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Education Awards

2014 Regional Classified School Employees of the Year 

Congratulations to the 2014 Washington Classified School Employee of the Year, Theo Mills


ESD 189 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Theo Mills
Instructional Assistant
Bellingham School District
Shuksan Middle School


Theo has been an instructional assistant at Shuksan for the past 13 years where her day includes classroom support for 6th – 8th grade, lunchroom supervision, hall monitor, afternoon bus duty and small group facilitation. In all of these roles, Theo lives Shuksan’s focus on relationship building.

Theo is the kind of person who notices the small things about students that help her get to know them holistically. She uses these observations to build authentic relationships with students. She knows a new pair of shoes or a scarf in a student’s favorite color can be the first step to engaging a reluctant learner or helping a struggling student to see their own potential.

“I know I can count on Mrs. Mills,” says student Amy Zeilstra. “If she says she is going to do something, she is going to do it. When she tells me that I am a good student and that I can do things above my standard, I believe her which makes me try harder. Mrs. Mills has believed in me even when I haven’t believed in myself. I don’t always do the right thing or make the right choice, but this doesn’t change the way Mrs. Mills feels about me.”

Theo’s most recent project is an afterschool group for 8th grade girls who are identified as “at-risk.” What started as an informal cupcake baking session has now become a model for student engagement. Since the group formed, its members have had a 27% to 58% decrease in absences. Discipline referrals have decreased between 69% and 84% for members. The program has been so successful that there is now a young men’s group and plans to begin groups for 6th and 7th graders as well.

In the classroom, Theo is constantly adapting her techniques to reach individual students. She is committed to the concept of honoring the whole student and compliments her classroom instruction with personal follow up in the hallway or lunchroom. Teachers remark that her energy and enthusiasm for reaching individual students knows no bounds, and she is often eager to connect with teachers outside of class to discuss upcoming lessons and ideas for reaching specific students.

Theo is also attending college in hopes of becoming a teacher. Assistant Principal Janae Hodge describes Theo as a role model for all and a doer. “She sees a need and fills it,” says Hodge. “I have continuously been impressed with the way in which she seeks out new ideas, training and teaching and learning concepts, they integrates them into her work with children.”



ESD 101 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Angela Spencer
Library Technician
Nine Mile Falls School District
Lakeside High School


Angela has been the Librarian at Lakeside High for the past two years. She was recruited from the middle school to breathe new life into the high school’s struggling library. In Angela’s first year at Lakeside, library circulation rose 300%.

Angela accomplished this admirable feat by transforming the library into a social hub and research powerhouse. She did extensive research, wrote grants and requested donations for cool new furniture and modern technology. The result is a library that “learns out loud.”

For Angela a love for reading is at the heart of all she does. She believes if she can instill that love in her students, that enthusiasm will extend to research and other academic pursuits. She is passionate about our duty to teach students how to be smart consumers of information.

Angela has worked with both teacher librarians and the Washington State Library Association and has recently become certified by the Library of Congress to teach their Primary Sources curriculum. These experience and the success of the library has naturally led to exciting new collaborations with teachers to create a research rich environment at Lakeside.

“Angela is a talking billboard for promoting the library and the services it provides,” says colleague Taryn Hall. “Her work with staff around how to integrate technology, researching and writing grants and using primary sources and data make her an invaluable member of our team.”



ESD 105 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Donna Kelly
Guidance Specialist
Yakima School District
Stanton Academy


Donna has been the Guidance Specialist at Stanton for the past 15 years. She is a passionate advocate for Career and Technical Education and the hands-on learning that the students at Stanton thrive on. Recently she even became certified to teach applied mathematics to non-traditional students.

Colleagues describe her as a visionary with an exceptional understanding of the balance students need between academic and practical skills. She is both kind and firm. She is committed to meeting students where they are before she sits down with them to plan their academic and vocational future.

One key to Donna’s success may be her uniformly high standards – standards she holds first for herself and then for students. If students respect the adults in their lives, then those adults can help them set and achieve high standards. Donna knows that building trust is the first step in building respect. If we want students to respect us, we must first model the qualities that earn respect: participation, good communication, honesty and loyalty. Then, as Donna says, the education can happen.

Donna’s positive attitude and persistence is universally admired and infectious. She says her career at Stanton has been and continues to be one she loves. She hopes that students will see how much she loves her work (she says she sometimes forgets it’s a job!) and be inspired to find work that they love too.

