Corcoran Unified School District has announced its outstanding staff and volunteer for the 2015-2016 school year. They include the top administrator, teacher and classified employee, as well as the district’s outstanding volunteer. All four will be honored at upcoming county events.
By Donnetta Murray
Danielle Alvarez claims to enjoy everything about her job, especially playing with the budget, moving funds around and seeing how it all flows. That is a good thing as she is the school district’s administrative assistant/fiscal services and her main job is to prepare the district’s financial statements.
In addition, she oversees accounts payable, audits payroll, employee salary databases and salary schedules, and sets up and maintains account lines in Digital Schools. She likes being detail oriented and not being afraid to tackle puzzles and find solutions, adding “there is always a solution.”
You might say she is a “number person.”
Danielle earned her bachelor of arts degree in psychology and social behavior from U.C. Irvine, where she also minored in education. She earned her MBAS in January 2014 from National University with a specialization in accounting. She is currently completing her CBO certification to further her career in that direction.
After serving as a manager for Blockbuster in Irvine for two years, she relocated to Tulare County, eventually serving as an office specialist and then a budget specialist for Exeter Unified School District prior to her position at CUSD. Danielle and her husband Carlo have two children: Carson, two-and-a-half years, and Emma, eight months old. Once all little ones are in bed, she loves to crochet and play video games. She and her husband also like to build computers.
“As a key member of our business office, Danielle has proven her expertise in her oversight of the payroll and accounting departments and provides recommendations to better the systems and procedures therein,” stated CBO Pamela Dihel, her direct supervisor. “Her personal beliefs and positive attitude are apparent in her management style. She exhibits an attitude of teamwork while giving encouragement and direction to her staff and sees any new change as a positive challenge.”
HR Specialist Deanna Gabbard, who nominated Danielle for the honor, commented that although Danielle’s days are very busy, she never turns down a staff member with questions or in need of training. She takes her time and is very patient with those she helps.
Donnetta Murray, secretary to the superintendent, added, “Danielle is able to diagnose a problem and be quick to find an answer – if not several – that work to resolve the issue. She has fine-tuned her work to the point that it all appears to be effortless, but we know it is not. It is because of her intelligence, hard work and determination to do an outstanding job, while appearing to remain calm and poised.”
“Ever since Danielle’s arrival in our district, the work she does on her job has been impressive, said Superintendent Rich Merlo. “She consistently displays a warm, cheerful, calm demeanor combined with a resolve to take on challenges and make sure every detail in our business department is taken care of. She has brought to our team a skill set and an expertise that has been a perfect compliment to helping the District meet our budget goals, priorities and efficiency.”
Danielle likes working in CUSD’s small town atmosphere where all the sites are close to one another, which helps in communication. She loves that the District puts emphasis on technology. She very much enjoys working with her boss, co-workers and others in the District.
“It is fun to come to work,” she said.
This year’s Teacher of the Year is a product of Corcoran schools and came back to Corcoran because she wanted to come back to her roots. With experience as part of a migrant worker family and being an English learner, Teresa Carlos-Contreras thought she could help students where she herself was helped.
“She is a once-in-a-lifetime educator,” says Fremont Principal Eduardo Ochoa. “What makes Teresa special is her ability to work with people – all people – so that they work toward a common goal. Supporting students is her main goal.”
As an RSP teacher, she works tirelessly every day to make sure students are supported by her, their classroom teacher, their parents and other stakeholders. One of the reasons she is always up to the challenge of this difficult work is because she values all people, Ochoa said. She understands that students come from different backgrounds, values, skills and learning aptitudes. None of these factors matter to her.
“She knows that with appropriate support, all students can reach the same goal. She has not and will never give up on someone. She only works harder and continues to advocate for students,” noted her principal
After graduating from Corcoran High School, Carlos-Contreras earned he associate of science degree from College of the Sequoias and then a bachelor or arts in liberal arts from California State University-Fresno. She finished her masters in education from Chapman University. She came to CUSD in 1997 as a bilingual teacher at Bret Harte. She was a self-contained special education teacher at Fremont from 1999 – 2003. In 2004, she became a resource teacher at Mark Twain, then was a learning director at John Muir from 2005-2008. She spent another three years at John Muir as the English learner instructional coach prior to taking on her current position as a specialized academic instructor at Fremont in 2012.
“I find her classroom to be an excellent environment for learning,” stated School Psychologist DeLinda Chubbuck. “She also makes herself available for all parents regardless of her work schedule. She never hesitates to offer her assistance for a student who is struggling.”
Fellow Fremont educator Rae Ann Boyett said, “Mrs. Carlos has distinguished herself as a conscientious and energetic educator and I have enormous respect for her teaching and leadership skills. She is focused and disciplined and at the same time demonstrates sensitivity to the social, emotional, and cognitive needs of all her students. She is an inspiration to all the students and is an admired educator who is very willing to share her exceptional teaching, skills, ideas and educational materials with her colleagues.”
“Teresa is one of the most gifted, caring and positive teachers I have had the privilege of knowing and observing in my 12 years at Corcoran,” stated Superintendent Merlo. “She brings to the classroom an excellent variety of knowledge and skills that are most effective in promoting learning for her students mainly due to the positive, caring relationships she has with all of her students.”
Teresa is the mother of 15-year-old Elle and 14-year-old Bradley. She loves traveling with her children – most recently to Utah and next to Seattle – and going to sporting events. For her own relaxation, she loves watching documentaries on Netflix and cooking Asian and Mexican dishes.
As for her job, she said, “I love the environment at Fremont where it feels like a family. I look forward to coming to work and love my little monkeys and fellow co-workers, as well as my boss. I feel I am in a field where I can make the biggest impact. Our kids will be our future employers, employees and citizens of our community.”
