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CLASSIFIED KUDOS: School employees are key behind the scenes
Classified school employees are often overlooked when praises are being passed out for student successes. But if you ask Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Scott Siegel, classified employees are the backbone of the school system.

"We want to make sure everyone knows it takes a team effort to run a school system," said Siegel. "What the teachers do in the classroom is invaluable, of course, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes effort to make sure the kids are fed, that they're safe and comfortable, that they get to school safely. Without them the school system simply would not work.

"We have great classified employees."

Classified employees are all non-credentialed employees ranging from janitors to school nurses to librarians to teacher's aides. The ranks of classified include cafeteria workers, office personnel, school secretaries and others. Positions range from a two-hour noon duty to full-time positions.

To counter the neglect typically experienced among the classified ranks, the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) has honored 26 classified employees throughout the county who excel at their jobs. A special "Employees Making A Difference" program was held yesterday afternoon in Modesto.

Local employees who were honored include:

• Chris Rushing, Keyes custodian;

• Cheryl Combs, a CUSD district personnel technician;

• Barbara Rose, a Hughson High School administrative assistant;

• Diana Wood, Central Valley High School secretary;

• Linda Herfurth, a Sinclear Elementary School library/media clerk.

"This program helps us recognize the efforts of some of our outstanding classified employees, many who are unsung heroes behind the scenes, yet critical to the education of our children," said Tom Changnon, superintendent of Stanislaus County schools.

SCOE has been honoring classified staff members for four years.

Five of the county honorees were selected to represent the county in the California School Employee of the Year program.

"Classified employees keep our schools running smoothly throughout the year," said John Christiansen, president of the Stanislaus charter of the Association of California School Administrators. "They take care of all the support functions so teachers can concentrate on teaching and students can focus on learning."

Cheryl Combs has been employed with CUSD for 11 years and loves her job. As personnel technician she handles the posting of classified jobs and helps oversee the filling of those positions.

"I love my job," said Combs. "It's just a challenge. I'm a people person. I love to help people."

Combs said with approximately 800 classified staff members in Ceres, turnover can be high, especially among the army of noon duty personnel.

"My desk is flowing every minute. There is a lot of turnover in the classified world."

Combs' direct boss is Steve Fabela, the director of Personnel. Over him is Denise Wickham, assistant superintendent of Personnel Services.

Linda Herfurth, who has worked in Ceres schools for 22 years, said she enjoys working with children.

"I love it," said Herfurth. "I love the interaction with the kids and get to see every kid in the school. I get a lot of contact with teachers. I love books and the staff at Sinclear is absolutely the greatest."

Herfurth spent the last five years at Sinclear Elementary School as a library/media clerk. Previously she was a Carroll Fowler reading aide and a Westport School librarian and reading aide.

Linda modestly said she has no idea why she was selected to be honored but her enthusiasm for her job shows.

Herfurth, 62, said she is retiring at the end of the school year.

"This is my last year and it's kind of difficult thinking about not being here," she said. "But it's about time."

Things stay very busy for Diana Wood, a Central Valley High School secretary/registrar. She routinely handles five to 10 students per day and is the initial contact for new students.

"It it keeps me very busy," said Wood of her job. Things only get more hectic when report cards are issued since she is the one who issues them and determines eligibility for school sports.

Wood is also charged with keeping all the school records of the approximately 1,640 students attending Central Valley High.

Custodian Chris Rushing was tapped for honors by Keyes School District. His supervisor, Jerry Hines, said Chris has a great work ethic.

"With all the budgets cuts that we've had the last couple of years he's really stepped up," said Hines of Rushing. "The things that he needs to take care of, he does. He has total energy. If you want stuff done you go to him."

Keyes district custodian Chris Rushing, 30, said he hasn't tired of the job he's had for over eight years.

"I love doing it," said Rushing, a former Keyes School student in his third through eighth grade years. "You do the best you can for the school and make the school look good."

Rushing's time is split between Keyes Elementary and Spratling Middle School. His favorite part of the job is groundskeeping, whether it be landscaping or the two-hour mowing of the elementary school yard.