The local school district has named its employees and volunteer of the year for the 2014-2015 school year. The winners were selected from a list of recently submitted nominees. Corcoran’s selections will be presented to the Kings County Office of Education for consideration as employees of the year for the county, announced at a special banquet in April. Following are the local winners:
J.J. Albert – Administrator of the Year
J.J. Albert is a product of Corcoran schools and that is one of the reasons he understands Corcoran High School students so well and is able to relate to them. Looking through his letters of recommendation for this honor, one theme kept popping up: “he is the go-to person in counseling and advising our troubled teens;” “every student and teacher on campus knows that if they have an issue, they can count on Mr. Albert;” “he shaped me into becoming a better individual;” “he is one of those men that likes to get to know you personally so he can understand you;” “he has some sort of talent that makes students speak out to him and he makes you feel comfortable;” and, “he really knows how to resolve problems before they become bigger problems.”
CHS Principal Antonia Stone credits Albert’s rapport with students in helping the school reach an 80 percent reduction in suspensions, and gang fights reduced to almost none “because he has worked diligently, with patience and persistence, with parents and students to promote safety on campus.”
She added that he had students involved in project-based learning long before the district was discussing Common Core. He established a mentorship with U.C. Santa Barbara, which was a huge component in the implementation and success of project-based learning at CHS.
Superintendent Rich Merlo noted that J.J has proven to be an educator who has the skills, talents and demeanor to lead and motivate other educators to increase academic achievement for all learners.
“He has the talent and vision to make sure the school and his work are well managed, but he also spends a great deal of time working with our consultants and our teachers in focusing on improving instruction,” said Merlo. “He is adept at understanding and articulating good instruction in our instructional rounds process, and he works directly with teachers in improving instruction.”
Some of his talents in the field of education may be ingrained in him from his upbringing where not only his parents, but both sisters have been entrenched in the educational field. After graduating as valedictorian from Corcoran High School, he received his B.A. and credential from California Lutheran University and then his administrative credential from National University. He taught at a junior high school in Oxnard and Alpaugh High School before coming to Corcoran in 2006 as a history teacher and coach for basketball and tennis. He became a learning director in 2012 and assistant principal in 2014.
“Mr. Albert has impacted our campus through his active roles in assisting the needs of students and staff alike,” says Monica Toriz, CHS teacher. “Despite Mr. Albert’s own workload, he finds the time to stop and
interact with students and teachers, and this opens up one of the most fundamental attributes of a good leader: communication.”
When you live in a small community, you always watch the best and brightest take off for new and distant worlds. It is seldom that you have a chance to see them return to the home of their youth and make a huge and positive difference for the current students in their alma mater. Corcoran is incredibly lucky that J.J. Albert has chosen to do so.
Janet Hansen – Teacher of the Year
Janet Hansen knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was five years old. She said that excellent teachers from her first day of kindergarten until her last day of college made her believe she could achieve anything. In turn, she has tried to provide the same kind of environment and experience for her Fremont students.
After graduating from Lemoore High School, she earned an A.A. from College of the Sequoias and a B.A. from Fresno State University. She started her career teaching fourth grade at Neutra Elementary School in Lemoore for three years. She spent a few years away from teaching to raise her four children with husband, Bob. For many years, they were residents of Corcoran and in 1997 she stepped back into the educational arena to become a teacher at Fremont School. That was a banner day for Corcoran students.
“When you step into her classroom, students and adults will feel a very welcoming environment, where students feel safe to share ideas, collaborate, take risks and work hard for their goals,” said Principal Ed Ochoa. “It is a highly supportive environment where students and the teacher are constantly cheering for you to do your best and congratulating you for your accomplishments.”
He noted that she uses the same approach with her fellow teachers, with which she is highly collaborative and will go out of her way to help someone in need.
“She is one of the most highly respected members on staff,” he added.
Hansen is looked up to by her peers, yet she is humble and carries a great attitude that affects both kids and colleagues, stated Superintendent Merlo.
“She is a role model of someone who embraces and epitomizes our mission: ‘We are relentless in creating an environment for all to improve mind, character and body.’”
Janet’s quality as a practitioner and as an accomplished educator was best described when a team of outside visitors observed teaching and learning on the Fremont campus. Experienced and knowledgeable school and district leaders were struck by and commented immediately on Janet’s work, from her classroom management, her classroom culture, her relationship with students and her use of effective strategies to the make up of the classroom and the evidence of student learning on the walls.
Fellow teacher Amy Perryman said, “She is the epitome of what a classroom teacher should be: dedicated, caring, structured and balanced in all subject areas.”
According to Ochoa, Hansen is humble enough to know that even as adults, individuals continually learn in their professions and are able to improve no matter how effective they are.
“This is why Janet comes to work with her own strong desire to learn and grow professionally. She collaborates and works closely with other people because she knows that ‘iron sharpens iron’ and everyone benefits when we take a learner approach. Her love of learning is on par with her love of teaching.”
Hansen says she likes to think that she teaches her students with the same respect, kindness, caring guidance and praise she used raising her children.
