The district implemented the award five years ago to recognize the hard work and dedication of Educational Support Professionals. The idea for the award came out of the Strategic Planning process as a way to promote the importance of support operations in the educational process and the role support professionals play in helping to prepare students for the journey ahead of them.
“Our students would not be able to learn were it not for the bus driver that delivers them safely to school, the mechanics that make sure those buses are safe, the CNP worker that prepares them a nutritious breakfast and lunch, or custodians that ensure they have a clean and comfortable learning environment,” said Cindy Warner, Public Relations and Community Education Supervisor at the recognition ceremony. “All of our support employees, regardless of their job duties, have a critical and important role in helping to provide a quality education to our students.”
Each school and system department location was asked to select a representative. A district committee reviewed the submissions and selected seven winners to represent the major job categories of Accounting, Food Services, Secretarial, Maintenance, Transportation, Instruction, and Custodial. From the seven category winners, one overall winner was selected to represent the district as the Education Support Personnel of the Year.
Karen Lilly has worked at Columbiana Middle School for the past 7 years as an instructional aide/paraeducator and as a substitute teacher for over 8 years. Lilly’s principal, Dr. Kerry Rush described her as someone whose positive attitude always makes the “glass half full.”
“Perhaps her greatest asset is her seemingly relentless supply of encouragement to everyone,” Dr. Rush said. “Working as an instructional aide she often uses kind words mixed with a sharp wit to redirect a reluctant learner or to snap a frustrated teacher into a smiling mood.”
Dr. Rush said Lilly never waivers in her professionalism and that she always treats the students with fairness and kindness.
“She is a sister to one and all and truly has a passion to foster a unified school where the Golden Rule is the only rule,” said Dr. Rush. “To me personally, she knows how to tell me, without telling me. While she thinks she’s anonymous in the notes and cards she leaves me, it’s not her handwriting that gives her away. It’s the wisdom of her short, from-the heart, and to-the-point words, such as…. ‘Don’t second guess, be blessed,’ or ‘Do what you do, that is all that is required.’ The many things Mrs. Lilly says are powerful, purposeful and proving of the awesome individual she is.”
Lilly, a native of Columbiana , said the school is more than just a job to her. It is her family, her community, her past, present and future.
“It is my home,” she said. “It’s as much a part of me as the heart beating in my chest. I’ve spent more than 15 years teaching and substituting in at Columbiana Middle School, and I’ve seen it through times of struggle and success. I can tell you with confidence that these past few years I have seen CMS at its best,” Lilly said.
“I’m proud and grateful to be part of a school that has made so much progress in recent years,” she continued. “We are now at a competitive level with schools throughout Shelby County, and it’s incredibly rewarding to play a part in that.”
Lilly, who has children and grandchildren who have attended Columbiana Middle School, said all of the students that she has helped teach are her kids.
“When I add it all up, I realize more than 7,500 of my ‘children and grandchildren’ have attended CMS over my time here,” she said. “These kids may belong to someone else at home, but they hold a permanent place in my heart, not just when they’re here during the day, but throughout each day of the week and long after they’ve moved on to high school, college and careers. When I see them at ballgames, the store, or an event outside of school, the connection still remains strong.”
Local school and department winners were:
- Angela Mansel – special education instructional assistant – Calera Elementary
- Teressa Conner – nurse – Calera Intermediate
- Kaylin Foster – front office secretary – Calera Middle
- Elizabeth Wilson – front office secretary – Chelsea High
- Tanya Adams – paraeducator – Chelsea Park Elementary
- Adrian Kelly – custodian – Chelsea Middle
- Mark Benton – custodian – College and Career Center
- Pam Alverson – CNP – Elvin Hill Elementary
- Simin Capps – paraeducator – Helena Elementary
- Christy Moore – nurse – Helena Intermediate
- Sharon Wilkins – CNP manager – Helena Middle
- Gary Moon – custodian – Helena High School
- Megan Cobb – nurse – Inverness Elementary
- Patti Mueller – instructional aide – Linda Nolen Learning Center
- Tina Smith – instructional aide – Montevallo Elementary
- Maribel Torres – custodian – Montevallo Middle School
- Betty Walker – custodian – Montevallo High School
- Bevely Cox – instructional aide – Mt Laurel Elementary School
- Amy Deweese – Bookkeeper – Oak Mountain Elementary
- Kimily Payne – Registrar – Oak Mountain Intermediate
- Sarah Sumler – CNP Manager – Oak Mountain Middle
- Maxie Glover – Custodian – Oak Mountain High
- Vonda Vanderdray, Professional Development Secretary – Shelby Co. Instructional Services Center
- Alison Joiner – para-educator – Shelby Elementary
- Tim Driskell – custodian – Shelby County High School
- Arika Sandridge – pre-K teacher assistant – Vincent Elementary School
- Angela Horton – nurse – Wilsonville Elementary
Job category winners were Vickie Quinn, Vincent Middle/High School – Accounting; Michelle Rood, Calera High School – Custodial; Angie Smith, Forest Oaks Elementary School – Food Services; Karen Lilly, Columbiana Middle School – Instructional; Nikki Vrana, Central Office – Secretarial; Allen Jones, Facilities and Maintenance Department – Maintenance; and Steven Yeater, Transportation Department – Transportation;
Vickie Quinn has worked for 24 years as the bookkeeper at Vincent Middle/High School. She was described by her principal, Dr. Michele Edwards, as being someone who brings a depth of knowledge and professionalism to her role. Dr. Edwards said Quinn’s wisdom of her job role is not only refreshing, but a tool that helps keep the office running smoothly.
