ACSA's top awards given at Leadership Summit

Nov. 13 2017

2017 ACSA Administrators of the Year and special award honorees at the 2017 Leadership Summit.

ACSA's 2017 Administrators of the Year and special awards honorees were celebrated at the 2017 Leadership Summit.

A passion for leadership

ACSA’s Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence is bestowed on a school leader who exhibits many of the same qualities that made Marcus Foster a great leader. The award exemplifies those who are skilled managers of change; who involve all community and professional sectors; who are willing to take risks to improve education for students; who are creative; who speak out on issues that impact students and who respect the rights of all people.

The 2017 Marcus Foster recipient, Terri Rufert, superintendent of Sundale Union ESD, is a person who exhibits all these traits and more. Rufert has been with Sundale since 2005, and in her current position since 2007. She said when she first entered the profession as a teacher, her principal told her that she should consider ultimately becoming an administrator to have an effect on more students.

ACSA President Lisa Gonzales, right, had her daughters Kennedy, left, and Landry, make the award presentation to Terri Rufert.

“That brewed in my head, but I absolutely loved teaching,” Rufert said. “About four years into my career, two more administrators for the district office, as well as my first principal, kept on me telling me I could really make even more of an impact for kids. Also, I really thought and prayed about it, as well as talked with my family and knew it was the right decision. I have always been about service to others, so it seemed a natural progression.”

Like so many school leaders, Rufert draws inspiration from seeing the accomplishments of students and staff.

“I love to see students, staff and fellow administrators surpass their goals and accomplish more than they even thought possible,” she said. “Being able to be an encourager, a supporter, and to walk the journey with them is absolutely priceless.”

Their accomplishments can be chalked up in part to the environment Rufert strives to create in the district.

“We have developed a community that believes that the impossible is possible through dreaming, goal setting, a do-able plan, hard work, commitment and teamwork,” Rufert said. “My accomplishment is hiring the right people that are up for the task, then coaching and mentoring them through the process.”

Rufert works hard to allow others to achieve their goals.

“I want to ensure that every child has a true shot at realizing their potential and dreams, which means fighting for them in the areas of the quality of teachers and administrators, opportunities available, funding, policies, regulations, laws, curriculum/assessments, programs, etc. at the local, state and federal level,” she said. “I want to be present for my staff and those children in my district. I also am very ambitious about encouraging other administrators to stand up for what is right for our students and staff. In other words, I want to open doors for our students.”

Rufert has fully realized that as much as she puts into her ACSA membership, she will get back. She has served at all levels of leadership in her region and charter, as well as on the ACSA state Board of Directors, plus her current position as state vice president for legislative action. She appreciates the learning and connections ACSA membership has afforded her.

“The professional development and training that I have received has been top-notch, but the real way that ACSA has helped me grow the most is in the area of networking,” Rufert said. “Being able to talk to other administrators in and out of my job-alike from different areas and school/district types has really opened my eyes and broadened my scope and goals of what I would like to accomplish and with whom. The network of people I can contact as a resource or to just help me develop an idea is amazing.”

In keeping with ACSA’s Leadership Summit theme of Leading Beyond Limits, Rufert said that her father has been a career inspiration in moving beyond her own limits.

“My Dad has accomplished more in his lifetime than anyone probably thought he would,” she said. “At the age of 74, he continues to pave the way and make things happen that no one thought could happen – with integrity.”

Recipients of the Marcus Foster Memorial Award receive a $5,000 grant to bestow on the designated high school senior or seniors of the award recipient’s choosing.

Infusing equity into K-12

Pamela Jo Wilson, assistant superintendent of educational services in Murrieta Valley USD, is the recipient of ACSA’s 2017 Valuing Diversity Award.

Wilson is inspired by the students, teachers and families in her schools. The teachers take risks every day to grow as effective instructors to improve student learning. Young people respond easily to the district’s intentional efforts to provide them with access to the resources they need to promote successful learning. Families are intentionally engaged, eager and ready to join other stakeholders through such projects as the African American Parent and Latino Parent advisory councils.

“When I interface with young people, I am reminded why I accepted the call to become a public school teacher and administrator,” Wilson said. “I am inspired when I look into the eyes of an English learner, a special needs student or an African American young person who responds to our efforts.”

