Employee of the Year
They say that a School Secretary runs the school. We are blessed to have the best one ever, Mary Grace. So great in fact, that every few years she gets elected Classified Employee of the Year by her peers. She has even been chosen Classified Employee of the District. When I congratulated her for her high achievement, she scoffed, “Phrffb,” in her typically modest way.
Mary Grace has a plaque hanging behind her desk that says: “Let me drop everything and work on your problem.” (See picture insert.) To some it might sound like humorous sarcasm, but if you know Mary, you know that she will pause what she is doing and help you.
From the moment Mary hits the office, her day is filled with a mind-bending overabundance of duties and responsibilities. Somehow, she manages to fulfill these and at the same time take care of all the other unscheduled troubleshooting that comes up every minute of the day. Somehow, everybody’s problem seems more urgent than the one before it! Yet Mary continues to keep the ship running on course and smoothly for our almost 1200 students, and all the support personnel. She knows everybody’s schedule and makes sure that all roles are adequately covered, even when too many teachers are out and there aren’t enough subs, a common occurence. Throughout it all, Mary never flinches or complains. Her go-to coping mechanism under pressure is her sense of humor.
Moreover, she has time to ask and show concern for staff members about their personal problems, (since she knows why they were absent), and to show empathy or attempt to help them find a solution or cure. Mary doesn’t only minister to staff members, she also finds time to form relationships with the students who frequent the office by treating them respectfully and sometimes offers them positive behavior incentives, like buying them lunch.
Mary started working in the district as a parent volunteer. “I started working for the school district because I could have time off with my kids. I got hired as a classroom aide, but I wanted to work in the office. I got hired at Lampton then moved over to Los Alisos in 2000.” This year she is celebrating her 30th year in the district. “I like working with people. I like kids and I love all the holidays.”
I know that Mary is looking forward to retirement in the next few years. I just hope the District is prepared to replace her with a whole team of secretaries and that they come with her amazing attitude. Meanwhile, I know we will continue to appreciate her while we still have her. The best School Secretary in the District, Mary Grace!
A clean middle school campus doesn’t just happen, especially one with a huge population such as Los Alisos. Our campus is impeccably clean because our outstanding custodial staff and its Head Custodian, Mark Jackson.
It was difficult to write an article about Mark. It isn’t hard to find great things to say about him, but it’s just about impossible to interview him because he is literally never still! Most of the time he is zigzagging across our campus propelling power equipment, either blowing away or sucking up trash, leaves, food, and other debris, at hyper speed. I was trying to be polite and patient, and wait until he had some down time, but after several weeks I realized down-time is not a concept Mark is familiar with. I finally flagged him down and screamed at him to pause, over the noise of the leaf blower and through his ear protectors. He told me I had to wait until he later because he had to finish before the teachers got there. I finally caught up with him later in the day and he gave me 30 seconds.
Mark doesn’t need a to-do list, like most of us. If you ask him for a favor, like replacing a chair or getting you a roll of paper towels, he usually has it done for you within a few minutes.
Mark is married and has two children, one 18 years old and one is 30. I found out that Mark has worked for the district for about 14 years, all here at Los Alisos. He was promoted to Head Custodian last year, when our previous one retired. He has done an admirable job of filling his shoes. We thank Mr. Mark Jackson and his entire custodial staff for their hard work and positive attitude. They are an example for the rest of us to follow.
Positive Behavior is Not a Dream...It's a Plan!
Lobos Bid Fond Farewells & Sincere Best Wishes
Kellie La Mantia: I would like to thank you for being an awesome leader, letting teachers and staff do their jobs and treating us like professionals. A HUGE thank you especially for this year and the support you have given my class and I. I do not think I would have made it without your support of staff and students. This has been a rough year but you were always encouraging me and smiling and asking “How’s it going” Thank you. I wish you the best at NHS.
Arti Narang: You have been so wonderful!!! We are going to miss you. Thank you for letting us be ourselves as teachers, and always supporting us when we needed it. More than that, thank you for being a wonderful, caring person to all. I wish you lots of success in your future endeavors at Norwalk High. All the best!!!!!
