For 16 years, the Central Valley School Board has been presenting its annual Meritorious Service Awards to community members, staff and organizations for their contributions to student learning.
The awards will be presented March 24, so school board members are traveling to every school in the district to announce the nominees.
It’s an activity board members have always loved.
“It comes from the schools,” said chairwoman Amy Mason. She appreciates that other staff members nominate their peers for the awards.
Board member Debra Long said she enjoys the visits to the schools and a chance to say thank you to staff for their hard work.
There are four categories for nominees – certificated employees, classified employees, teams and community members or organizations. This year, there are 88 individual nominees, eight community organizations and 13 teams which include 43 members. Nominees will be announced through March 21.
On Wednesday, Long and Mason were at Barker High School to announce the school’s nomination for a team, teachers Jana McKnight and Dan Oster, the school’s senior advisers.
Nominated by Principal Kerri Ames and fellow teacher Lyra McGirk-MacDonald, the two teachers are known for being the last two teachers in the building every night and are there weekends, too.
Ames said that for students at Barker, the nontraditional high school in Central Valley, “that diploma is really hard to attain.” Students in the school often need help finding the basic essentials to live, such as food and housing. Teachers at the school often must find ways to remove academic barriers. She said McKnight and Oster help students apply for financial aid for some sort of post-high school education, whether that is to a college or a vocational program. They help them apply for scholarships and set up visits to community colleges and other programs. They even help them fill out job applications.
“Graduation isn’t the end,” Ames said. “It’s the beginning.”
“They’ve been really strong mentors,” said McGirk-MacDonald. She said the level of commitment to their students is what inspired her to nominate the two.
The nomination letter to the school board pointed out many highlights of the job McKnight and Oster do.
“Each and every day they are role models for both students and staff. There isn’t anything they would ask or expect that they would not be willing to do as well,” the letter said. “They promote the idea that each student is responsible for contributing to the process of learning not only as individuals, but as members of a community.”
School officials kept the nominations a secret before they were announced Wednesday.
“I’m floored,” McKnight said. She was the first teacher at the school after serving on the organizing committee to open it about 18 years ago.
She said she figured she better “walk the talk.”
Oster has been at the school for 16 years. He also had no idea he was going to be nominated.
“I love my job,” he said. “There are huge rewards in that.”
Their students also mentioned the long hours the two teachers put in every day. “They are awesome,” said Megan Jennen, 18. “If I need something done, they go out of their way to help me.”