Donna’s principal Clinton Endicott simply states, “While the amount of time that she has worked at Stanton can be measured, Donna’s impact on the lives of students is without measure.”



ESD 112 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Misty Woodrum
Secretary to the Principal
Longview School District
Robert Gray Elementary


Misty’s preparation for her job at Robert Gray began when she enlisted friends to play school office whenever she could. She continued to prepare by taking administrative courses in high school and college. Misty is also a committed life-long learner, active in her local and national professional organization and a recent recipient of one of the highest levels of certification for her profession.

In the office at Robert Gray, Misty has made perfect use of her natural abilities as a problem solver and her continued education in administrative support. She believes her work is to remove barriers so that parents can trust their children are well cared for and teachers can focus on the important work happening in the classroom.

Visitors to Robert Gray remark that Misty is one of the most outstanding administrative support staff they have ever encountered. Her commitment to organization and her creative administrative solutions are both admired and appreciated by her teacher colleagues.

Misty has taken on a significant amount of the data tracking that once burdened teachers and administrators. She also schedules all of the student conferences for her school of over 500 – coordinating the conferences of multi-student families so that they only have to come to school for conferences once.

Misty’s principal Bruce Holway says, “Each and every day, she is fully committed to the success of the students at Robert Gray through the work she does with the entire school community and beyond. Whether she is problem solving with a first grader or developing a sophisticated spreadsheet for tracking assessment data, Misty has just the right combination of relational and technical skills to excel in all that she does.”



ESD 113 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Justin Lanting
Finance Specialist and Executive Assistant
Olympia School District


Justin has been at Olympia School District for just one year in the Business and Operations department, but in that time he has helped create an archive system, implemented an electronic leave system and installed a new payment system. His wealth of experience in management in finance is extensive and started very early.

In middle and high school Justin remembers being drawn to administrative work and often helped out in his school office. By his senior year in high school, he had mastered the district’s financial program and was their “go to” troubleshooter. Since then, Justin has worked in business and operations, human resources and food services.

Justin approaches education with a business management perspective that is focused on high levels of efficiency and fiscal accountability. He admits this is not always a popular topic, but he is committed to using the best resources available to streamline processes and free up more resources for the classroom. When federal or state laws change, Justin works with policy makers to determine how to adhere to the laws with easy to implement systems that support the districts instructional goals without disrupting the classroom experience.

Justin’s most recent project was to install a district wide online payment system that replaced receipt books and registers. The increase in access for families and reduction in errors has been significant. Justin is highly collaborative from the very beginning of any project. He actively recruits collaborators with opposing viewpoints. While he admits this takes more time and patience, Justin knows that the result is a solution the whole community can support an implement.

His colleague Cathy Young praises Justin saying, “Not very often is an employer fortunate to find such a skill set in just one individual . . . employees and students of the district have benefited greatly from the work that Justin has done and the expertise he brings each and every day to work.”



Olympic ESD 114 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Suzanne Compton
Library Paraeducator
Bremerton School District
Bremerton High School


Suzanne has worked in the Bremerton High School library for the past 10 years. She has nearly 30 years of library experience that she draws on to inspire students to become accomplished readers. She believes all of a student’s future learning hinges on this skill.

To create accomplished readers, Suzanne focuses on starting with enthusiastic readers. While she admits that she can’t sit in the library reading “Hunger Games” all day, Suzanne believes that is still an essential part of her work. She reads through nearly all of the newest young adult literature – ready at a moment’s notice to recommend the perfect book. She curates a much-anticipated monthly display for the library in the school’s hall.

Colleagues praise Suzanne for her exceptional ability to stay organized and multi-task. She may be working on a record keeping project, recommending a book to a student, helping a teacher find a resource and answering the phone all in the space of a few minutes, and she never misses a beat.

Suzanne has played an essential role in supporting Bremerton’s Knight Academy program – an afterschool program for homework and project help. Her involvement has helped extend the hours of the program and provided a consistently welcoming presence.

Suzanne’s teacher colleague Cindy McClain says it is this overwhelming sense of warmth and welcome that is one of Suzanne’s greatest strengths. “She has helped make the library a place where all students want to be,” says McClain. “During lunches, the library is full of students who prefer to spend their lunch time in the library reading, working, visiting quietly with friends or simply taking a much needed break before their next class.”



Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Teri Mathews
Office Manager
Auburn School District
Ilalko Elementary


Teri has worked in Auburn School District for eight years – the past two as the office manager at Ilalko. Teri’s dual focus is on supporting families and educators towards greater student achievement and helping create a school environment where students can build happy life-long memories.

Teri is a master at balancing these two goals. Her administrative skills are admired by all. Colleagues observe that these skills, along with her extraordinary work ethic, have already made a tremendous impact on the efficiency and communication of the school. Teri embraces the duality of her job and delights in the opportunities to connect with students both in and outside of the office.

Teri is committed to getting families everything they need when they come to the school office. She does not believe in sending a family elsewhere for information she can find out for them. Free and reduced lunch forms, bussing information and other important details are always available in Ilalko’s office. Teri is even learning Spanish so that Spanish-speaking families feel welcome and understood when they visit Ilalko.

Teri is also enthusiastic about sharing her professional skills with students. She recently helped to reinstate Ilalko’s ASB program. This program has not only provided significant learning for students in planning and organization, but it has also helped the school raise scholarship money for the district’s 5th grade camp program.

Principal Tim Carstens summarizes Teri’s impact at Ilalko saying, “She makes work easier, tasks more streamlined, and coming to school each day a joy for student sand staff. Teri is calm in the face of adversity, focused in times of emergency and approachable in all situations . . . she gives her best to the Ilalko community.”



ESD 123 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Efrain Cardoza
Student Achievement Specialist
Pasco School District
Pasco High School


Efrain has been a student achievement specialist at Pasco High for the past nine years. His unwavering commitment to the value of education and his herculean determination make him a universally admired educator.

Efrain believes creating a culture that values education is key to the future success of our society. He tries to teach students and families that high school graduation is only the first of many educational milestones – though important, it should not be the end result. He reminds students, families and the community that everyone benefits when students have more education. Efrain is also sits on the district’s Parent Advisory Committee and is a prominent member of the greater community.

Efrain’s classroom is wherever students are. He knows that the most valuable resource he can offer students is his time. He is well know for adapting his daily schedule to accommodate the numerous home visits that help him keep tabs on students and build relationships with their families. Efrain is an advocate for Pasco’s Saturday School, and is often the first to greet students when they arrive.

As a student achievement specialist, Efrain works with a team to manage a caseload of students who need extra support. He is highly collaborative and floats easily between leadership and support roles. When a student’s family is Spanish-speaking, Efrain quickly steps into translate and provide an important cultural bridge so that the family feels respected. Colleagues remark that Efrain has a knack for noticing and dealing with minor concerns before the require significant intervention.

Assistant Principal Kylee Sixkiller-Bossert praises Efrain for his work ethic. “He leads by example and is always willing to go the extra mile, whether it is a home visit or collecting donations for students in need . . . His wisdom and efforts will continue to have a positive impact on Pasco High School for many years to come.”



ESD 171 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Gretchen Mann
Office Manager
Wenatchee School District
WestSide High School


Gretchen has been the office manager at WestSide for the past 12 years. Her professionalism, integrity and fun loving nature have helped the school transition through three principals and a new building during that time.

Gretchen’s duties at WestSide include managing the office and supervising classified staff for the school’s on-site programs and its offi-site juvenile detention program. She also believes the relationship building with Westside’s alternative population continues to be one of the most important of her duties and eagerly anticipates WestSide’s traditional “hug line” at graduation where she can personally congratulate students for the accomplishments.

Gretchen is committed to integrating WestSide’s unique work into state and federal rules. She recently took the lead in finding and implementing a computer system to track new Alternative Learning Requirements and meet reporting requirements. She was able to streamline the process and take on the reporting requirements herself so that valuable instruction time was preserved.

In addition to all of this, Gretchen has also served on her school’s Learning Improvement Team. She is a respected member of the larger community and an active volunteer, so when the opportunity arose to partner with the local Rotary Gretchen was a natural choice. Gretchen served as the Rotary liaison for two years and worked with the Rotary to change the community’s perception of WestSide and to raise much needed funds for school projects.

For Principal Kory Kalahar, Gretchen’s greatest asset is her heart. “If WestSide is a family, Gretchen is mom to us all. She is the nurturer. She is the disciplinarian. She is the one who gives praise, and she is the one who hangs our artwork on the fridge.”



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