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Education Awards

Classified Employee Award Winners

Classified School Employee Excellence Award 
2012 Recipients


2012 Classified School Employee of the Year and
Northeast ESD 101 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year

Mary Collins
Assessment Coordinator
West Valley School District
Spokane Valley High School

Mary has worked at Spokane Valley High School since 1984. To say that she has worn many hats is probably the understatement of the year. In her current role as the Assessment Coordinator, her duties also include attendance clerk, special education assistant, ELL and Learning Assistance Program building coordinator and GED program support. She also creates numerous publications for the school.

Mary has been instrumental in countless successful projects over the years including the creation of a GED program, designing a support program for ELL students and most recently helping Spokane Valley receive the state’s “Innovative School” designation.

Mary is a life-long learner who has engaged in a wide range of continuing education and professional development to support her many different roles. She isn’t restricted by boundaries, and embraces new opportunities with an enthusiasm that inspires others.

Despite her many achievements, it is still the power of individual student interactions that inspires Mary herself. Whether she’s tutoring an ELL student with autism (who last year passed the HSPE in writing) or welcoming students to her farm as a part of the school’s “Farm to Fork” class. Mary is first and foremost engaged in the success of her students.

Assistant Superintendent, Gene Sementi sums up Mary’s impact, “Every individual who has had the privilege of working with Mary Collins has become a better educator, friend, parent, spouse and human being as a result. Through Mary’s example countless others have had the opportunity and inspiration to become their own best selves.”



ESD 105 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
David Peterson
Network Operations Manager
Sunnyside School District

David joined Sunnyside School District in 2006 and has served as the Network Operations Manager since 2009. He previously worked in the IT field at Western Washington University and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

In the world of network services, David points out, servers either work or they don’t. There isn’t much room for gray, but it is David’s constant training and adaptation coupled with his behind-the-scenes efforts to wring every last use out of the district’s equipment and resources that keeps Sunnyside’s network working.

David has also established himself as the go-to person for big projects and big picture ideas. His thoughtful work on long-term projects such as district templates for curriculum guides is matched only by his dedication to time sensitive projects such as preparing the newly remodeled high school to open on time. David is equally respected for his focus on student success and his willingness to try all manner of new technologies in an effort to increase achievement.

To colleagues, David represents the very best IT staff have to offer to schools, teachers and students. His commitment to efficiency and effectiveness has won the admiration of many. However, it is David’s unfailing patience and genuine desire to help less tech-savvy staff understand and use new technology that is his hallmark.

Principal Robert Bowman of Harrison Middle School praises him saying, “David’s dedication to quality work cannot be understated. In the fast paced world we live in, it would be easy to cut corners, not respond to emails promptly, ignore the ringing phone . . . but David does not. He’s always available to help, often times dropping what he’s currently doing in order to help in an immediate problem, and does so with a genuineness rare to find.”


ESD 112 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Tina Anderson
Office Assistant and Media Tech
Battle Ground School District
Pleasant Valley Middle School

What began as a weekly volunteer commitment at her kids’ school quickly evolved into a career change for Tina in 2001 when she realized the kind of impact she could have in a school environment and left her IT job for a position at Pleasant Valley.

Tina’s dual role as Office Assistant and Media Tech is a balance between the behind-the-scenes work of a bustling school office and the personal connections with students that she treasures. Despite the obvious delight she takes in interacting with individual students, Tina never loses sight of how the seemingly mundane preparations of her daily work have a tremendous impact on the overall success of all students.

In the library, Tina is a reading cheerleader—constantly seeking out books for reluctant and eager students alike as well as teaching students the basics of research and how to use a library. She is keenly aware that literacy is a gateway to all academic success, but she also balances this with the joy of discovering a great book, reminding students that a book is the cheapest vacation they’ll ever take.

Though she’s a person of action and energy, Tina believes it is the small acts like just listening to a student that comprise her greatest accomplishments. Her advice, when offered, is based on looking at life from the positive perspective of the “Ups” – Show up, Stand up, Lift up, Laugh it up, etc.

This approach makes a difference for kids according to Principal Ward Holcomb. “Tina’s consistently fair, firm and friendly. She defuses anger between kids—even kids who towered over her—with a kind word and a smile while simultaneously conveying the feeling that she is all business. Children seek her out for advice or just to listen to their trials as tweens. Her sympathetic ear and warm words of advice and encouragement have made a world of difference for scores of boys and girls.”