Ms. Quinn, a native of Vincent, said she loves her job, because it allows her to give back to a community that has been part of her life since birth.
“I have often told my friends and family I have been blessed by God to have a job where each day I am allowed to show kids I love them and have genuine concern for them and their families,” said Ms. Quinn “I know I am here for that purpose and I attempt to do that daily. Being support staff in a school where you can see students grow and become successful is a great reward. It is very gratifying to stand behind teachers that make such a difference in the children’s lives. I don’t consider this work. I consider it an opportunity to fulfill my goals of helping others and becoming a successful part of this school and community.”
Michelle Rood has worked for 10 years as the custodian at Calera High School. Principal Joel Dixon said Rood exemplifies all the characteristics of diligence in her duties and a commitment to excellence in all she does – including her support of ensuring every child is a graduate and is prepared for their journey.
“In any school, kids seek out mentors,” Dixon said. “Michelle is that person for several of our students. I regularly see her giving them guidance that is wise and kind. It is no understatement to say that she is a critical piece of the puzzle for our school’s success. There are kids that might not have graduated without her.”
“Working at Calera High School is not a job, it is a pleasure,” said Ms. Rood. “I want others to know that I enjoy my job and that work, not matter at what level, is an example of the character of a person. If I can serve as the fuel that motivates one person into becoming something they desire to be, then I have not worked in vain.”
Angie Smith has worked for Shelby County Schools for 10 years and is currently the CNP manager at Forest Oaks Elementary.
“Love is in the details.These words describe the pure essence of Angie Smith, who is the epitome of a loving, motivated, and conscientious employee,” said her principal, Dr. Resia Brooks. “She focuses on the tiny, minute details and actions that make others feel special and valued.”
“Her love for her work and compassion for others is demonstrated in all that she does-from placing hot chocolate in the office for teachers on cold, dreary mornings, to amusing the kids in the serving line with Elf on the Shelf mischief at Christmas, to voluntarily spending the night at school to ensure that students and faculty were fed during the great snowstorm and even whipping up birthday cookie cakes to celebrate the birthdays of two teachers who were stranded that night,” Dr. Brooks said.
When she was forced to change careers due to an injury, Smith thought something in the area of nutrition would be a natural fit, but she wasn’t too sure about having to wear a hair net. After discovering invisible hairnets, she applied for the job and immediately realized she loved the new plan for her life.
“How could I not love my job?” she said. “I am blessed beyond measure to get to see hundreds of wonderful children daily. It makes me feel like a child to see their excitement for learning and living. Being able to be a small part of the larger picture is a wonderful gift.”
Allen Jones has worked for the past three years at Facilities and Maintenance as the Warehouse/Dispatch Technician. Jones was described by his co-workers as a friendly, all around fantastic person with a wonderful attitude. More importantly, he was also described as a great employee due to his attention to detail and diligence in making sure that the job gets done.
Jones said the work they do at the warehouse is often behind the scenes, but it is a very important job. “Every day is busy and hectic, with lots people calling with spur-of-the-moment requests.” Jones said. “But I love my job and I am very appreciative of it. I know that what we do is important and ultimately it supports the students.”
Nikki Vrana has worked the past three years as an accounting clerk and Chief Clerk at the Central Office. She was described by her supervisor, Tom Ferguson, as someone who understands dedication and what it takes to get things done.
“As a Central Office employee, Nikki has served this school system with integrity and the utmost professionalism,” Mr. Ferguson wrote. “She has brought a level of efficiency and organization to my office that is unparalleled. Personally, I am very lucky to have her as my administrative assistant. With so many issues and challenges that come through the office of the Deputy Superintendent she has been the rock that maintains composure, confidentiality and most importantly compassion.”
“Do I love editing documents, keying invoices, reconciling project worksheets, following up on open work orders, and providing information to people when asked?” Vrana asked. “Yes, actually I do! But my job is much more than that. All of the jobs in support services are much more than the routine clerical tasks that we perform.”
Vrana went on to explain all the elements of her job that she loves, from helping others to being able to display her leadership skills, being a team player, and building positive relationships with others.
“I love the feeling of accomplishment I get every single day,” Vrana said. “I love shifting gears all day every day, sometimes a dozen times per hour. I love being a part of our strategic planning committee to help foster change that may result in impacting the lives of real people. I love my job because it has provided me with opportunities to provide financial stability for my family and fosters an environment of teamwork and respect. I truly love the ability to make a difference and be a catalyst for change.”
Steven Yeater has worked over three years as a master mechanic in the Transportation Department. He is described by his supervisor, Rick Vines, as a valuable and reliable employee of the Transportation Department.
“Steven is always willing to learn new concepts and expand his knowledge of transportation, as well as safety issues,” Vines said. “He is a self-motivated, hard worker who is always ready to assist his fellow co-workers. Steven comes in daily with a great attitude. He is an asset to the Board of Education and it has been my pleasure to be his supervisor.”
“I love my job because of the responsibilities I assume every day when I arrive there,” Yeater said. “Our job is simple – make every bus as safe as possible to transport children. Our department takes pride in our track record. Shelby County buses transports thousands of students over millions of miles yearly and the mechanics are the first line of defense in doing so.”
“Being a father myself, I can relate to parents when they put their children on our buses and they rely on those buses to safely transport their children to school. I am very proud to say I have a hand in making that happen and bringing peace of mind to those parents.”