“My reward is seeing my students succeed, believe in themselves, have great self esteem and, most importantly, love learning. What a joy and a privilege it has been for me to touch so many lives in what I hope has been a positive influence on them!” she said
Cheryl Santos – Employee of the Year
“All schools have an identity and/or culture that for the most part symbolizes what that institution represents or is known for,” commented CHS Athletic Director Robert Lerma. “At Corcoran High School, that identity begins and ends with Mrs. Cheryl Santos. I do not know what this site would do without this individual.”
A native of Corcoran, Cheryl attended local schools. Following graduation from CHS, she attended Fresno State University for three years where she majored in business administration. After she married, she returned to college at C.O.S. and completed her A.A. For 20 years she was employed by Security Pacific Bank in Corcoran and was assistant loan manager by the time the bank closed. For the next six months she was retained by Bank of America, which had acquired Security Pacific Bank, as acting manager. When they closed their Corcoran office, she decided not to transfer to another branch.
And that was good news for CHS as she was temporarily assisting with bookkeeping at the school when the job of ASB/Athletics secretarial position opened up and she was hired for the permanent position.
While Cheryl spends her day with accounting and athletic rosters, she is also well known by all of the students. When they are in her office to ask about their debts or to purchase something, she is known to give them words of encouragement. She gets to know the students on a first name basis and makes it part of her responsibility to remind them about important test dates, activities and events, and staying eligible.
“She could easily focus on her own work,” said Principal Stone, “but she is truly a team player who has a strong desire to help out our kids. It is clear she cares for them, and they in return speak highly of her.”
Superintendent Merlo stated, Santos’ experience in handling the many facets of her job and her wisdom in working with students and staff have been consistent threads that have made the tradition and culture of the high school one of Panther Pride.
“She is probably Corcoran High’s biggest fan when it comes to Corcoran kids competing athletically. Over the years you could see Cheryl supporting our kids at just about every contest, and she is the first one to acknowledge and recognize the successes of our kids. She is an involved employee who loves Corcoran kids,” said Merlo.
Santos says that many students do not have any family support at their activities and games and it means so much to them to have someone there cheering for them.
“It warms my heart when they stop in my office the next day and let me know they were aware I was there,” she noted. “These kids have one shot at high school and it needs to be an experience that they will always remember.”
Most definitely, knowing Mrs. Santos is one of the great experiences they will remember after they graduate. Students that have long since graduated often find their way back to the ASB office to discuss or bounce ideas off her. And her fellow co-workers feel the same way.
Stone said it perfectly
when she said that Cheryl is absolutely one of the gems of Corcoran High School.
Lillian Gilden – Volunteer of the Year
Fremont School got a “bonus employee” when Lillian Gilden, teacher Dawn Gilden’s mother, retired a couple of years ago. Since that time, the Porterville resident has been driving to Corcoran several times a week to volunteer not only in her daughter’s class, but also throughout the school.
“She spends the entire day at the school volunteering,” stated Principal Ochoa. “She understands the importance of the influence an adult can have on students and, because of this, treats each child with respect, care and appreciation. She treats adults in the same respectful and helpful manner.”
When PBIS efforts began at Fremont last year, she took the initiative to help fulfill the need for a student store and has been the major driving force in keeping the weekly student store going for nearly a year and a half. She gets excited when students do well and she also motivates students who are not always doing their best.
“If you did not know better, you would think that Lillian is an employee of the school due to the great influence she has on campus,” Ochoa added.
Gilden’s caring nature was probably bolstered by the years she served her community in the Salvation Army. She grew up in Haver, Montana, near the Canadian border. At 18 years, she went to the Salvation Amy Seminary in San Francisco. She was ordained after two years and was sent to Hollywood to be the associate pastor. She had other stations before being assigned her own church in Salinas. After six years, she transferred to Denver where she served the five western states for the youth program. She met her husband in Colorado when he was attending college. He took a position as the band director for Woodville schools and was in that position for 30 years. Lillian took a position in sales accounting for Porterville Citrus. In addition to Dawn, she has another daughter, Erin.
In the classroom, Gilden likes making learning fun by adding projects in art and cooking to go along with stories students are reading. Her craft skills were put to work recently when she made scarves for the students’ Christmas program. As for cooking, they made a Thanksgiving dinner in the class, complete with two turkeys, dressing, mashed potatoes, rolls, corn and pie.
“You could see the pleasure in the children’s eyes,” she said. “The kids are so appreciative.”
Doing for others is part of her nature. At times, Lillian and Dawn have helped kids if they needed an item of clothing, shoes or a coat. Three second grade teachers noted that Gilden is so dedicated to her volunteer work that she will come to Fremont even when her daughter is sick and not at work to run the student store. They said she is always happy and lets the students know that they are wanted and valued on the campus. She is always willing to help the other staff and her talents are used when it is time for book fairs and other activities.
Superintendent Rich Merlo stated, “Mrs. Gilden’s service and assistance to our staff and students has been priceless. She is one of those people who make a difference for teachers and our kids by not only what she does, but also by who she is.”
Probably the most important voice of appreciation comes from the students themselves. In a letter to the nomination committee, the class stated, “She cares about all of us!”