ESD 113 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Penny Reinitz
Student Services Coordinator
Oakville School District

Penny began in Oakville in 2005 and has served as the Student Services Coordinator since 2008. Although her previous work was in early childhood education at the Rochester Head Start, Penny’s current role is focused on student achievement at the middle and high school level.

Penny’s determined, organized and high energy approach to her work has made her the perfect person to tackle challenges such as graduation rates and truancy. Through her focused efforts with individual students, Oakville has been able to raise its graduation rate and last year earned a Washington Achievement Award for Extended Graduation Rate.

Penny was also instrumental in helping the high school secure a School Improvement Grant last year, which has enabled the school to hire both a guidance counselor and a vice principal. As graduation and truancy have transitioned to these new staff, Penny has tackled a new challenge: tardiness. Through a handful of initiatives spearheaded by Penny, tardiness has already been reduced by 50%.

Penny’s other role at the district is Chehalis Tribal Liaison. Working with tribal leaders, Penny has built the Truancy, Attitude and Grades (TAG) partnership to address challenges for Native students. Over time, this group has become a model for others. Penny and other members have been invited to attend and present at events across the country.

Tracy M. Bray, who is both a TAG partner and a parent, believes it is Penny’s accessibility that is her greatest asset. “Penny always has an open door and an open mind when a student needs her. She doesn’t make promises to them that she can’t keep, and she calls them on their attitude when necessary. Because of this Penny has earned the respect of the students at the Oakville School District. When a student is having an off day, they know that there is one adult who will always have time for them… Penny. As a parent, I feel the same support. I know that if I need her, Penny will be right there.”



Olympic ESD 114 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Rosa Buss
Office Coordinator
South Kitsap School District
South Kitsap High School

Rosa began her career in administrative support at San Diego City College working primarily with programs to support adult learners. Returning to school to work towards her bachelor’s degree helped her discover her own power as a role model. When her husband was relocated to Washington in 2007, Rosa transitioned to the K–12 system when she accepted a position in South Kitsap. She became the Office Coordinator at South Kitsap High School in 2011 after serving for several years in the counseling office.

In the counseling office, Rosa’s work was focused on welcoming new students to one of the largest high schools in the state. She built a system of support that included individual meetings with students and families to discuss academic placement, pairing new students with existing student mentors and even inviting new students to eat lunch with her during their first week.

This same dedication, care for individuals and attention to detail is now translated into Rosa’s role in the main office. In addition to accomplishing her administrative duties with an exemplary degree of professionalism, Rosa also coordinates 20 secretaries spread across the building. From the beginning, she has worked to create a team environment where individuals with vastly different styles and systems stay focused on student accomplishment and supporting each other.

Although this hasn’t been easy, the results of Rosa’s efforts have been impressive. Combining her natural skills as a mentor with her belief in the value of the individual (she visits every secretary, every day), Rosa has transformed what was once a group of completely autonomous individual support professionals into a schoolwide team that has improved customer service and increased efficiency.

While Rosa’s professional accomplishments are many, her impact on individual students remains her most impressive quality as evidenced by the testimony of student Davion Mathis. “Ms. Buss not only mentors and guides me, but a lot of kids go to her for advice. She tells us to never give up, always stand up for what you believe in, live life to the fullest, get an education, become somebody, follow your dreams and most importantly, leave the past in the past and only move forward. I have held on to her guidance. When I am not in school I hear this whisper in my ear guiding me to make good choices.”


Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Susan Gifford
Communications Specialist
Puyallup School District

Susan worked as a journalist for over two decades before moving into her current role as a school public relations professional in 2003. As a Communications Specialist in Puyallup, her duties are varied and include photographer, writer, back-up for the Executive Director and even back-up webmaster.

When she arrived in Puyallup, Susan immediately tackled the district’s outdated newsletter and transformed it into an engaging and relevant publication that highlighted more student achievement and featured an alumni column. Susan has continued to be a leader in improving school communications. Under her leadership, Puyallup was an early adopter of social media channels and strategies and now has an extensive network of followers.

Because her work is often focused on administrative tasks, Susan actively seeks out ways to stay connected to the students she serves. Mentoring students through their community service requirements and sitting on the board for the district’s successful “Giftmakers” program are just two of the many ways Susan personally supports individual students. Susan’s numerous awards for both writing and photography also make her a much sought after job shadow.

Students especially respond to her belief in their abilities and her genuine desire to celebrate the accomplishments. Whether she’s tasking a student to take photos at a school board meeting or featuring student artwork on the district Web site, Susan is always focused on the power that recognition and positive reinforcement can have on the path a student chooses.

