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School employees feted for ‘making a difference’
• 29 classified employees in county nominated for award
EMD 2024
Ceres Unified School District classified employees nominated for the “Making a Difference” award enjoyed a reception at the Martin G. Peterson Event Center in downtown Modesto last week. Left to right are Manuel Zamora, Louise Amaral and Adriana Cazares. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Three Ceres Unified School District employees and one apiece from Keyes and Hughson districts were honored last week as part of the 17th annual “Employees Making a Difference” program held in downtown Modesto.

A total of 29 classified staff members throughout Stanislaus County were honored at a Wednesday award ceremony at the Martin Peterson Event Center in Modesto. The event was hosted by the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) and Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Region VII.

School districts nominated specific numbers of classified staff based on size of student population.

Honored among CUSD classified staff members nominated were:

• Louise Amaral, a staff secretary at the Ceres Unified School District office;

• Adriana Cazares, a paraprofessional at Cesar Chavez Junior High School;

• Manuel Zamora, maintenance specialist with Ceres Unified School District.

Hughson Unified School District nominated Pepe Flores who is Ross Middle School’s lead custodian, while Keyes Union School District recognized Elizabeth “Cari” Guyer, a paraprofessional at Keyes to Learning Charter School.

Amaral and Pepe Flores were one among five selected to represent Stanislaus County in the California Department of Education’s statewide Classified Employees of the Year recognition program. The other three were: Candida Baldwin of Denair Middle School, Zach Goehring of Oakdale Junior High School and Barbara Bjarnason of Medeiros Elementary School in Turlock. 

An 18-year CUSD employee, Amaral was nominated by CUSD Supt. Denise Wickham for going “above and beyond” her expected duties while serving the superintendent, board, families, staff, and the public with professionalism and a positive attitude.

Amaral was described as a “natural problem-solver” with an eye for detail and who stays abreast of department needs and ensures that projects are completed on time. To meet work demands, she been known to stay late or come in early and checks email at home.

“I enjoy customer service,” said Amaral. “I enjoy helping people and finding their answers and empathizing with them and identifying with their struggles and let them know I understand.”

She’s been at the district office for only two-and-half years but previously was on staff at Ceres High School for 10 and 1/2  years directly working with students and their families.

“One of biggest rewards I had was having a relationship with the students. I liked being the person, that if they had an issue, if they had a problem whether it was personal or had to do with school work, whatever, that they knew they could come to me.”

Among the extra duties Amaral performed while at CHS were chaperoning and providing rides to students, and helping out with Senior Awards Night events, college financial aid information sessions, athletic fundraisers and graduation ceremonies.

Louise Amaral (CUSD)
Louise Amaral (CUSD)

Now she is tasked with interacting with Dr. Wickham, Marilyn Croft, the executive assistant to Dr. Wickham and all the assistant superintendents and the School Board.

“Louise’s ability to make our educational partners feel welcome and valued is such an asset to the superintendent’s office, particularly when it comes to the many meetings and events we coordinate,” said Croft. “She is reliable, hard-working, and unfailingly dedicated to the district.”

Since joining the superintendent’s office, Louise has assisted with the Crosstown Showdown parade, a memorial basketball tournament for a former student, the annual fundraiser from which proceeds support scholarships and teacher mini-grants; and district-wide trainings and events.

Amaral has served as an active site representative for the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Chapter 140, representing classified employees.

Adriana Cazares

Cazares, who has been with CUSD for 12 years, said she enjoys helping her coworkers and students.

“They’ve been saying that they’re very thankful that I’m there with them,” said Cazares, who works with 18 special needs students.

“I help them with their school work and every day needs.”

The 2023-24 school year has been challenging for Cazares and staff because of the time it’s taking to learn how to work all the new students.

“It’s definitely rewarding,” said Cazares, “especially when a student who at the beginning wasn’t able to do a certain task and then at the end of the year they’re doing it all on their own.”

Ariana Cazares (CUSD)
Adriana Cazares (CUSD) - photo by Jeff Benziger

Manuel Zamora

Zamora helps keep CUSD campuses operating smoothly in a physical way and is certified as the district’s sprinkler specialist. Typically his job is more demanding in spring and summer when lawn irrigation is at its peak.

Zamora said he loves his work because it’s manual labor and he enjoys being outside.

“I use a lot of shovel. You know we have excavators, we have cats, we have all this stuff to dig and I’d rather dig with a shovel. It’s better because if you get the excavator you have to dig a bigger hole and if you need to dig a little hole with a shovel you don’t have to make a big old mess. You don’t have to hit any pipes.”

He especially has taken pride in keeping the campuses looking green “and grass makes the sites look better.”

“We try to make it as good as we can for the kids so they can be in a good place and a clean place so they can maybe get motivated if they see that it’s clean and nice.”

After 20 years of service Zamora – initially five years as a grounds man at Central Valley High School – is looking to retire this summer.

“I’m ready,” he said with a laugh.

Ken Hines, director of Maintenance, Facilities and Transportation for CUSD, nominated Zamora as one who is “really respected among the other employees.

“He’s a hard worker and he’s usually here every day,” said Hines.

Manuel Zamora (CUSD)
Manuel Zamora (CUSD) - photo by Jeff Benziger

Hughson’s top employee

Ross Middle School custodian Pepe Flores was described as the “Hughson MVP” of the classified staff.

“If Pepe’s not there and he’s been out for a couple of days or on vacation we miss him,” said Ross Principal Mary LaRosa. “If I’m out for a couple of days, nobody misses me.”

Flores has been employed with Hughson for 10 years and generally tends to all janitorial duties. He previously worked doing janitorial duties at a truck stop.

Pepe Flores
Pepe Flores - photo by Jeff Benziger

Civility Award

Elizabeth “Cari” Guyer, a paraprofessional with Keyes to Learning Charter School, was presented with the Jane Johnston Civility Award by the Education Foundation of Stanislaus County. Named in honor of the late SCOE Assistant Superintendent Johnston, who helped launch the countywide Choose Civility Initiative in 2010, the award is given annually to the individual who best exemplifies the principles of civility.

Guyer said she loves her job because she gets to work with kids and families.

“My coworkers are my family,” said Guyer who is in her seventh year with Keyes and previously a stay-at-home mom. “I love my job.”

Guyer works for first-graders but also pulls students from different grade levels to work with them throughout the day.

Guyer described the Keyes Charter community as smaller, family oriented and community driven.

Elizabeth “Cari” Guyer
Elizabeth “Cari” Guyer, a paraprofessional with Keyes to Learning Charter School, was presented with the Jane Johnston Civility Award by the Education Foundation of Stanislaus County. - photo by Jeff Benziger
EMAD 2024 finalists
“Employees Making a Difference” award finalists who go onto the state level are: (front row, left to right), Candida Baldwin (Denair Middle School), Pepe Flores (Ross Middle School of Hughson) and Barbara Bjarnaso (Medeiros Elementary School in Turlock); (in back row), Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Scott Kuykendall, Louise Amaral (Ceres Unified), Zach Goehring (Oakdale Junior High) and ACSA Chapter and President Toney Henry.