Ana Renteria is an expert in her responsibilities and genuinely isn’t aware of how exceptional she is, according to CHS Principal Antonia Stone, who nominated the CHS principal’s secretary for the honor.
“She usually seems surprised to hear positive feedback, as if to imply that she is just doing her job. Her title is principal’s secretary, but she is much more than that. She daily performs outside her job description. She keeps the office warm and welcoming with her friendliness and keeps on smiling no matter how stressful the situation. With all of her responsibilities, she still keeps me organized and is my right arm. She has been nothing short of an asset for CHS,” said Stone
Ana was born in Salt Lake City, moving to Corcoran when she was six years old. She is a graduate of Corcoran High School, who earned an A.A. in social work from Fresno City College. After a break in her education, she returned to school in 2010 at Chapman University where she garnered a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 2011. She started employment in the district in 2004 as an instructional aide. By 2006, she was a community contact with the district and progressed to John Muir’s principal’s secretary before taking on that position at the high school.
Superintendent Rich Merlo said, “It is obvious Ana loves what she does. Her positive attitude and her ability to communicate with staff, students and parents makes her a great representative of the school and community. Her efficiency and ability to do quality work on a consistent basis with so many demands for her attention and time are impressive!”
“Ana is thoughtful and dependable,” stated CHS Community Contact Carmen Fernandez. “She is great with our students as well as our parents. She is very positive and very involved in school activities.”
Donnetta Murray, secretary to the superintendent noted that “Ana can always be counted on to handle her work in a most professional manner with everything turned in on time and done perfectly. She is always striving to improve her knowledge and work habits in order to make it easier for those she serves and works alongside. She is extremely well liked by her peers, her superiors and the families we serve. Ana is a model employee for our district and it would behoove others to follow her example.”
Ana is married to Jorge. She has two children, Marina, 14, and Max, seven, and a stepson, Andrew, 23. What she enjoys most in life is doing things with her family, especially traveling. They often travel with other family members to visit relatives in San Diego. In the summer they enjoy going to Disneyland and miniature golfing. Everything revolves around her children. Her daughter is on a traveling basketball team and that keeps them active. When she has spare time, she enjoys reading and going to the movies.
“My job is exhilarating,” said Ana. “I wake up every morning excited to get to work. I love helping parents and our staff. Everyone in the district is so friendly. You can talk to anyone and feel welcomed and they are always willing to help me. The atmosphere feels like home here and the people are like my work family.”
Valerie Ridings is so active with volunteer work in the district that she was nominated for Volunteer of the Year honors by both John C. Fremont, where she has three children attending, and Mark Twain, where one child is enrolled.
“Mrs. Ridings comes in several times a week and volunteers the entire school day,” said Ochoa. “A typical volunteering day for her can include helping out in the classroom working with students, grading papers, making copies and setting up and running the PBIS student store or helping with the Terrific Kid and Student of the Month special lunch. She even donates prizes. She consistently gives her full effort and what makes this situation so unique is that she is a volunteer.”
She is exerting her energy and donating her time because she simply wants to help from the kindness of her heart, he added.
Valerie and her husband, Steven (pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church) have lived in Corcoran since April 2012 with their four children: Connor, 11; Kiersten, 9; and twins Clayton and Colton, seven. She grew up in Madera Ranchos and was homeschooled from fourth grade through high school. She attended Fresno City College a few semesters and worked in the retail field. After marrying, the couple has lived in several areas, including Angleton, Texas, Coachella, Angleton once more and then Corcoran. In addition to volunteering and raising a family, this busy mom also attends classes at West Hills Community College in the nursing program. She wants to become a pediatrics nurse, following the footsteps of her mother, a retired nurse.
“I want to volunteer in the schools to be a part of my children’s education, to see what is gong on and what they are learning. I like getting to know the staff and teachers and being on a personal basis with them,” she said.
Teacher Jill Westbay of Mark Twain also nominated Ridings. She stated that Ridings enjoys being around the children and that the kids are always excited to see her.
“She takes her time making sure that things are done properly and is a great asset to have in class,” she added.
Valerie said she loves being around kids, being funny and silly to make them laugh, but also being serious when the situation calls for it.
“I want kids to know they can trust me, come to me, talk to me when they need it,” she added.
“An adult can make a great impact on students and, because of this, Valerie treats each child with genuine respect , care and appreciation,” said Ochoa.
Valerie likes to keep her family on a structured home life, providing a foundation for her children. They “try” to keep a routine going. They play basketball, soccer and baseball with the kids and used to ride bikes. She is also a Sunday School teacher.
“Mrs. Ridings knows that the school has taken on various initiatives that require man-hours that cannot always be provided by the staff,” stated Ochoa. “Mrs. Ridings sees this need at the school and jumps in with a ‘can do’ attitude. Although she is busy enough herself balancing motherhood, school and volunteering (among other things), she always a makes us feel that John C. Fremont is a priority for her. Our school would be hard-pressed to accomplish many things in and out of the classroom without volunteers like Mrs. Ridings.”
“As a parent volunteer, Mrs. Valerie Ridings has distinguished herself because of her untiring and enthusiastic support of parents and students. Mark Twain Elementary School would not be the same without Mrs. Valerie Ridings. She is simply amazing!” noted Mark Twain Principal Mike Anderson.
Superintendent Rich Merlo commented, “Mrs. Ridings is a dedicated and very busy parent who has provided her valuable time and energy in assisting our staff to help make our classrooms and schools a great place for kids to learn. Additionally, she serves as a parent and community representative on our CAST Board. She has the best interests of all of our kids in mind.”