeting a fundraising goal, let students cut his hair to donate, and has even done a few rounds in a dunk tank. In his free time, Paul is also a volunteer firefighter.

“Watching him interact with the children that pass through the hallways of the school is a persona testaments to his character,” says Mason County Fire Chief Bob Burbridge. “His gracious and humble demeanor assures that all people he crosses paths with are welcomed and assured their needs are met. He does not give up on anyone with a desire to better themselves.”


Tonja Smith

Olympic ESD 114 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Tonja Smith
North Kitsap School District
North Kitsap High School

Tonja started working in education because it was an opportunity to have a professional life and spend time at home with her children, but soon realized that education was where she belonged. Throughout her career, Tonja has been an innovator and a doer. At the beginning of her career in California, she set up her school’s first computer lab and taught students and teachers alike about the exciting ways computers could be used in schools. She helped set up her school’s first probation and study hall program for athletes. When her school needed someone to start up a girls soccer program, Tonja jumped at the chance. She had started to coach her daughter’s team several years earlier, and was eager to grow her coaching expertise. In six years, her fledgling girls’ soccer team when from last to first in the league. Today the school has a girls’ soccer award named for her.

In her role as the office manager at North Kitsap High School, Tonja continues that leadership and innovation – coordinating and supporting the kinds of extra activities and experiences that create a richer environment for students and staff. Dances, athletics ceremonies, holiday fest, and even a pen pal program with a sister school in France all fall under Tonja’s “other duties as assigned.”

As a colleague, Tonja has a deep understanding and appreciation for teamwork. She approaches her work like any good coach or athlete would – by assessing her own skills and finding her position. She is an exceptional organizer – a skill that was particularly useful in her school’s recent self-study for accreditation renewal.

“Tonja is joyful, patient, and kind. Her positivity is an asset as she tackles the wide span of responsibilities included in her job,” says teacher Lola Haveman. “Her imprint and involvement in the proper and efficient functioning of our school is so much more broad than I actually know or understand. Her years of experience and faithfulness to our community make her a very strong candidate.”


Debra Campbell

Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Debra Campbell
Sumner School District

Debra started working in the Sumner School District as a bus driver in 1986. She was inspired by the dedication she witnessed in the education community and she’s been a part of that work ever since. Her responsibilities have increased over the years from transportation to human resources and now as the chief financial officer for the district. As an administrator, she sees herself as a teacher of adults who is responsible for anticipating needs and providing the resources needed to help children on their quest for education.

Debra believes the district’s financial planning should start with what is best for kids. She analyzes data to find the best return on investment and the most efficient way to make the investment. Her creative, solutions-oriented approach paved the way for Sumner to open their own alternative program (instead of sending students out of district) and equip all students with chromebooks ahead of a district deadline and without requesting levy support.

Collaboration is the enemy of chaos, and Debra excels at collaboration. For her, this approach also aligns with her commitment to efficiency because educators who don’t work together will take longer to get to the solution that is best for kids. For Debra, one key to collaboration is knowing what your team needs from you when. She uses her 30 years of experience to gauge when her colleagues need ideas or action from her as she is equally skilled in providing each. For example, during the Great Recession, Debra’s planning and leadership helped Sumner weather the storm without cutting staff while still providing free, all-day kindergarten.

“Words cannot describe the deep seated respect and admiration staff have for Debbie Campbell,” says Superintendent Laurie Dent. “Simply put – she’s one of a kind. Her beautiful spirit, unconditional positive regard for others and genuine sense of caring make her one of the most incredible educators in our district.”


Laura Jepsen

ESD 123 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Laura Jepsen
Kennewick School District
Kennewick High School

Laura had a difficult childhood and as a teenager spent time in foster care. She wanted to make a difference for kids who were struggling, so she began her career in social work and criminal justice working with incarcerated youth. When Laura looked back on what had made the biggest positive impact on her, she realized it had been education. In 1997 she began working as a paraeducator and she’s been an educator ever since.

When Laura was hired as Kennewick High’s first ever graduation success coordinator in 2010, the district said they wanted the district to have a 90% extended graduation rate. Now, six years later, Kennewick High’s rate has increased from 76.6% to 91%. In the same timeframe free and reduced lunch enrollment at the school increased 12 percentage points to 70.5%. Laura deployed a case management approach and supported it with after school extended semester programs to help students keep or catch up on school work. Her programs targeting at-risk students have been so successful that her school has hired an additional success coordinator to work with underclassmen.

Laura’s determination and relational style are part of what makes her so effective. She is known for her ability to track down missing students, and alumni now bring younger siblings to her for mentorship. Laura is the ultimate collaborator – constantly adjusting her approach for feedback and individual student needs. She brings a broad understanding of all the pieces that play into success, and knows when to negotiate flexibility with a teacher and when to dole out some tough love.

“Laura is caring, dedicated, solutions-oriented, and has a great attitude and sense of humor,” says Assistant Principal Twila Wood. “After a particularly difficult day, she emailed me: ‘Go take a nice warm bath, put your feet up, and come back to do it again tomorrow!’ This encompasses the essence of her attitude: never give up.”


Debra Johnsrud

Northwest ESD 189 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Debra Johnsrud
Edmonds School District
Terrace Park School

Education, and particularly volunteering, is a family affair for Debra. Her mother was a school volunteer until the age of 82, and her whole family has volunteered in the schools. Debra became a paraeducator in 1995 when she realized she wanted to have a more enduring impact on students. She knows that developing positive social skills is often one of the most important achievements for students, and she deftly integrates this goal into all her interactions with students. To facilitate this goal, Debra is committed to making the school warm and kid-centered. She decorates the office seasonally and even has a display of Lego mini-figures in her window to welcome kids to the office.

Debra is always looking for ways to connect with students. She walks alongside them so that she can better see and understand their needs. When the sixth-grade class she was working with was struggling with a book report, Debra did a book report with them – eventually bringing cookies for her presentation on The Chocolate Chip Mystery. Debra also set up the lunch buddy program at Terrace Park that paired adults with struggling students. When she saw the school needed books and art supplies, she wrote grants to pay for them.

Debra applies this same approach to working with her colleagues. As a 20-year veteran, she knows how essential happy staff is. Staff know her desk is stocked with treats, and she makes sure to check in with folks when they stop by. She is a mentor and intermediary who is always ready to jump in to fill a new role when needed.

“Debbie is optimistic, creative, insightful, and an extremely hard worker,” says Principal Mary Freitas. “She can always been counted on to take on new challenges and is constantly looking for ways to grow and develop professionally . . . In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point, he talks about a ‘connector’ as a sociable person who brings people together. Debbie is a connector with an educational purpose. She has a big presence at Terrace Park School, and a special place in her heart for students.”



   Updated 1/4/2018

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