Crystal Mo-Wong: I remember when Mike held a staff meeting in which he did an exercise where we got to check in with other staff members and care for them, practicing empathy. I just thought that was so special and I’m thankful that Mike thought it important for us to do as a staff, for each other and for our students. That’s when I knew Mike was a great guy as well as a principal.
Nadira Jauregui: Mr. Garcia always made himself approachable. It felt like his door was always open. He never appeared like he was “above” us. Even if he couldn’t do anything to change the situation. you at least felt like your voice was heard. He will be missed for his understanding and his willingness to listen.
Ryan Hawkins: Mike, Thank you for all of your hard work and support. I know it’s hard to find time for each teacher, but you make it happen. I am blessed that my career in education started at Los Alisos. You have been such an inspiration to me! I can’t tell you how happy I am for your promotion. I hope to stay in touch with you the rest of my life. God Bless!
Kim Tallud: I would like to thank Mr. Garcia for giving me a chance here at Los Alisos. I wish him the best at Norwalk High School and hope the staff there appreciates him as much as we do!
Sarah Yarbrough: Mike, just want to say Thank You for all the support you have given the music department! You will be dearly missed. Norwalk High School is so lucky to have you next year! I know you’ll take Norwalk to new heights and do great things! Thank You!
Amber Weston: Best wishes to you as you venture back on the field into high school. You will do a wonderful job. I know many students who will be happy to see you go with them to NHS. Wishing you a joyful and peaceful transition.
Sandy Van Lant: I appreciated very much the way Mike has treated staff members, students, and parents. I always felt valued and respected by him. His approach and responses to students no matter what was going on, was honest, caring and sincere. It has been a pleasure to work with him – Great Guy!!!
Lisa House: Mike, what can I say other than I am so sad to see you go. You have been one of the best principals I’ve had the opportunity to work with. You have always been nothing but positive, kind and supportive to me, and I appreciate that so much. Los Alisos’s loss is Norwalk High’s gain. Thank you again for all you have done for me and the school!
Meli Maytorena: I remember when I first met Mike. We were both trying to fulfill the Spanish part of our CLAD through the UCLA Extension. We both didn’t know a bit of Spanish…LOL…not even a bit…So we were put in the new learners’ class! LOL We became friends and realized were both die-hard Dodger fans!! That’s all it took to make the long hours go by fast!
Our love of Dodger baseball! Well, we earned our CLAD and still don’t speak Spanish! LOL I’ll miss you, Mike…See you at Blue Heaven!
Paula Mayes: One of my fondest memories is the day I shadowed Mike for an administration assignment. I recall his kindness and willingness to explain the master schedule, supervision, and the never-ending reparations of the athletic field. We moved all day long but the time flew by. He’s an easy person to talk to. These days Mike’s full of, “Remember when you get into this position…” Always the teacher and good model of how to build community at a site.
Click on the Comments link below and add your own Best Wishes, Testimonials, and Farewells for Mike Garcia
Positive Behavior is Not a Dream...It's a Plan!
A superstar teacher at Los Alisos is Reggie Snyder. She is undeniably our resident technology guru, to whom all have gone for tech assistance at one time or another, but she is so much more. She has worked at Los Alisos since 2011, after short stints at Hutchinson and Los Coyotes Middle Schools. While in college, she was an AVID tutor in high school.
Ms. Snyder's contributions to LAMS and to NLMUSD are impressive. She describes her job In her own words: "My main teaching assignment is to teach Project Lead The Way: Design and Modeling, a course to teach the design process, sketching skills, dimensioning skills, and 3D prototyping skills. Also in Project Lead The Way: Automation and Robotics which is a course to teach the fundamentals of mechanical gears, electrical inputs and outputs, and robotic programming; as well as Video Production which is a course to teach the basics of video composition, editing, and publishing. I am also the coach for our VEX competitive robotics team, where students compete to build robots and play against other teams from other school on annual challenges. Additionally, I am am member of the Los Alisos Robotics Society advisor’s board, which is a consortium of all the robotics extra-curricular activities. I also serve on the site’s Common Core Leadership team, MTSS Academic team, AVID Site Team, and PLC Site Team as the Technology Integration Lead. At the district level, I serve on the Technology Action Team as a middle school representative where I provide input on technology integration strategies district wide. Over the summer, I assist the 6th grade team with iPad distribution and student/parent training and I also present several sessions at the annual Blended Learning Summit (the 2020 initiative summer training sessions)." She also holds the distinction of being a Google Certified Educator, Level 1, and PLTW Master Teacher.
