Walk into the Donlon Elementary School office, and chances are that you will be greeted by the friendly smile of Ruth Highstreet, the school's administrative secretary since 2010.
If you are a Donlon student or parent, Mrs. Highstreet probably can call you by name.
Those are among the many reasons that Highstreet was honored Tuesday night by the Pleasanton school board as the very first Classified Employee of the Year. "Classified" refers to the district's 470 support staff members, including, secretaries and administrative assistants, other clerical staff, custodians, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, cafeteria workers and more.
As noted by Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi, the classified team provides essential support for the work of nearly 900 certificated teachers, counselors, nurses, psychologists, and administrators.
The nomination for Highstreet was written by Principal Lynette Chirrick and Betsy Finney "on behalf of all the teachers at Donlon."
In here praise of Highstreet, Finney said:
"Mrs. Highstreet is the glue that holds Donlon together. Through many administrative and staff changes, budget cuts, and the daily surprises that are a part of the school day, Ruth handles everything with the best interest of the children in mind.
"Ruth is tireless in her efforts to find solutions to problems and is patient with children and adults alike. She does all this with a smile, good humor, and no small amount of patience. There is no better person to ask for help because she will steer you in the right direction no matter how big or small the request, or who is asking for help.
"We all depend on her and appreciate her devotion to all parts of our school community. Ruth is humble about her contributions, but we all know she is the steel behind much of Donlon's strength."
Principal Chirrick agreed.
"As Donlon School has had a number of administrative changes, [Ruth has been a constant, ensuring consistency for the entire Donlon community, Chirrick told the board. "She is also a trusted advisor to administration, always working toward what is best for students. The school would be lost without her energy, enthusiasm, warmth, and presence."
Prior to coming to Donlon in 2010, Highstreet was part of the support staff at Amador Valley High School, plus Walnut Grove and Lydiksen elementary schools.
At the board meeting, Ahmadi thanked Mark McCoy, director of human resources, and Lisa Lorentz, executive secretary of Tri-Valley Special Education Local Planning Area, for their efforts to bring to reality the concept of honoring a classified employee each year.
Also Tuesday, the school board:
• Approved a 1% wage for all employees, retroactive to July 1, 2013. This increase was made possible by increased funding from the state. Classified employees also received a 1% increase in their health and welfare benefits. Stipends for teachers with master's degrees, doctorates, or National Certification were increased from $500 to $750.
• Learned more about the Smarter Balanced Field Test, which many Pleasanton students will be taking between April 7 and May 16. This is a "test of the test," according to Nicole Steward, assessment coordinator, with no scores being given to students, schools, or the district this year. Rather, this will provide the opportunity to practice questions other than "selected response" (multiple choice), including "constructed response" and "technology enhanced" questions, as well as questions based on "performance tasks" by groups.
Pleasanton schools are part of a 25-state consortium "working collaboratively to develop next-generation assessments that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and that accurately measure student progress toward college and career readiness.
Steward said parents are invited to the last of a series of hands-on information nights about the new tests from 7-8:30 p.m. April 9 at Harvest Park Middle School.
• Heard a progress report on how schools at all grade levels are working to comply with the state mandate that 75% of all special needs students should be in general education classes, which is "the least restrictive environment" for 75% of the time. Several schools are using collaborative classes, in which the resource specialist becomes a second teacher in a general education class, thereby benefiting all students.
• Adopted the administrative regulations of Policy 0410, Nondiscrimination of Pupils in Educational Programs, Activities, and Services, and held the first reading of policies about students dealing with Food Allergies/Special Dietary Needs; Suspension and Expulsion/Due Process; Freedom of Speech/Expression; Questioning and Apprehension by Law Enforcement; Married/Pregnant/Parenting Students, and At-Risk Students.
• For the first time in recent memory, had zero requests to speak at the community input section of the agenda, a section that sometimes takes up to an hour of meeting time.