• Excellence Awards, VSAA, special services, Columbia River, Harney Elementary

January 2016 Employee Excellence Awards

Four employees were selected for the January 2016 recognition. They were honored at the Jan. 26 school board meeting. Pictured from left to right are:

  • Jim O’Banion, principal, Vancouver School of Arts and Academics
  • Debi Carsten, secretary, special services department
  • Tavia Quaid, teacher, Columbia River High School
  • Lucy Estrada-Guzman, principal, Harney Elementary School

The Excellence Award is given to two to four employees and/or small teams from October to May each school year. Nominations are open to staff, students, parents and community members. Nominees are selected for recognition by a committee of their peers.

Debi excels at customer service. She not only hears callers’ questions and concerns, she listens to them—a fine distinction that makes all the difference. But expertly answering calls isn’t Debi’s sole talent. She coordinates the district’s interpreters, ensuring access to important school information for non-English-speaking families. She also helps plan the transition between school levels for students with special needs, schedules home tutors, handles Medicaid billing and arranges for paraeducators to fill in at other schools when needed. And before she leaves every day, she offers to drop off outgoing mail. No wonder her co-workers say that she’s a delight!
Being bilingual in both English and Spanish is just one of the many reasons that Lucy is a great fit for Harney. Her dedication is on display at school functions, fundraisers and the monthly Coffee with the Principal. Her warmth and open-mindedness make her approachable to everyone. The fact that she has an incredible recall of almost every parent, student, volunteer and staff member’s name also helps her rapport. In addition to being friendly, Lucy is quick to offer praise, appreciation or assistance to anyone who needs it while continuing to complete her regular duties. Clearly, she is an exemplary principal!
Since he first took the helm at VSAA, Jim has made an indelible impression on the school. The strength of his leadership and his willingness to keep students at the center of his decision-making have earned him the respect of the staff, kids and parents. Jim unabashedly stands up for big ideas in education. He is generous with his time, wisdom and praise. He is dedicated to his artistry and growth as a musician. He may say that he doesn’t think of himself as a principal, but his staff members say that he’s one of the best administrators they’ve ever worked with.
Tavia’s reputation as a fun, creative teacher precedes her. She holds summer seminars on Harry Potter, hosts character tea parties, teaches students the Charleston while they’re studying The Great Gatsby and never misses an opportunity to don a costume. But don’t mistake fun with a casual approach to teaching. Tavia has high expectations for her students. She also sets standards for herself, studying literature to prepare for a seminar class and earning a master’s degree to deepen her knowledge. Her passion inspires her colleagues, who will tell you that she is a leader and role model to everyone at River.

Congratulations to these staff members! They join the hundreds of VPS employees who have received Excellence Awards since 2007.