When asked what she finds most rewarding about her job, she responds, "My students are the reason I work so hard at my job because it is worth every second of planning to see them smile and have fun while learning and conquering something that they thought would be overwhelming."
When I asked her about her spare time, she responded, "What is 'spare time' you speak of?! I spend a lot of my spare time working with other teachers to try out new techniques or organize conference presentations. For example, Kelly Baker and I wrote the self-paced professional development model “Tech Trek” and have presented this model at both state and international conferences." Her hobbies include: sewing, crafting, shopping, watching movies, and spending time with her close friends and family. "My husband and I are currently working toward making our house “smart” with various automated systems and sensors that we can (ideally) control with our phones."
Speaking of PBIS incentives, Ms. Snyder is currently working on her Master's in Education, and her thesis includes action research on behavior incentive systems. The details of her system, Level Up, which she co-created with Kelly Baker are available on her class website. Her quantitive and qualitative findings are that using her system, students showed improved engagement and academic results.
It's impossible to encapsulate the lasting impact Ms. Regina Snyder has on her students in this short article. Daily, she facilitates her classes in projects that inspire students to love school. Words fall short when trying to express our appreciation for all you do for us Los Alisos.
No serious PBIS Newsletter at Los Alisos would be complete without featuring our School Counselor Sandy Van Lant, our reigning queen of positivity. Sandy started at Los Alisos in December 2003, after completing her Masters of Science in School Counseling at California State University, Long Beach in August, 2003.
When she first got married, Sandy worked as a secretary for Bechtel Power Corporation. When her children were born, she did some babysitting and typing jobs from home. Later, Sandy worked as a clerical aid at D.D. Johnston Elementary for two years, then became a mom again and stayed at home until her youngest went to college in 1995. Sandy found her passion for working with youth while helping her husband Dave do his job as a a youth pastor while he was going to college and the seminary. "We worked for ten years with middle and high school kids. I always loved those kids!" With her own kids gone to college, Sandy proved that it is never too late to pursue a career and her choice was in education, "I worked for Bellflower Unified School District as an SDC paraeducator, then at Mayfair High School as College/Career Counselor while going to Cerritos College and CSULB. I taught for two years (while getting my masters) at Huntington Beach Unified School District as a Workability Teacher, and finally came to Los Alisos in 2003. (less than 2 miles from home). AWESOME job for me."
Ms. Van Lant loves her job. "I enjoy people - a big factor in loving a job when you talk to people everyday. I talk to parents, teachers, students about school, grades, behavior, life and home issues too. I appreciate our staff caring for the lives of their students and wanting them to get help. Our school referral system to Pacific Clinics allows us to see students and families get real help for deeper issues." Characteristically modest, Sandy praises her team, "It has been awesome to have Michele [Dreiling] as Intervention Counselor and Tania [Magaña] as Intervention Teacher, with Paula Mayes - coordinating support for our school on a greater level - YEAH Team!!"
Sandy puts fun in everything she touches, "I also work with our AVID team and plan our field trips to colleges, and help with the recruiting process. Another fun thing I do. Hey, do you see a pattern here - FUN Things everyday. Yes it is difficult and painful to work with some of our kids that are broken and undone, but I feel like I am encouraging, supporting and making a difference in their lives at this critical time of their lives. I feel very blessed to be in this job at this school with such a great staff!"
A social maven, Sandy loves to plan events, "I enjoy event and party planning and like the Courtesy Club. It has always been a joy for me to have others enjoy themselves - yes I like peeps to have fun!!!" She shares this joy with our students, too. "ASB Advisor is full of life and fun things too. It is fun to see kids get excited about planning events. I meet with ASB Pres and VP each day to get our announcements together and once a week with ASB reps for our ASB meetings. We have great kids in leadership. Sometimes a lot of work, but still worth it when you see students loving it!!!" Yearly, Sandy puts on most of the big, exciting events that are so memorable to our students, like the Haunted Hall, Dances, Red Ribbon Week, College Week, and Career Day.
