Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Appreciating Our Classified Staff, Part I

At Ukiah Unified, we educate more than 5,000 students every day. In addition to our teaching staff, we employ hundreds of people who help assure our students are safe, fed, and provided with the tools and environment they need to learn—our classified staff. These people include food service workers, crossing guards, paraprofessionals (classroom aides), custodians, computer technicians, secretaries, bus drivers and more. Without these caring and competent individuals, our school district couldn’t function.

Each year, during the third week in May, we celebrate national Classified Staff Appreciation Week. In preparation, I went around the district and interviewed some of these dedicated employees to find out what they love about their jobs and how their work impacts our students. Here’s what I learned from two wonderful employees. I’ll introduce more next week.

Tony Villalpando, Maintenance II

Tony is part of our maintenance staff at Ukiah High School. He says coming to work is easy because of the great people he works with, both staff and students. Tony understands that without the maintenance team, our schools wouldn’t be able to serve students the way we do.   Tony and his team are responsible for, in his words, “keeping everything running smooth. We keep teachers teaching and students learning.”

On any given day, our maintenance team is asked to repair faulty projectors, clear plugged toilets, fix broken benches, and address any number of other projects related to keeping our school grounds safe and in good repair. Tony says he likes the variety, as well as the satisfaction of getting things back in order, so they aren’t disrupting teachers and students.  

Tony clearly has the students’ best interest at heart. He takes pride in a job well done and enjoys his interactions with students. He is a positive person, so much so that when I asked about how hard it must be to fix bathroom plumbing, for example, he just shrugged it off and said, “Sometimes we have to clean stuff to get things operational again, which means cleaning things that we wouldn’t like to.”

In addition to his maintenance work, Tony has helped coach our Ukiah High baseball team in years past. Now, he says, his son, Adrian, a junior who plays shortstop on the varsity team, has gone beyond his coaching level, so Tony roots for Adrian during games and he teaches his younger son, Rico, the basics of the game.

Lisa Rantala, Lead Technology Specialist

Another person who helps keep things in good working order is Lisa Rantala, a friendly, talkative computer expert who I’m pretty sure can fix anything involving computer technology. Lisa said she believes UUSD is the best place to work anywhere in the county because she spends her days helping kids while working with amazing teammates. One of the reasons the Information Technology Department is such a good fit for her is because of her enthusiasm for learning and her determination to find answers. “I love learning stuff. With technology, there’s always something new, so I could configure a switch today and tomorrow they update the software and then I have to figure out, ‘Wait what did they update?’ Then, I find new ways to make things better. So, it’s constant learning, learning all the time, so I don’t ever get bored,” she said.

When it comes to working with kids, Lisa said, “What we do to enable these children to become amazing, productive human beings is vitally important to me at my core… I feel like whatever I can do, the best I can do it, if that helps just one kid, then I’m a success.” She loves going into classrooms and watching students learn new skills with technology. “I’ve gone into a classroom where first or second graders were using a green screen, learning how to do a video and change the background to whatever they want. These kids were picking that stuff up so quickly… [and when I help them] they are so grateful and gracious that it fills your heart. To watch a first grader be able to take a video of their classmate and then put them in the Eiffel Tower is amazing... This stuff happens on a daily basis.”

Next week I’ll introduce a few more of our dedicated and talented employees who make a difference in our students’ lives every day.