Susan’s incredible talent as a writer and voice for students is a unique gift to her district and community. Executive Director of Communications, Karen Hanson, shares one example of this gift in action. “Recently, Susan wrote a series of stories about homeless students in the Puyallup School District. It was a touching story that described the lives of several homeless students (she also connected with one of the students who loved to write and worked with her and her mother to make a job shadow happen). For months after the story ran, I received comments from the public about how the story touched the hearts of many as they didn’t know about the homelessness of our students. This is what Susan does best . . . telling stories that make a difference.”


North Central ESD 171 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Rise Wiggins
Para-educator Librarian
Warden School District
Warden Elementary

Rise began with Warden School District 14 years ago and has served as the elementary school’s Para-educator Librarian since 2007. Prior to that, she worked with middle and high school students in the library and credit retrieval lab.

Recently, Rise began a campaign to promote the Accelerated Reading program at Warden to empower independent readers. By partnering with classroom teachers, she has been able to integrate the program throughout the school. Rise’s masterful use of reading incentives and recognition events has created a climate of enthusiasm and joy for reading that is impacting student achievement on a daily basis.

As a colleague, Rise is deeply committed to creating a positive school and district climate. Staff members seem to feed off of the talent and enthusiasm Rise displays daily, but Rise also looks for other ways to make Warden a warm and joyful workplace. Her numerous efforts to lift up staff include a party to celebrate the newly renovated cafeteria and spearheading the “Sunshine Fund” to recognize milestones in staff members’ lives.

Under Rise’s leadership, the library at Warden Elementary is a place of wonder—full of color, connected to students’ classroom experiences and infused with creativity. Rise sees the library as the perfect place to incorporate important experiences that have been cut or fallen by the wayside. From art to leadership clubs, each has a place in the library.

Rise’s stewardship of the library and her inventive lesson plans expose students to worlds far beyond rural Warden. Jill Massa, Director of Teaching and Learning for Warden, praises Rise’s impact saying, “On any given day, you might see a teepee, a tent, a (pretend) campfire or tables covered with hands-on materials. You might experience a play (complete with costumes), a guest reader from the community, a cultural dance or song or perhaps a science experiment. There might be bubbles to blow, kazoos to play or glitter, glue and colored paper with which to create. There will definitely be excitement about reading and motivating new experiences, but most of all a deep love for books, stories and learning, and a yearning by the students for two days to pass quickly, so they can return to the library again to see what Mrs. Wiggins has in store for them next.”


Northwest ESD 189 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year
Sylvia Mendoza
Migrant Home Visitor and ELL Specialist
Nooksack Valley School District
Everson Elementary

When she began her career at Nooksack Valley 12 years ago as the Migrant Home Visitor, Sylvia did it with a tenacity that was impressive. When she added ELL specialist to her job title in 1999, she continued to seek out every resource and learning experience she could find that would benefit her students—eventually completing her TESOL certification through Western Washington University in 2009.

Sylvia’s work encompasses all aspects of support for ELL students, from kindergarten registration to home visits to scheduling state testing. Because she is also the only native Spanish speaker on staff, Sylvia is the defacto interpreter. Her own experience growing up in a bilingual and migrant family has given Sylvia a unique perspective on both the challenges and the capabilities of the students she serves. It has also made her a trusted ally and all-around confidant for Spanish-speaking families at her school.

Because she understands the powerful role families play in a student’s success, Sylvia’s efforts stretch far beyond just her students. Her efforts to improve parent literacy through the Motheread/Fatheread enrichment program have built community and empowered parents to become their children’s best teachers. She also coordinates a districtwide parenting group for parents of pre-teens. Sylvia’s efforts at empowerment don’t stop there. She has also been instrumental in creating and coordinating a Parent Advisory Council for Hispanic parents which meets every other month to address concerns specific to Hispanic families.

One of Sylvia’s most exciting projects has been the Club de Lectura afterschool program. The club focuses on strengthening literacy skills in students’ primary language (Spanish) by connecting them with a high school mentor who not only tutors them in language, but also builds a bridge of trust and cultural pride that extends far beyond their school day.

Family Resource Coordinator, Becky Robertson, believes Sylvia’s greatest strength is her openness and the way that openness translates into access for families. “I think of her as a gift. I know her best in her role as Migrant Home Visitor and in that role Sylvia defines the term ‘meeting families where they are.’ She meets families in homes, barns, playgrounds, blueberry fields, schools. But mostly she meets them with respect, without judgment and always with encouragement.”



   Updated 5/9/2014

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