Top education staff honored at annual gala

Chowchilla school staff took two of three awards at the 11th annual Excellence in Education award ceremony gala at the Madera County Superintendent of Schools Conference Center.

County Superintendent Cecilia Massetti called the winners often “unsung heroes” to be honored for inspiring and teaching students.

Vice Principal Michelle Worrell of Wilson Middle School (Chowchilla Elementary School District) won Administrator of the Year, registrar-secretary Lawnna Porter of Yosemite Alternative Education (Yosemite Unified School District) claimed Classified Employee of the Year, and math teacher John Henson of Chowchilla Union High School (Chowchilla Union High School District) accepted Teacher of the Year.

“I stand here tonight in front of you, not as one, but as a group of people who have been the driving force behind me and beside me from the beginning … Everyone has a purpose and I know that my purpose is helping students and staff,” said Worrell. “Encouraging them, believing in them, and being there for them when they need someone to listen.”

Worrell thanked her family, a supportive school board, her administrators, and friends. “Without all of you,” she said, “none of this would be possible.”

Porter said, “My tenure at Yosemite Unified has been marked by so many fond memories both poignant and ridiculous … Fun is always a part of my job at YUSD: field trips with the Ahwahnee students to the cotton fields, art projects at Evergreen, rocking babies at my desk while their mommies are taking tests, celebrating opening day of baseball season with the Campbell students, or teaching remedial math. My fondest memory is the day we registered an 81-year-old man who wanted to get his high school diploma. The night he walked across the stage, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”

Porter too thanked those who enabled her excellence.

“My work family has inspired and sustained me …We support each other. We sacrifice and go beyond for each other and the climate of teamwork, respect, and affection radiates out to our students… That is the secret to our success and we have had a lot of success in recent years,” she said.

Henson works to respond to a need he sees in schools day. “A lot of our students don’t have hope. That’s a concerning theme,” he said. “My passion is to give them hope. I want to be an encouragement to them. They come from some tough homes … I keep trying and I keep going and they are going to find out that I am not going anywhere. I love them too much. What makes this job so wonderful and keeps me on my toes is that there is a classroom full of kids who need hope. That’s what challenges me to get up and do it again. Tomorrow morning, I have to get up and do it again.”

Educational Employees Credit Union sponsored the Oct. 12th gala. Elizabeth J. Dooley, president and CEO of EECU, said, “We are proud to be part of this event to shine a spotlight on everything that happens inside and outside of the classroom to prepare and guide the students toward a bright future. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners on this well-deserved recognition of their commitment to their students and their profession.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1981 presented the colors at the ceremony and Priscilla Huerta sang the national anthem. Award winners were selected by Tom Hurst and Paulo Soares.