Last week’s Desert Sands Unified School District’s column recognized four employees of the year. Here, an additional four employees are honored.


Desert Sands Unified School District Employees of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Mary E. B. Perry)

They received their awards at a recent gathering of the district’s leadership team. All 150-plus members of the team are asked to nominate their peers before voting is done to determine the year’s top employees. This year’s winners will now be moving on to county-wide competition. The potential of these awardees could find us all the way at the national level.

School Counselor(s) of the Year

District-wide three counselors shared the identical number of nominations and subsequent votes for School Counselor of the Year. Thus, all three employees were recognized for their exemplary service.

  • Saul Martinez — obtained his Master’s degree from Columbia University in 2013, began his counseling career in New York State, and, two years later returned to California to inspire students from his home community. Saul is a graduate of Indio High School who joined his alma mater to mentor and support students in the community where he was raised. He understands that students have different needs, gifts, and callings and strives daily to alleviate the obstacles to success that gangs, peer pressure, drugs, and bullying bring to our students. Saul is highly involved and visible in events across campus and connects well with the students. Saul holds a 5K walk/run each year to commemorate his father’s memory as a CHP officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1997. The event begins and ends at Saul Martinez Elementary School in Mecca, and all proceeds are donated to the school that bears his father’s name in Mecca, California.
  • Allison Rutledge — Began her career with Desert Sands as a guest teacher. Within one year she was offered an internship as a social science teacher at John Glenn Middle School. After teaching for ten years, she earned her PPS credential and began working as a counselor.

Allison holds a BA from Humboldt State University and an MA Azusa Pacific University. She is a graduate of Palm Desert High School and well-known for supporting students with a great deal of concern and compassion. She gently confronts negative behaviors and thoughts when needed in an appropriate and honest manner and interacts positively with parents and colleagues.

  • Cliff Smith — began his career in education as a PE teacher, but joined Desert Sands 23 years ago as a counselor at La Quinta High School in 1995. Cliff studied at California State University, Dominguez Hills, earning a Bachelor’s degree in physical education with a minor in history. He later earned a Master’s degree in counseling from California State University, San Bernardino.

Cliff transferred from La Quinta High School to Shadow Hills High School when it opened in 2009 where he has continued assisting students with all aspects of their high school experience and preparation for college and other post-high school opportunities. He also coordinates the work experience program, and has been instrumental in the founding, development, and continued success of multiple CTE academy and pathway programs at both La Quinta and Shadow Hills high schools. Cliff additionally provides support to help struggling students reach proficiency on CAASPP, assists in teacher recruitment, and has served as a key liaison for many district committees.

Certificated Administrator of the Year

Laura Fisher — another of the awarded employees began her teaching career as a special education teacher working in Oklahoma and South Carolina before moving to California. Originally hired to work at Desert Sands in 1998 as a program specialist, she furthered her career at Coachella Valley Unified School District in such positions as director of pupil personnel services and special education, and executive director of student services. Laura served as administrator II of alternative and special education with for Riverside County Office of Education before returning to DSUSD in 2015 as assistant superintendent of student support services leading the special education, child welfare & attendance, and student assistant programs.

Laura is a key member of the district team who applies deeply-skilled expertise in her field to lead her departments with a commendable blend of strength, compassion and effectiveness. She is a highly motivated problem solver, has a calm demeanor, a strong work ethic, and a great sense of humor.

Congratulations to our award winning employees and to all members of the Desert Sands Unified School District team who always put children first.