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NMUSD Recognizes 2023 Employee Excellence Award Recipients
Posted 2/8/23

At its meeting on February 7, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) Board of Education recognized employees who go above and beyond with an Employee Excellence Award. The nine recipients were selected for their dedication to the district’s mission; creating a positive environment for students, staff and community; and continuously displaying initiative with a high degree of excellence, professionalism and integrity.

The honorees are:

Melissa Ault, Special Education Teacher, Corona del Mar Middle School

Melissa AultMelissa Ault is dedicated to ensuring every student is set up for success. She inspires a love of learning not only in her students, but also in her colleagues, with creative, hands-on lessons and infectious joy. Rather than just explaining a concept, she actively involves students, as she did when teaching them about assembly lines by lining her class up and giving each student a task toward creating a finished product. And when things don’t quite go according to plan, Ault remains unflappable; she is known for saying, “That’s a tomorrow problem.” She treats students with kindness and respect, making everyone feel equally valued. That care for others extends beyond her classroom; when one student transitioned out of her class and into a more specialized program, Ault continued to check in on that student’s progress. She is a shining example of the whole-child support to which NMUSD is committed.  

Kim Barone, Teacher, Victoria Elementary

Kim BaroneKim Barone is known throughout the Victoria Elementary community for meeting every student where he or she is, whether that child is struggling or ahead of the class, then challenging each student to do his or her personal best. She also continually encourages students to develop a passion for reading. Through the course of the year, she raises the funds to purchase books for each student to take home a small collection at his or her reading level that’s matched to that student’s interests. Barone then guides her class through writing thank you letters to donors. An avid writer herself, Barone sends each student a handwritten letter once a month, recognizing their accomplishments, whether great or small, and expressing words of encouragement. Whether writing grant proposals for field trips and programming, serving as the teacher representative for Victoria’s Spanish after-school program, or volunteering at PTA events, Barone always goes above and beyond for students.  

Alfonso Bravo, School Community Facilitator, Whittier Elementary

Alfonso BravoAlfonso Bravo knows how to pull a community together. He organized Whittier Elementary’s Fall Festival, bringing together students, families and school staff in support of Whittier’s Parent Teacher Association without showing any hints of the stress such an endeavor brings. He regularly collaborates with administrators, teachers and families to provide positive experiences for children overcoming adversity, handling his duties with a warm smile. He is commended by families for listening to their needs and providing them with the resources to ensure both they and their students are engaged in school. Spanish-speaking families often express their gratitude for Bravo’s presence at meetings and events, as he translates for them and shares information vital for their involvement. He gives parents and students alike the confidence they need to be informed and successful in school. Bravo’s unflagging positivity is a beacon to the Whittier community.   

Carol Brunell, Office Manager, Mariners Elementary

Carol BrunellDescribed as the “heartbeat of Mariners Elementary,” Office Manager Carol Brunell greets everyone who enters the campus with a palpable kindness. Whether a parent, student or a colleague, she wants everyone to feel welcome at all times. To cultivate this feeling, Brunell led efforts to redecorate the staff lounge, adding new tables and chairs, placing small plants throughout, and adding words of encouragement throughout the lounge. Adding to the atmosphere are photos of employees with fun facts she culled from a “Did You Know” questionnaire she sent to colleagues. Brunell welcomes new hires with sweet treats of a home-baked cookie and kind notes. No matter who she is interacting with, Brunell leads with kindness.   

Dr. Dave Martinez, Principal, Early College High School

Dave MartinezThe face of Early College High School clearly belongs to Dr. Dave Martinez. Every morning, he is stationed in front of the school to personally welcome his students to another great day of learning. He makes students and families feel valued by maintaining continuous communication  to ensure that everyone is well-aware of school happenings and community and academic resources. Every month, Dr. Martinez hosts interactive virtual chats, sometimes inviting guidance counselors to give brief presentations so that families feel prepared for what to expect as their students move forward in school and in life. Even though Early College offers a more college preparatory approach to students, Dr. Martinez encourages them to have fun, too; he oversees a “house” system in which all students are part of one of four collaborative, student-led groups that engage in meetings, team-building exercises and friendly competitions. Through it all, families know that Dr. Martinez is there for his students, from the start of the day until the last student leaves campus.  

