Each of Ramona Unified School District’s nine school sites submitted selections for employees of the year, those individuals, both certificated and classified, who really went above and beyond. Generally, each site uses a voting system where teachers are nominated and then chosen by their peers to represent the entire school.
This year’s selections for teacher of the year are: Dyan Winship (Barnett Elementary), Elizabeth Sanders-Koegel (Hanson Elementary), Jan Groh (James Dukes Elementary), Alicia Stemm (Mt. Woodson Elementary), Susan Nelson (Ramona Community/Mountain Valley Academy), Joyce McDonough (Ramona Elementary), Ingrid Forbes (Olive Peirce Middle), Carol Canfield (Montecito High) and Dan Marshall (Ramona High).
Of the nine, one is chosen by a jury of their peers to represent the entire district. This year’s overall winner was Dan Marshall, who has been with the district 15 years. Marshall teaches students with moderate to severe disabilities and also serves as the special education chair for his department.
He loves the community and is committed to serving it. He has been club adviser for Tom’s Club since 2001, after a student in his class, Tom Bottomley, died. Tom’s Club provides recreational outings for students with disabilities, such as adapted skiing or fishing trips, and also offers students who desire a career in special education to earn scholarships and become peer mentors. Since its inclusion, the club has given away more than $10,000 in scholarships.
“I believe it is my duty to volunteer in our community,” said Marshall. “We serve as models for our young people, and real volunteerism is important. Talking about doing good deeds means absolutely nothing. Real volunteerism involves commitment.”
Marshall also serves the community through his coaching. He has coached the varsity girl’s team since 1996 and has won coach of the year for Ramona four times.
“Dan is a committed teacher,” said Principal Tony Newman. “He knows his greatest impact lies with really challenging his students and making every single thing they learn relevant to their lives. He is very honest and very dedicated to having his students really earn their grades even though they may face difficult challenges, and he won’t budge because he knows they will always remember being pushed.”
Marshall said he is honored and proud to receive this year’s nomination.
“Everything I do at RHS depends on so many people willing to work together to help students,” he said. “This award is really more about the support staff and their willingness to work so hard to provide great opportunities for students.”
Marshall will go on to compete against other teachers from the region with the potential to be the teacher of the year for the entire state of California. If he wins, he would then compete against 49 others in Washington, D.C., for the National Teacher of the Year title. And, of course, everyone is rooting for him.
“Dan is one of those unsung heroes,” said Superintendent Bob Graeff. “He doesn’t teach in a high profile position. He doesn’t have the opportunity to showcase his Advanced Placement (AP) scores or trophies. He works with a very important group of students and one day at a time brings new skills and new progress to his classroom.”
Also celebrated are Ramona Unified Classified Employees of the Year, who range from campus security and custodians to nurses and administrative team members. This year’s selections are: Gloria Mason (Barnett), Lisa Celaya (Hanson Lane), Joanna Mellecker (James Dukes), Terry Kershaw (Mt. Woodson), Gayla Hager (Ramona Community School/MVA), Susana Abarca (Ramona Elementary), Marc Boykins (Olive Peirce), Joe Edwards (Ramona High), Lynette Beard (Transportation), Dawn Postoskie (District Office) and Jennifer Hallmann (District Office).
Susana Abarca, secretary at Ramona Elementary, was selected by her peers as this year’s districtwide Classified Employee of the Year. Abarca has also been with the district for 15 years and, according to Principal Phyllis Munoz, is the “heart of Ramona Elementary.” She started as a part-time clerk, then moved up to health clerk and finally to Secretary II.
Abarca considers RE her second home and has come to know the staff and parents very well.
“I love the people I work with and consider them my second family,” she said. “One in particular, Jan Yates, has been a very good mentor and a wonderful friend. I learned from the best.
“Every staff member, every student is important to me.”
Abarca said the best part of her job is making someone’s days a little brighter, especially her students. She makes a point to know them all by name and always treats them with respect because it makes them feel special.
“I know that when they come to the office for whatever reason, a smile, a nice comment, a positive gesture makes a difference for them,” she said.
Munoz praises her commitment and treatment of students.
“Many times she is able to connect with parents and students when others have failed, said Munoz. “Parents know that she will listen with compassion to their concerns — however she is no pushover. Susana is able to be firm with parents and students regarding school matters. All you need to do is look at her success with her own children to understand her commitment to education.”
She grew up in Ramona and is a proud graduate of RHS. She has always loved school and never wanted to leave it. She also recalls the many teachers, support staff and administrators who made a difference in her life and encouraged her to always believe in herself and be the best person she could be. She wants to be that same force for the students who are in her life.
She takes that extra time to get to know them and values each child so much that she never forgets a detail.
“Susana has an extensive knowledge of the students that attend our school in her memory banks,” said Munoz. “Whenever I need background information on a child, I just ask Susana. She can recall previous schools, who are the siblings, how many times they have moved, etc. She is amazing.”
Being nominated was a “very humbling experience and quite an honor,” she said. “There are so many worthy employees in our district. I know that we all come to work and give it 110 percent every day.”
“I am delighted with the selection of Susana Abarca,” said Graeff. “She is an extraordinary representative of the ‘customer service’ we value so highly in our school district. She is not only a bright, positive face for every parent when they walk into the front office but she personifies everything we hold dear in our schools. “
Abarca will also go on to compete in a separate, but similar, competition as Marshall, and her whole RE community and beyond will be cheering loudly for the woman who cheers so loudly for them everyday.