Six Unique Individuals Named DSUSD Employees of the Year

What better time to celebrate our team members than during the holiday season?

Each year, in December, the members of the leadership team, as well as employees who are part of the confidential category, nominate staff members to be recognized in six categories: 1) site support employee of the year; 2) confidential employee of the year; 3) counselor of the year; 4) principal of the year; 5) classified administrator of the year; and 6) certificated administrator of the year. The names of the nominees were then sent to the leadership and confidential staff members for voting.

In this year of the continuation of COVID-19, the staff members honored play significant roles in the work of the district through the challenges of the pandemic.

DSUSD’s lead nurse Susan Kadel was named Site Support Employee of the Year. It is Susan who leads our district COVID team and ensures proper notification to staff and families of positive district COVID cases and close contacts through personal phone calls and letters.  She also works with our local and county health partners to set up vaccination and testing clinics for our sites and communities.  But her responsibilities go beyond COVID as she and her team of nurses handle a wide variety of health services throughout the district. Susan joined the DSUSD team in 2016. When asked for words to describe Susan, her peers noted that she is resourceful, knowledgeable, caring, considerate, diligent, and reliable.

A shortage of teachers and substitutes requires the personnel department to look for ways to reach out to potential staff. The DSUSD Confidential Employee of the Year is Maria Lomeli, credentialing analyst. Maria was hired in 2000 and is a mentor to staff members in the personnel department. Each day she works with teachers, counselors, and substitute teachers, assisting and directing in the credentialing process. She also makes herself available to all staff members and works with the school sites to be sure that they have staffing in place. Her co-workers commented on her calm demeanor in the most stressful situations, and her amazing memory.

This has been a year of extended services from our counselors. Students and staff are experiencing emotional drain and loss. The Counselor of the Year works with a very special group of students. Xochitl Velazquez is the district’s foster and homeless youth liaison. A former middle school teacher, Xochitl saw need and became a counselor. She works tirelessly to help families facing uncertain housing situations to obtain clothing, toiletries, and school supplies for their students. She is sensitive to their situations and does all she can to preserve their dignity. Xochitl is known for supporting our students with a great deal of concern and compassion. She also demonstrates a genuine interest in mentoring and supporting her peers

Principal of the Year Elizabeth Hartman began her teaching career in 2007. She was a high school science teacher who went on to become an instructional coach. She and her family moved from their home in Ohio to California in 2016 and Lizzie became the assistant principal at La Quinta Middle School. In 2018 she was named principal of Indio Middle School. Her staff and students commented that “Mrs. Hartman” is always there, ready to talk things through. Her smile is contagious. Most of all, they mentioned her innovative spirit and approach to all things related to education. She is open to new approaches and is concerned about the “total student.” Her peers praise her willingness to be a part of the district team, mentoring and assisting at every turn.

Classified Administrator of the Year Daniel Cappello, director of nutrition services, provides the very basic of needs to our students. On Friday, March 13, 2020, he was informed that school sites would be closing due to COVID-19. Without a blink of an eye, he and his team created a plan. The nutrition services team worked all weekend getting ready to serve student meals with drive-up services in the parking lots. When school sites reopened their doors, he created meal pick up at each school – breakfast in a bag at the front gate and lunch at the door of the cafeteria. All the while continuing to provide driveway pickup for students on non-classroom days. He is currently dealing with supply chain issues while still trying to create menus. The burger listed on today’s menu might suddenly become a taco.

It came as no surprise that retiring Superintendent Scott Bailey was honored as Certificated Administrator of the Year. Scott’s leadership through the pandemic and his continued focus on resolving today’s ever-changing challenges brought him this award as a tribute to his work with DSUSD. Scott will be retiring in June, but his five years have been filled with innovation and support for students and staff. Superintendent Bailey asked that I thank the Desert Sands education community on his behalf for helping him fulfill his commitment to his late grandfather, “always leave it better than you found it.” His first words to the DSUSD team upon joining the district was that he was here to “polish the gold”, the standard of DSUSD. His personal philosophy of “LOOK, LISTEN, LEARN, and LEAD” continues. He makes visits to classrooms a priority and displays his belief in the philosophy of “management-by-walking-around.” He has created signature events for the district and has been the spokesperson for continued technological advance in the classrooms. He will take this award with him when he retires but he will never take away the positive work made on behalf of the district.

Six very unique individuals, serving in six very different capacities, each fully committed to one mission – inspiring and nurturing every student…one opportunity at a time. (DSUSD mission statement)


Photo caption above:

Left to right — Maria Lomeli, Xochitl Velazquez, Susan Kadel, Daniel Cappello, Elizabeth Hartman, Scott Bailey



Image Sources

  • DSUSD Employees of the Year: Mary Perry