The Desert Sands Unified School District leadership team recently gathered together to celebrate the achievements already taking place in the 2018-2019 school year. Among the reasons to celebrate were the naming of a number of Employees of the Year.

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 countywide competition. The potential of these awardees could find us all the way at the national level.

The first four award winners are featured in this article. The remaining four will be honored in next week’s column.

Site Support Employee of the Year

Roak Ely—Site Employee of the Year began his career with Desert Sands Unified School District in 2013 as a substitute and quickly gained permanent status as an information technology technician. As a site support employee, Roak handles a wide variety of technology work orders in an efficient and friendly manner!

Confidential Employee of the Year

Nora Diaz—Confidential Employee of the Year started her career in Desert Sands Unified School District in 2002 as a paraeducator (bilingual) at Dwight Eisenhower Elementary School. Two years later she promoted to community tech (bilingual), followed by a promotion to office technician (bilingual) and again to administrative assistant (bilingual) working at Desert Ridge Academy, special education, child welfare and attendance, student assistance program, and technology before becoming the executive assistant of student support services. In this position, Nora works under the direction of Assistant Superintendent Laura Fisher, who keeps her busy with daily duties, activities, as well as new challenges.  Nora utilizes her experience and expertise to provide support and direction not only to the administrative staff in her department but also to site staff and parents.

Nora recognizes and understands the needs in achieving the objectives and adhering to compliance standards required of her division and has earned both the respect and support of her peers. Though she has many responsibilities, she is recognized for always volunteering to help, her ability to maintain a calm demeanor in the most stressful situations, and her enthusiastic attitude.

Principal of the Year

Dave Gustafson—is a well–rounded individual who is a passionate about educating young minds and providing them with resources to help them after graduation. He received his Bachelor’s degree in education, with a major in the exceptional child from Southeast Missouri State University and later earned a two Master’s degrees, one from National Louis University and the other from Pepperdine.

Dave began teaching special education in 1998 in Missouri before moving out west to teach with Palm Springs Unified. While at Palm Springs Unified, Dave was utilized to assist in various interim positions including working “on loan” cooperatively in tribal education with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. He came to Desert Sands in 2010 as a program specialist promoting later to the position of assistant principal at Shadow Hills High School. These positions provided Dave with the experience and professional skills that prepared him for success in his current role as Principal of Amistad High School, to which he was appointed in 2015.  Dave is enrolled in the University of LaVerne’s doctoral program in organizational leadership, and is putting the finishing touches on his dissertation as he looks toward graduation this May.

Classified Administrator of the Year

Gabe DeLaO—came to DSUSD with a wealth of knowledge and experience working for a variety of government entities including the United States Air Force. His last assignment in the Air Force was as a recruiter here in the Coachella Valley. Gabe also worked for the State of California in plant operations departments at both Ironwood and Chuckawalla Valley state prisons for over 10 years. He is a licensed contractor  who holds a BA in social science from Chapman University and a graduate certificate in organizational leadership from Hope International University.

Since 2015 Gabe has been a part of the DSUSD team, first as a quality assurance facilitator and currently as the director of maintenance, operations, and transportation.

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