10 retirees, 4 students, superintendent honored in Denair

Thursday night was a time to celebrate at the monthly meeting of the  Denair Unified School District Board of Trustees. Ten retirees – some of whom have worked more than three decades in the district — were honored along with four students and Superintendent Terry Metzger.

The retirees took center stage in front of family, friends and colleagues in the Denair Elementary Charter Academy cafeteria. Each received a crystal clock, a bouquet of flowers from the DHS floral department, sincere thanks for their contributions and warm wishes for a fulfilling retirement.

Together, the retirees have served the district and its 1,200 students for more than 160 years as teachers, attendance clerks and custodians. Some interacted with multiple generations of the same family as students. Recognized were:

  • Janelle Gray, who has taught second grade at DECA for 37 years. “Janelle is funny. She likes to joke around and has as a great sense of humor. She’s very innovative and great with her students,” said Principal Kelly Beard.
  • Patti Morrissey, a DECA teacher for 36 years. “Patti was my mentor teacher,” Beard said. “She took me under her wing when I was starting as a teacher. We were kindred spirits. It was an amazing experience we had. We’re going to miss her sense of humor. She is our musical talent on campus.”
  • John Stavrianoudakis, a popular art teacher at Denair High for 28 years. “True story, I still don’t know how to say Stav’s last name, so he’s Mr. Stav,” said Principal Kara Backman. “We will miss your compassion, your empathy for kids. You are so humble. Kids have learned about you and want to come to school because of you. You’re so valuable in so many things and always a team player for everyone.”
  • Maria Olivas, a former Spanish teacher who became the district’s English Language Development coordinator. “She has been a blessing to our students,” Metzger complimented. “She started so many great things and really helped us connect with all parents, not just Spanish-speaking parents. She always approached her job with a can-do attitude and a smile on her face.”
  • Teresa Winter, a food service worker for 16 years. “Her fierce dedication to the students was obvious in the way she did her meal prep and that she knew every kid,” said Food Services Manager Kim Fuentez. “She was the face of the district during the pandemic because she manned the food distribution line. She represented the best of Denair and Denair food service.”
  • Jeannie Herrington, the attendance clerk at Denair Middle School for 16 years. “She always demonstrated empathy,” said Amanda Silva, a former DMS principal who is now the district’s special education coordinator.
  • David Curnow, a high school custodian for eight years. “If you ask Dave, he’ll get it done,” praised Backman. “Every single staff member and student knows Dave. But if you turn that around, he knows all of them as well. He comes early and stays late. He helps keep DHS safe and we appreciate him so much.”
  • Loretta Blevins, who worked as a special education teacher for seven years. “She’s kind and humble, always willing to do anything for students,” said Silva.
  • Robert LaFountain, a utility worker for five years. “When I took over, I found out how hard it was to keep up with Bob,” said Facilities, Maintenance and Operations Director Mark Hodges. “One minute, he might be mowing the lawn and the next he was cutting down a tree. He always gave his full time to us.”
  • Amanda Storlie, a preschool paraeducator for 3½ years. “She was perfectly fit to be in preschool,” Beard said. “She has a sweet, loving, soft voice and the students really love her.”

Also honored Thursday were four students, all of them seniors at Denair High. Thomas Guzman was given a plaque for being the student representative on the board for the past year while Fernando Quintero, Jazmine Ramirez and Mariana Verduzco were singled out for meeting state standards for bilingual literacy after passing oral and written tests in English and Spanish. They will receive the coveted Seal of Biliteracy on their high school diplomas.

Metzger also was recognized for being named the Association of California School Administrators’ choice as Superintendent of the Year for Region 7, which includes much of Central California. A video that lauded Metzger’s leadership skills during the past two years of the pandemic was shown.

Later in the meeting, trustees demonstrated their appreciation for Metzger by extending her contract through the 2023-24 school year. Her 2022-23 salary will be $176,160, plus a $350 a month car allowance. Metzger has been superintendent since 2108.

Also Thursday, the board heard a report from Metzger about attendance, interdistrict transfers, suspensions and expulsions.

Not surprisingly, COVID impacted attendance figures at the district’s four campuses the past two years. That’s important because Average Daily Attendance (ADA) – which is the percentage of enrolled students who are in class each day – is the primary way the state funds public schools. District finance officials estimate the drop in ADA would have cost Denair $425,000 in the next school year, if the district was not allowed to use the prior year ADA for funding purposes.

All of Denair’s schools have seen fewer students in class this year, especially in December, January and February, when the Delta and Omicron variants of the virus affected kids and teachers. Chronic absences – defined as missing at least 10% of school days – have risen this year to 38% at DECA, 36% at DMS, 36% at DHS and 23% at Denair Charter Academy. Before the pandemic, those numbers ranged from 4% to 11%.

“Those numbers are disappointing, but not surprising,” Metzger told trustees. “We had hundreds of kids in quarantine some weeks. As we look ahead, we’re trying to figure out how to use before- and after-school programs to reach some of those students who have missed so much school.”

There have been 44 students suspended for a day or more this school year, equal to pre-pandemic numbers. There have been no expulsions. Denair High has had 29 suspensions and the middle school 14. Almost all have to do with students being caught vaping, Metzger said.

“We are already addressing vaping in a variety of ways and are working on a plan to deal with it more strategically in the fall,” she said.

Regarding interdistrict transfers, Denair still has more students leaving than transferring in. Metzger said the majority have to do with parents wanting their children to be in other districts because of child-care issues.

This year, the district approved 156 elementary transfers, plus 90 from DMS and 180 from DHS. Those numbers are 103, 52 and 103, respectively, for the 2022-23 school year. Conversely, 94 students have transferred into the district this year and there already are 82 approved for next year.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Approved a contract for 2022-23 school year with Lozano Smith of Sacramento to be the district’s legal representative. Hourly rates range from $135 for a consultant to $350 for a senior partner.
  • Heard a report from Hodges outlining summer maintenance and facilities plans, including work on a girls bathroom at DMS, landscaping and tree-trimming projects, painting, moving the Coyote Cup of Kindness coffee cart from outside the district office to the high school, and updating the staff lounge and bathroom in the district office.
  • Listened as Metzger described training that will be offered for teachers and staff prior to the next school year.
  • Approved an audit of the district’s financial practices that affirms the district is compliant with the laws it is required to meet.
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