Steve Moreno, Head Cross Country and Track & Field Coach, Costa Mesa High School

Steve MorenoAs the head coach for the cross country and track and field teams, Steve Moreno often reminds his athletes, “You become what you repeatedly do.” Moreno inspires his students in a positive, respectful manner, fully embracing a “do as I do” approach. Before every practice, he shares a quote aimed at encouraging everyone to have their best day, whether in the classroom, on the field or at home. He then follows up with students daily to ensure they have the resources they need academically, emotionally and financially to succeed. Moreno has helped his students obtain school supplies, athletic equipment, even prom tickets. He volunteers his time during the summer to coach his athletes and year-round to raise funds for his teams. Moreno’s students rely on him for motivation and encouragement, as he is a role model who inspires future leaders.   

Diana Nichols, Librarian, Eastbluff Elementary

Diana NicholsThere’s a phrase that says, “Reading is fundamental,” and Librarian Diana Nichols truly excels at putting the “fun” in fundamental. She transforms the Eastbluff Elementary library into new worlds based on the themes of her lessons. For example, to encourage students to try new books, she created an exciting cafe that invited students to get a “taste” of different genres. She has also taught students a twist on a classic game by playing musical books, allowing them to move and groove while also introducing them to a variety of books they may have never stopped to check out in an ordinary day. For students who  prefer a quiet space during recess, Nichols welcomes them into the library to read, complete crafts, help with library tasks, or engage in a friendly chat. As the student council advisor, Nichols coaches student leaders in how to facilitate meetings, plan activities and turn their ideas into realities, while also helping raise funds for the school. She is also very involved in the community; in partnership with the National Exchange Club, Nichols teaches upper-grade students about the historical documents and events spotlighted in the school’s Freedom Shrine. Nichols is always ready to feed the minds of Eastbluff’s Otters with creativity. 

Claudia Padilla, Instructional Assistant-Behavior Intervention, Harbor View Elementary

Claudia PadillaAn instructional assistant specializing in behavior intervention, Claudia Padilla is often referred to by her colleagues as exemplary. Her excellent skills and positivity allow her to build connections with students and make a positive impact in students’ lives. She draws from a breadth of experience to ensure the students in her care feel supported emotionally and academically in their plan for success, which includes realistic milestones they devise together. Padilla makes sure students feel seen and heard while teaching them to make better choices, resulting in students trusting her and striving even more purposefully to reach the goals they set. Students and staff appreciate and rely upon her unique approach to behavior management; colleagues at Harbor View Elementary often go to Padilla for advice on how to help their students succeed in behavioral expectations, knowing that she has collected the data necessary to make informed decisions. Padilla has a proven track record of setting students on the path to achievement.  

Yesenia Rosales, Lead Instructional Assistant-Extended Day Program, College Park Elementary

Ysenia RosalesAfter a long day, students at College Park Elementary can rely on Yesenia Rosales to be ready with fun, educational activities. As the Lead Instructional Assistant of the school’s Project Kidz Connect (PKC) program, she leads the way in creativity and caring. When the program expanded to include Transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten students, Rosales took on new responsibilities and challenges with a cheerful demeanor and a lot of flexibility. Though her site serves more than double the students at other district schools’ extended-day programs, she maintains a collaborative approach with colleagues and the district to provide a positive, enriching experience for everyone. With nearly 180 students on campus after school, she organized ways to accommodate students in each activity. She advocates for the specific needs of students, and students and their families trust and respect Rosales to carefully listen to them and make thoughtful decisions, whether in regards to academic concerns, behavior issues, or tricky custody situations. She helped to create a guide to orient substitute teachers not only at College Park, but at other school sites as well. Rosales knows how to bring people together to build a strong community.  

We salute the winners of the 2023 Employee Excellence Awards, all of whom bring their best to the NMUSD community every day.