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Santa Clara Unified School District’s 2019 Employees of the Year Have Nurtured Their School Communities

At the Santa Clara Unified School District’s annual “End-of-Year Employee Recognition” in May, three district employees were recognized.

This year’s Certificated Employee of the Year is Mary Mackie, Spanish teacher at Santa Clara High School. With over three decades of experience teaching Spanish under her belt, Mackie is about to start a new adventure.

“I’m retiring this year,” Mackie said. “What was said about me at the employee recognition event was that I’m engaging. My students are engaged in my lessons. I go in during the weekends to help them. I’m dedicated. I hold my students to a high standard.

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“I teach students compassion,” she continued. “I sometimes give students my lunch code if they didn’t bring lunch. If a student is having a bad day, I practice compassion and treat them to lunch. I also invite them to have lunch with the teachers so they have company. Most of them say ‘yes’ to my invitation. When students are having a bad day, they feel safe in my room.”

According to Mackie, Santa Clara High School’s World Language Department, led by Teacher Amanda Vrabel, campaigned to have Mackie nominated for this honor.

“We have a Wellness Center on campus,” Mackie said. “Amanda and the World Language Department told the Board of Education that I am the Wellness Center, that I’ve kept them together with chocolate or my time. I was at the event to get my retirement certificate. I didn’t know I was going to receive this honor. It was a complete surprise. I’d like to give a shout out to this department. They are true compassionate professionals and we’re cohesive and kind to each other.”

Here’s a fun fact. Mackie was once the Spanish teacher of Kristin Gonzalez, who has served as principal at Wilcox High School for four years. Gonzalez is this year’s Administrator of the Year.

Gonzalez was born in Los Gatos and grew up on the border of Santa Clara and San Jose. She graduated from Buchser Middle School and Santa Clara High School.

Gonzalez explained that she does her best to support teachers. Her philosophy is that collaboration is the centerpiece in the teaching profession because it allows educators to grow, improve and reflect on their progress with the students.

“We adjusted our meeting schedules to allow for more collaboration time,” Gonzalez said. “Lesson planning, curriculum development, student assessments, analyzing student data — this all goes into collaboration time.

“We focused not just on structural changes for collaboration but for becoming more effective collaborators,” Gonzalez continued. “That journey has been over several years. We started it by focusing on communication and building trust among the adults. There’s research that supports that schools that have a high trust level among adults have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Gonzalez added that the school has made a positive impact in empowering its classified staff to be lead learners and role models for students.

“These are campus secretaries, attendance clerks, campus security, paraeducators, custodians,” Gonzalez said. “These people might see the kids more often in a different capacity than teachers do.”

Speaking of classified employees, the district’s Classified Employee of the Year is Kathryn Fernandez, retiring Special Education Life Skills Paraeducator at Wilson High School.

“With Kathy’s hard work and dedication, she was able to support adult students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) to gain independence and employment,” said Pamela Galano, Principal of Wilson High School.

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