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Outstanding OC school workers honored as 2015 Classified Employees of the Year

The Orange County Department of Education has announced the top classified school employees for 2015.

Established in 2008 by the California Department of Education, the Classified School Employees of the Year program annually highlights the contributions of employees who have performed exceptionally in support of public school students, from preschool through grade 12. Classified workers with a minimum of five years of service are eligible for the recognition, whether they serve at traditional schools, charter schools, district offices or county offices of education.

More on the selection process in a minute. Without further ado, the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year are:

Janelle CranchJanelle Cranch, a buyer technician who works in the district office at the Irvine Unified School District, has been a vital employee since 1989. Known for her customer service and leadership, her expertise is regularly sought after, and she has served in a variety of committees with IUSD.

Janelle is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and inspires others through her level of commitment. From initiating a Red Cross Blood Drive to advocating for educational funding, Janelle is an active and engaged member of the community.

Described as a tenacious advocate for staff and students and an iconic leader, she serves as chapter president of IUSD’s California School Employees Association. Her commitment, compassion and work ethic have earned her a reputation as one of the most beloved and respected members of the school community.

Colleen Keegan LambColleen Keegan Lamb is a lead food services worker at Capistrano Valley High School in the Capistrano Unified School District. For 13 years, Colleen has been an integral part of her school, developing relationships with — and advocating for — the students she serves. Often arriving on campus before sunrise, she works diligently to ensure that more than 2,400 students and more than 100 employees receive daily meals in a safe and clean environment.

Touted as the “lunch lady we all wish we had,” Colleen is known for greeting students by name and checking in with them on school, sports and life in general. When conversations arose about the possibility of eliminating the breakfast break, Colleen voiced concern for the students who might have a difficult time getting a morning meal.

As a cancer survivor, Colleen demonstrated her spirit, courage and strength throughout difficult treatments and surgeries. She became a role model for students, having open conversations and donating proceeds from a fundraiser in her name to Breast Cancer Awareness.

Deborah MilovicDeborah Milovic is an attendance and health clerk at Taft Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District. Deborah provides encouragement to struggling students and is there to calm those who are injured or ill. Deborah goes to great lengths to find the resources that families need and has taken Spanish classes to communicate with families in the community.

An advocate for children, she has donated her services to the Assistance League of Orange, the Orange Chamber of Commerce and the Orangewood Children’s Foundation. She is always willing to volunteer for school events, from the Taft talent show to the community track meet. Most of all, she is eager to serve the students, parents, teachers and staff at Taft Elementary.

Her student-centered perspective is evident in her everyday interactions. She makes a lasting impression on those around her, and students frequently come back to the campus to share their appreciation for all she did to encourage them and make their lives better.

Alfredo PerezAlfredo Perez is the head custodian at Rea Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. After a decade of service at Rea Elementary, he is considered a patriarch in the school community. Known as “Uncle” to students on campus, Alfredo treats the children and staff as family, greeting them with smiles and genuine warmth. Alfredo makes a point of spending time with students at the lunch tables and considers it an honor to serve as role model and mentor.

As a parent of a kindergarten student at the school, Alfredo is involved in all aspects of the school and works tirelessly while exuding positive energy and optimism. Coworkers say his impact on the school community is tangible. He participates in Family Nights and is always first to volunteer to take work home and help with other school activities.

Virginia Tse-HoriuchiVirginia Tse-Horiuchi, an instructional aide, is responsible for teaching technology and maintaining the computers for 700-plus students and more than 30 teachers at Meairs Elementary School in the Westminster School District. Known as a “technology guru,” Virginia can install, maintain and troubleshoot every piece of technology at the school.

Committed to her professional development, Virginia is always learning and willing to share her knowledge. As a leader in her field, she is regularly called upon to support computer labs and train new hires throughout the district.

She actively participates in school activities and has been a volunteer coach of the Meairs Running Club. Virginia is respected and admired by both students and staff and is known for being patient and kind.

Donna WittenbergDonna Wittenberg is a driver trainer and transportation warehouse operations lead at the district office in the Cypress School District. Donna is responsible for planning and scheduling bus routes, as well as driving a bus, training bus drivers and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department.

Donna consistently displays her ability to solve problems, analyze projects and develop safe routes for students. She is supportive and understanding of students, including those who require special considerations due to behavioral, learning or physical needs. She approaches her work with passion and compassion for the children she serves.

Dedicated to making the community a better place, Donna devotes extensive time to volunteer in campaigns that benefit students and families. Some examples include participating in the CHiPs for Kids fundraiser campaign, arranging to provide a district bus with the goal of filling it with toys for children in need during the holidays and coordinating the School Bus Safety Rodeo, involving bus drivers from all over Southern California.

“On behalf of the Orange County Department of Education, I wish to commend Janelle Cranch, Colleen Keegan Lamb, Deborah Milovic, Alfredo Perez, Virginia Tse-Horiuchi and Donna Wittenberg as the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year,” said Dr. Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools. “These individuals truly exemplify the intent and spirit of this award, performing essential services with commitment, passion and attention to detail. We are incredibly fortunate to have staff members of this caliber working to support our students each and every day.”

A committee consisting of community representatives and educators selected this year’s Classified Employees of the Year in the areas of child nutrition; maintenance, operations and facilities; transportation; para-educator and instructional assistance; office and technical services; and support services and security. A total of 60 employees were nominated in Orange County, and judges evaluated each application based on a state selection criteria organized around four themes — work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, and actions that go above and beyond.

Each of the six Orange County finalists are now scheduled to be honored at the OCDE Board of Education Meeting on April 15, and they’ll be eligible to compete for recognition at the state level.

In all, there are more than 20,600 classified staff in the county, performing essential work in areas including transportation, security, food services, maintenance and operations and instructional assistance.