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02-16-12: Classified Employees of the Year honored
02-16-12: Classified Employees of the Year honored

Rogers High chief custodian Myong Ward, Karshner Elementary secretary and paraeducator Bert Hollis, and Communications Specialist Susan Gifford, are this year’s Classified School Employees of the Year.

The three employees were selected for recognition following a nomination process in which district staff and community members were invited to submit names for consideration.

The awards program recognizes the work of school and district classified staff members who have made a positive difference in their profession. The nomination form states they are employees “who consistently demonstrate outstanding work performance, professional leadership, and collaboration.”

Myong Ward

The Rogers High School campus comes to life each morning with the arrival of Myong Ward.

Ward starts her day at 6:05 a.m. by unlocking the gates leading into campus, opening classroom buildings, and turning on lights in preparation for the arrival of more than 1,700 students and 150 staff.

As Facility Operations Manager, Ward is the school’s chief custodian. In addition to her own workday, she oversees seven other Rogers High custodians who work afternoon and evening shifts.

One of her first morning duties is to dustmop the floor in the Commons, where students eat lunch. She also uses a blower to clean leaves off walkways, picks up garbage around campus, and sets up student lunch tables.

Her regular duties are routinely interrupted with calls on her two-way radio from employees reporting incidents ranging from plumbing problems to classroom spills.
“Sometimes a classroom is too cold or a restroom is out of paper towels,” she said. “I evaluate the situation to see if I can fix it. If not, I put in a work order.”

One recent morning, Ward was called to check on a leaky toilet in a portable classroom and an ink cartridge spill in the two-story classroom building.

Ward turned off the water to the toilet, which she determined needed further repair, and used a vacuum to clean ink powder that had spilled from a computer printer cartridge onto a classroom carpet.

At lunchtime, Ward moves quickly from table to table picking up garbage and emptying and replacing nearby trash can bags — all the while greeting students with a smile and asking how their day is going.

She is quick to remind students to throw away trash in garbage cans. If a student tosses food from afar and misses, she politely, yet firmly, directs them to pick up the mess.

After lunch she sweeps and mops the edges of the Commons floor, completes paperwork, and checks in with afternoon custodial staff before she leaves at 2:30 p.m.

“It is a feat to just keep this building clean, but to do it at the high level that Myong does is extremely impressive,” said Assistant Principal Guy Kovacs.

Kovacs continued, “Myong and her team work tirelessly to make this campus something the students, staff, and community can take pride in.”

Ward grew up in South Korea and moved to California in 1977. She came to Puyallup 12 years later when her husband’s company transferred him to work in Sumner.

Ward spent her first 11 years as the night custodian at the district’s downtown administrative offices. She spent the next eight years as the Ridgecrest Elementary custodian before getting promoted to chief custodian at Rogers High in October 2010.

“Myong’s work speaks for itself,” said Rogers High teacher DeWayne Crust. “Our campus has never looked better. Even the tiny corners of the stairwells shine and the light fixtures are dust-free.”

Ward, who has two adult children and one grandchild, said she takes pride in her work and enjoys working around high school students. “It makes me feel good when I see the clean buildings and the kids come into school.”

Tenth grader Garrick Sauders said he and other students appreciate Ward’s efforts. “She’s an awesome custodian.”

Bert Hollis

As a teacher’s assistant who helps lead small reading groups, Bert Hollis is the one struggling readers look to for help pronouncing a word or understanding a story.

As the Karshner Elementary office secretary, she is the first person students and employees see in the morning and the one parents rely on throughout the day for school information.

“Bert handles each parent and student with grace, quiet confidence, and a friendly smile,” said Principal Jeanie Schneider.

She is a veteran at the school, having worked there her entire 17-year career in the Puyallup School District. The mother of three also volunteered and served on the school’s PTA eight years before she was hired.

Hollis’s duties extend throughout the school and community. She oversees all schoolwide assessments and updates teachers with student scores. She manages daily study hall and weekly after-school detention, and she coordinates the school’s new rain garden — the result of a successful grant application and partnership with the city and Pierce County.

Having raised her three children just blocks from the school, Hollis knows the name of every student, as well as many of their parents.

“She is really good with kids,” said her co-worker, Office Manager Nancy Oliver. “She is very positive with them and wants them to succeed and become independent learners.”