When it comes to PBIS, Ms. Van Lant has been an integral partner in developing this important program here at Los Alisos. When our students hear the morning positive announcement, Sandy crafted that. When they receive LoboBucks and spend them at the Lobo Store, they can thank Sandy. She plans the drawings and coordinates the prizes. Whenever something fun or positive happens at Los Alisos, Ms. Sandy Van Lant is usually behind it. We crown you Queen of Positivity!
Cafeteria Staff Exemplifies
Brenda has been at Los Aliso for four years. Before that she was a receptionist. She loves working with kids. The most challenging thing is the different attitudes in the children, also, the heat of the kitchen. In her spare time she runs, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.
Alicia has worked a Los Alisos for only three weeks. Previously she worked in different positions with the district, including 16 years at Norwalk High. She loves everything about her job, cooking and serving. In her spare time she likes to read.
Deborah has been at LAMS for one year and before that she was at La Mirada High. She likes working with kids and with the nice ladies on the kitchen staff. She finds life in general challenging. In her spare time she likes shopping, dancing, and being with family.
Rosalba has worked at Los Alisos for five years. Previously, she worked at the Norwalk High Cafeteria. She loves her job because she gets to help kids. The most challenging thing is getting ready when the kids come to eat. In her spare time she spends time with her family.
Tania Magaña & Michele Drieling
For Tania Magaña, our Intervention Teacher, there is no typical day. Asked to describe her job, she said, “Every day I am busy working hard to provide school-wide support to teachers in all grade levels and identifying students who need additional academic or behavior support. I work with staff on collaborative systems to support sharing of MTSS best practices. I work with students concerning classroom procedures and behavior and to maintain safe and orderly classroom environments throughout our school. I meet and instruct identified students at the designated times, teach them to work collaboratively to solve problems, and to think logically and creatively. I build relationships with parents and students through regular communication. I facilitate the Student Support Team (SST) process with the principal, support staff, parents, and instructional staff. Last but not least, I participate in professional growth and development.”
Tania is passionate about her job. “What I like about my job is it challenges me because I am constantly looking for possibilities and solutions for disruptive students and how to best support our teachers. Students’ behavior gives us clues in trying to understand the problem and how to solve it. I regularly look for clues based on what a student is saying, asking, or needing. It is an endless challenge trying to figure out how to build students who on the surface appear not to care and are in a constant state of negative behavior.”
This is Tania’s second year at Los Alisos and her past experience has prepared her well for this intense job. “After working at the Juvenile Hall/ Community School it was clear the real work is in creating programs that disrupt the "School to Prison Pipeline." There is a link between dropping out of high school and going to prison.” She quotes, “Over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of the dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. There are also some eerily similar statistics for young Latino men.” (ED Week. Org, 2015). These are the stats that drive her every day.
Tania connects with difficult students, “I relate to the students, especially those who are immigrants and have frequent flyer miles to the office. Growing up I was identified as an ELL student and was suspended more than my share. Fortunately, one of my teachers, “Coach Vance,” saw the potential and provided the right environment. She was tough and expected a lot of me, but I knew she cared. I was one of those students who did not think about going to college and here I am with two Master's. It shows the power an educator has and how our profession can deviate a student on a path like mine.” Tania Magaña, no doubt our challenging students at Los Alisos will someday regard you as their Coach Vance, for believing in them and changing the course of their lives.
Michele Drieling has been at Los Alisos since 2009. She loves all sports and working outdoors, so for many years she was happy as a PE coach. She explains how her role as mentor to children evolved over the years and led to her present position as Intervention Counselor, “As a coach, I loved connecting with my students on a personal level.” Her friendly, approachable attitude frequently invited struggling students to open up and confide in her. More and more she found she was a natural in the role of counselor. She furthered her education to get the necessary credentials and soon began to practice counseling on a professional level at the NLMUSD Adult School, counseling during evening classes. “Many of these classes consist of high school students who are trying to make up classes they failed, so they can graduate with their peers. The students struggle academically and with study skills, so they end up in my office, needing encouragement.”