Wilson ensures the equity message is infused into all professional development. She is proud to have brought together a committed group of “Equity Warriors” within the district, who know their purpose is not only to provide the equality of a “pair of shoes” but the equity of a “pair that fit.”

“I realize that this most important work is not easy, nor is it immediate,” Wilson said. “But with consistency and unrelenting tenacity, it can be accomplished!”

Pamela Jo Wilson, left, receives the Valuing Diversity Award from ACSA Vice President Linda Kaminski.

Wilson said she believes that when students are expected to achieve, they do. “I believe that when we add to our expectation the necessary ‘navigation tools,’ students will meet our expectations,” she said. “Our intentional work to provide prevention, intervention and acceleration opportunities to meet individual student need and readiness, creates spaces to truly ensure every student can achieve.”

When she looks into the future, Wilson said she is ambitious to continue to be an advocate for all students. “I am committed to opening up horizons for all students, meeting them where they are and taking them to where they could be and beyond,” she said. “I see myself working with school districts throughout the state to assist with their LCAP efforts to reflect the equity message.”

In her current role, Wilson brings an encouraging message of “hope and possibility” to her district, division and schools that challenges existing limits that are often brought by society and some school officials. She often uses her own story to communicate that hope and possibility – to define her “why.”

“Growing up in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and 1970s, most people who looked like me were not expected by society to achieve much or go too far,” Wilson said. “I am quick to explain that because I had Mrs. Williams as a third grade teacher; Mrs. Willa Rose Jarrett, fifth grade; Mr. Loving, Mrs. Price and Mrs. Diggs in sixth grade at LaSalle Elementary School; along with Mr. Edward Alonzo Robbs and Dr. George McKenna, counselor and assistant principal at Horace Mann Junior High School, and Mrs. Andrea Pruitt, Ms. Judy Mays and Dr. Willard Love, algebra II/trig teacher and counselors at Los Angeles High School, as my chief advocates outside my family, there was little chance that I would not achieve.

“These educators expected me to do well and they provided the navigation tools to do so. They did so against the ‘societal norms,’ which more often than not communicated brown, black or poor children could not successfully achieve in university or the career workforce. I came to believe that limits only exist in our heads. That we impose these limitations onto our students, and guess what, they meet that expectation.”

Wilson said her counter-thinking is to, “Be intentional: Expect and believe that all kids can achieve, and guess what, they will!”

“Students look to us for this affirmation,” she said. “We make the difference – or not. The choice is always ours. I know this is true. Look at how easily I named significant teachers, counselors and administrators in my K-12 school experience, and I am 58 years old. How many people can do the same?”

Realizing the spirit of Local Control and Accountability Planning and changing the environment for students is important to ACSA’s Valuing Diversity Award winner. It ensures the equity focus extends far and wide into classrooms and on campuses, where it is needed.

“We have intentionally provided access and support to our underserved student populations,” Wilson said.

“This comes in the form of additional sections of support for students taking advanced coursework for the first time, elementary intervention teachers, academic intervention sections to retake courses previously not passed, programs to supplement standards and curriculum in ELA, math and for our English language learners, additional counseling services at the high school level, provision of CTE three-course sequence career pathways, alliances with San Marcos, University of California, Riverside and College Bound, and the creation of robust advisory councils with parents and high school students.”

Still giving in retirement

ACSA’s Robert E. Kelly Award honors service in retirement, the kind of work this year’s honoree, Marianne Hamor, does for students in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Hamor retired from her administrative career in Sulphur Springs Union School District in 2012, and she continues to share her time and expertise there through a number of programs.

Working with the Santa Clarita Valley Education Foundation, as a Read With Me volunteer, she helps young students develop a passion for reading. She is a founding board member of Cultivating Creative Minds, through which she helps provide music, band and drama instruction in Sulphur Springs USD.

After 26 years, she continues her services as a pre-K-7 religious studies teacher at St. Clare Church, where she also sings in the choir.

The education of children and their academic and personal growth remain a strong driving force in Hamor’s heart. Her contributions have taken many forms, and they show not only an educational but also a personal commitment to students of all ages.

She is a devoted grandmother, who regularly volunteers in her grandson’s classrooms and schools.

“She can be seen working with small groups of children or with an individual child. She is often visible at school events and supporting robotics and coding programs after school,” said Assistant Superintendent Kathy Harris. “Marianne can also be seen at the district office working in the Instructional Materials Center, supporting all teachers at her grandson’s school.”