Hollis was hired as a substitute paraeducator in 1993 and assigned to help as a recess playground duty. She took on the role permanently a year later, and then applied and was hired in 1996 for the office secretary job.

As the front office person, Hollis answers phones, greets visitors, and tracks student records such as classroom attendance, specific plans for students with special needs, and excused and unexcused absences.

As a Title 1 paraeducator, Hollis meets with small groups of students during classroom reading instruction. On a recent morning in a first-grade class, she helped students sound out words and was quick to offer praise when they mastered their reading skills.

“You rock!” she told one student who read an entire storybook page without hesitation.
Hollis attends summer trainings about the district’s reading materials to stay abreast of teaching content and instruction and then coaches and trains colleagues.

In addition to her regular work duties, Hollis is well known among parents and staff for her organization of an annual school fundraiser in which parents spend a day scrapbooking. Proceeds benefit sixth-grade events, including field trips and students’ end-of-year celebration.

“She totally does it from the heart,” said sixth-grade teacher, Nancy Ellis. “She has helped send a lot of kids on field trips who couldn’t otherwise afford it.”

Described by her peers as someone who takes initiative without being asked, Hollis inspired the school last year to apply for a $10,000 grant to create two rain gardens on campus. She and her husband had already participated in a rain garden project in their own backyard and neighborhood.

“I thought this would be a good learning experience for students and a way to help the environment,” she said.

The school won the grant, and students planted the gardens last fall in front of the school.

The reason she enjoys her job is simple, she said. “The kids. I do it for the kids,” she said. “It’s fun to touch their lives.”

Susan Gifford

Dashing from school to school, Susan Gifford snaps photos and conducts interviews with students, teachers, volunteers, and parents throughout the Puyallup School District, capturing the stories about their programs and activities.

Gifford then returns to her office at the Education Service Center to write articles that paint a picture of the district’s events, programs, and individual successes.

Starting as a consultant in 2000, Gifford became the district Communications Specialist in 2003. She serves as editor, writer, and photographer for the Connections district newspaper, which is sent to 48,000 residences and businesses.

Gifford also designs, writes, and takes photos for brochures, special publications, and the district website and staff intranet.

In addition to her communications work with the district, Gifford has been active for many years as a Puyallup Giftmakers and Girl Scouts of Western Washington volunteer. She has also been a mentor to more than a dozen high school students working on completing their community service hours or job shadow — both high school graduation requirements.

Executive Director of Communications Karen Hansen described Gifford as a talented and visionary professional. “Every time she takes on a job, everything is done completely and accurately.”

Gifford has helped the district excel with modern methods of communications. She converted the district’s twice monthly print newsletter, Board Highlights, into an e-newsletter, which boasts more than 3,000 subscribers. She also designed and maintains the district’s Facebook and Twitter social media sites, which collectively claim about 5,000 followers.

Vicki Egeland, a Wildwood Elementary paraeducator, nominated Gifford for this award. “Susan is not only the consummate professional,” Egeland said in her nomination, “but she also brings a heart full of caring and compassion to every story she covers.”

Egeland related a trip in which Gifford accompanied Wildwood staff to tour St. Francis House and the Puyallup Food Bank. “It was clear that Susan embraced the mission of both of these outreach service facilities,” Egeland said. “She cares deeply about her colleagues and her community.”

Last year, Gifford wrote an article about homeless students in the district. “For months after the story ran,” Hansen said, “I received comments from the public about how the story touched their hearts. That is what Susan does best…telling stories that make a difference.” This article went on to win state and national awards.

“I can’t imagine any accomplishment more satisfying than educating the community about stories such as this,” Gifford said, “or any contribution greater than inspiring readers to take action in supporting their local schools.”

Gifford earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge and interned during college as a Los Angeles Times reporter. She landed her first newspaper job as a reporter with the Ashland Daily Tidings in southern Oregon and went on to be a reporter and bureau chief with the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California.

Gifford and her husband moved to Puyallup 25 years ago. Their two children attended district schools from kindergarten through high school.

“I love writing about and taking pictures of students in this district,” she said. “It’s a way I can give back for what my children received as an education. I appreciate all of the wonderful stories I’ve been able to share.”