A large crowd of Sierra Sands Unified School District teachers, administrators, and staff members filled the Kerr McGee Community Center’s banquet room Wednesday night for the third annual employee of the year awards.

The awards ceremony served as a way to honor those who were nominated by students, fellow employees or community members. More than 107 employees were nominated for nine categories from teacher to school site administrator, classified staff and office or classroom support. 

Thirteen people were selected, and presentations were made by Superintendent Ernie Bell and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Dave Ostash. 

Ostash recounted several accounts of why each person was selected as provided by the nominators.

Richmond’s SDC teacher Kathleen Pasztalaniec was selected as primary teacher of the year. Ostash said she has “a great focus on academics, all of her students make progress every year. She created benchmarks for the district’s curriculum,  has great classroom management, supports students of all types in her classroom.” She also serves as Richmond’s administrator-in-charge when Principal Michael Yancey is offsite. 

For intermediate school teacher of the year (grades 3-5), Inyokern Elementary’s fourth grade teacher Annie Jorgensen was selected. 

“Annie Jorgensen goes above and beyond for everything she does in her classroom as part of the educational team at Inyokern Elementary,” Ostash said. “She is a master teacher who puts her students first and strives to afford them every opportunity to achieve ... she wears many hats at the school.”

Murray Middle School’s SDC teacher Amy Bond was selected as the middle school teacher of the year. Bond works with students who have autism spectrum disorder, Ostash said. 

“Amy has high expectations for her students; they engage in difficult, relevant and engaging English, history, math and science curriculum,” Ostash said. “Their reading levels are increasing by leaps and bounds. Amy believes in her students and anything they attempt and their ability to anything they attempt. Her students know she means business and don’t try anything.” Ostash also noted she waits for her students every day at 7:45 a.m. and for parents to pick them up at 3 p.m., wind, rain, or shine.

Mesquite High School teacher Marla Cosner was selected as high school teacher of the year. Mesquite Counselor Carol Zdeba read an acrostic poem that defined how many ways Cosner motivates students emotionally and academically, positive attitude, energy spent on students and school, and exceptional teaching technique.

“Mrs. Cosner has that special gift that makes her a natural nurturer and teacher,” Zdeba said, reciting from the poem.

Ostash also noted that Cosner was responsible for creating the Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society as a way to keep music in the curriculum. The nonprofit donates a significant amount of money each year, raised from musical productions. More than $130,000 have been donated since RMES’s inception.

Julie Frisbee, a projects teacher, was selected as education staff support member of the year. 

“In this role, she makes herself available to support a wide range of needs in our district,” Ostash said. Those include making it her priority to empower teachers to be successful in the classroom, solve questions and meet the district’s ever-changing instructional needs. “She is often a quiet yet formidable observer, alerting us to awaits us on the horizon. Her colleagues view her as a rock, always consistent and ready for the next challenge.”

Jesse Beitnes was selected as one of two auxiliary classified staff members of the year. He helped transport and assemble several truckloads of classroom furniture donated to the district, receives consistent compliments from the school sites for “his can-do attitude and quality of his work.”

Pierce Elementary School custodian Issac Cheeks was named the second classified staff member of the year. Ostash recounted a recent recollection from a former Pierce student in summer 2017, where the school Principal Traci Freese was prepping the site for a change to her tenure.

“Early one morning she pulled up to the driveway and noticed a car parked next to the pickup lane, and the driver appeared frustrated,” Ostash said. It had appeared the man, in his 30s, was dealing with a stalled car. “He opened the door and introduced himself to Mrs. Freese, and quickly said he was a former student.”

The former student, according to Ostash, said that Cheeks was a primary reason for why he enjoyed attending Pierce by making a difference. The reason was because he always kind to students and positive.

“This story serves as a reminder that we can never know how far, how wide, and the duration that our kind words and kind deeds will have and how we impact the lives of students who cross our paths,” Ostash said.

Special Education Local Plan Area paraprofessional Sheila Goldal was selected as classroom staff member of the year. She worked at Monroe for a number of years, until 2014 when she moved on to become the paraprofessional supporting secondary school speech-language and pathologist. She takes on students in one-on-one sessions in the afternoon.

“Sheila is what every teacher dreams of in a paraprofessional: she is efficient and looks for ways to assist students and teachers,” Ostash said. “Her organizational skills help manage some of the paperwork for her caseload, allowing for SLP teachers to help students.”

SSUSD payroll technician Michelle French was named one of the office support staff members of the year. “She is one of our most outstanding employees and has served in a number of positions and over the last several years in the business office,” Ostash said. “Michelle has always demonstrated a serious work ethic and with a positive attitude.”

He added she know all the functions of the business office and acts as a mentor to other employees as they come on board.

Connie Williams, Richmond’s school office manager, was the other office support staff member of the year. Ostash noted Williams started as a substitute paraprofessional, then librarian before taking her current position. In addition to organizing the office, she also leads fundraisers that raise up to $15,000,  schedules assemblies, is a stellar accountant and negotiator, and coordinates events.

Murray Middle School principal Kirsti Smith was named administrator of the month. Ostash noted that under Smith’s tenure, Murray was been afforded the Gold Ribbon School award in 2015. “She leads with honesty and integrity, and draws upon her creative and innovated strengths to make her school a better place for all her students.”

Smith also oversaw the transition of Murray from its old location aboard Naval Air Weapons China Lake to its current site on East Drummond Avenue, across from Burroughs High School. 

“What some people may not know is all the work that Kirsti did behind the scenes to ensure the school not only opened on time but school year would be successful,” Ostash said. “There are so many challenges with developing a new school — with facilities, programs, logistics, even identity, pride and traditions and other not so obvious challenges with launching a new school.”

Ostash also noted Smith serves in leadership roles in the community, including women’s sororities and Habitat for Humanity.