Marianne Hamor, left, receives a $5,000 check from ACSA Vice President for Legislative Action Terri Rufert, as part of receiving the Robert E. Kelly Award.

At the same time, she makes a positive impact on some of the neediest children in the community. On a weekly basis, she visits Title 1 schools and reads to kindergartners.

“To see the joy of reading on her face, as well as on the children’s faces brightens everyone’s day,” Harris said.

Hamor has done it all in 30 years as a teacher, site administrator and central office leader. She remains an active, positive force in education, including serving as an interim principal and assisting teachers, site leaders and staff in pursuit of student achievement.

“Ms. Hamor exemplifies what it means to be awarded the Robert E. Kelly Award due to her outstanding contributions to the community and to the Sulphur Springs Union School District,” said Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi. “(She) is an individual who continues to have a strong commitment and passion for supporting our community, teachers and administrators during her retirement.”

The Robert E. Kelly Award comes with a $5,000 grant for the nonprofit, tax-exempt charity of the recipient’s choosing.

A career committed to K-12 education

The 2017 Ferd. Kiesel Memorial Distinguished Service Award was formally handed out Nov. 3 to Sherry Skelly Griffith, whose 32-year career reflects her love for public policy and commitment to quality public education. She gave 13 of those years to ACSA, beginning in 2002, and has been executive director for the 750,000-member California State PTA since 2015.

Griffith said she appreciates the opportunity to serve and to work with amazing educators and child and family advocates who believe as deeply as she does in the power of education as the gateway to so many opportunities in life. “I am inspired by being in the company of so many amazing education leaders who care deeply about kids,” she said.

Prior to ACSA, Griffith was an administrator at the California Department of Education, working for then-SPI Delaine Eastin. She served as executive director of the California Curriculum Commission, guiding the development of frameworks for the state’s first K-12 standards-based instructional materials.

As a legislative advocate and, subsequently, director of Governmental Relations for ACSA, she was instrumental in shaping national and statewide education policy, including recommendations for ESEA reauthorization that were incorporated in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Griffith’s substantial contributions consistently focus on ensuring all students have the opportunity and resources for an excellent and equitable public education. She comes to her drive naturally, having been the first in her family to graduate from college and experience the power of education and the doors it can open.

“I didn’t fit the traditional college-going path,” she said. “I had to work two jobs to get myself through college. I vowed that I would work on behalf of equity for all children – no matter their background – to have access to a quality public education.”

In her current position as the executive director for California State PTA, Griffith has the privilege of advancing the mission of supporting all children and families, and welcoming the next generation of parents. “I am inspired that we are working to create environments that are inclusive and welcoming, so that families are empowered to be their child’s first teacher, and so they can also learn to navigate a sometimes complex public education system,” she said.

In addition, she continues to be inspired by colleagues in the public policy world with whom she has worked for so many years. “We all truly want the best public education system in the country; in the world,” she said. “This inspires me every day.”

California PTA Executive Director Sherry Skelly Griffith, left, receives the Ferd. Kiesel Award from ACSA President Lisa Gonzales.

Griffith said she is very proud to have worked at all levels of public education, from preschool to K-12 to higher education.

“I’m also proud of my work in the Legislature in the early 1990s, drafting and staffing the creation of the Community Day School program for youth expelled for weapon violations, who would otherwise be turned to the streets for a year,” she said.

The years she worked for Eastin and serving as executive director of the California Curriculum Commission were another source of pride. “Shepherding the first K-12, standards-based instructional materials in the state’s history was an incredible time and groundbreaking for us all,” she said.

But first and foremost, she is proud of the fact that all three of her children have attended and graduated from California public institutions of higher education. “This means the most to me because I grew up living in a family with no high school graduates, let alone college graduates,” she said.

Griffith also works with emancipating foster youth who aspire to attend college and career training. She has worked with more than 300 foster youth who have gone on to college and career training programs.

Griffith said ACSA has been and always will be like a family to her.

“I have never had more support in my career than the time I spent as a legislative advocate and then governmental relations director for ACSA,” she said. “It was the best 13 years of my career. I loved serving school administrators, so they could do their jobs with greater insight and knowledge regarding the public policy issues impacting them. I loved assisting and supporting school administrators to become advocates, to lobby state and federal officials, to take brave positions on the issues of the day.”

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