After developing her skills for a few years, working two jobs, the district created the position of Intervention Counselor. Michele was a shoe-in for the position at Los Alisos because of her experience and her familiarity with the school.
The challenges of her first year helped her define her position as she had to experiment with different strategies. She also had to deal with the large population at LAMS. However, this year she feels a lot more confident and has had measurable success. Throughout the day, Michele meets with students, individually and in groups, to discuss grades, attendance, and behavior. She intervenes and resolves issues students are experiencing with their peers and/or teachers. She is frequently called on to lead civic circles and is a big believer in Restorative Justice practices. She is in charge of the attendance SART/SARB’s. “The best thing about my job is working with kids to motivate them to believe in themselves and to do their best. My favorite part of the week is leading a ‘Social Group’ of boys on Fridays. With the help of Mr. Vernon and Mr. Loson, we put together a group of unique individuals, who are working on social skills as part of their IEPs. These boys are so much fun to work with and are always so positive. They love to play games and are always pumping each other up to do their best.” Los Alisos thanks you, Ms. Drieling, for showing us what Positive looks like.
POSITIVE Behavior is Not A DREAM...IT'S A PLAN!
For this Featured Teacher column, I decided to go to the source: the students. They answered two questions on a questionnaire. The first one was: What is one positive thing you can say about Mrs. Jauregui? Here are some of the responses: "She brightens our day with the nice things she says." "...maybe the best teacher I've had so far. Since she has kids of her own, who also go to school, I think she understands us as students." ...(she) teaches us carefully" "...explains everything step by step." "...is very nice, caring, funny, and sweet." "...calm and friendly." "...kind to everyone." "...fun teacher." "...super positive, even when she's having a rough day." "Mrs. Jauregui is actually my favorite teacher. She is really kind and funny. I love how she comforts us." Are we starting to see a pattern here? Mrs. Jauregui connects with students with her kind, caring, personal touch. Out of more than 70 responses, these were typical.
The second question was a little rougher: What happens in Mrs. Jauregui's class when a student breaks the rules? Here are some common responses: "She says, 'You're going to be in trouble.' So basically, she warns us." "I'm not really sure what happens because in this class we don't realy get into trouble." "Mrs. Jauregui simply and politely says to stop and if he/she doesn't stop, she thinks of a good seat for him/her." "She reminds the student of the rule and rarely, just rarely, gets angry." "She would talk to us nicely."
In conclusion, the words that most appeared on the student responses were: nice, caring, funny, sweet, calm, and friendly. It would seem by these student testimonies that Mrs. Jauregui has found the recipe for a successful PBIS class.
Laura Valenzuela, our LAMS Parent and Community Liaison, deserves praise and recognition. While the school’s main function is to educate the students, Laura is busy educating their parents, and thereby making everyone’s job more doable.
Laura can be found daily doing a plethora of duties. She coordinates with the district Child and Family Services Department, the Department of State and Federal Programs, and the Youth Helpline Parent Workshop. She conducts parent computer classes. Teaches nutrition classes on sugar and fat in food and prevention of diabetes. She plans and leads the monthly ELAC Meetings (English Learner Advisory Committee), including organizing speakers, invitations, fliers, calls, refreshments, agenda, coordinating with district/school administration, providing refreshments, setup, and tear down.
Additionally, Laura coordinates the LAMS mothers in a Ballet Folclórico troupe, which performs yearly at our Open House.
As part of her duties in the front office, she translates written/oral communications with our Spanish speaking community. She collaborates with administration, works with parents to support students, including computer logins, classes, grades, teacher communication. She solicits donations from the Norwalk community so that we have prizes for our students and merchandise for our student store.
Laura is a positive force in our school community. The relationships she forms with our parents and families are the oil without which our machinery would not run. Laura Valenzuela is PBIS at its best.
POSITIVE Behavior is Not a Dream...It's a Plan!
Meet the Best of the Best - Teacher and Staff Member of the Year!
Multi-Tierred support System
Positive Behavior Incentive Systems
Meet LAMS' New MTSS/PBIS Team
Sandy Vanlant Michelle Drieling Tania Magaña