Four employees were selected for the January 2014 recognition. They were honored at the Jan. 28 school board meeting. Pictured left to right are:
• Nicole Halstead, teacher, Fruit Valley Community Learning Center
• Karen Schnelle, special program clerk, Jim Parsley Center
• Marie Monek, career counseling specialist, Fort Vancouver High School
• Shawn Ash, paraeducator, Thomas Jefferson Middle School

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

Instructional opportunities abound for kindergarten teacher Nicole Halstead. She asks her students to identify letters, numbers, shapes or words as soon as they enter her room. While they walk the halls of Fruit Valley, they quietly count their steps. Working with fellow kindergarten teacher Sherra Fink, Nicole analyzes data, identifies needs and addresses those needs in creative ways. As a result, 95 percent of their students tested at benchmark on the fall math assessment. In addition, Nicole helps lead a kindergarten transition team and host parent nights. She is driven to give kindergarteners the foundation to become lifelong learners.
Speaking with Karen Schnelle is many central office visitors’ first exposure to Vancouver Public Schools, and she works to ensure that the experience is positive, directing phone calls and lobby traffic with a constant smile and focus on good customer service. In addition, she updates phone lists; reunites lost items with their owners; shepherds deliveries; cleans break room refrigerators; and assists with routine and special projects, asking questions along the way to enhance her knowledge and better serve both the public and employees. No job is too big or small for this cheerful district emissary.
Marie Monek is a powerful force in the lives of Fort Vancouver students. This career counseling specialist has been instrumental in organizing an early college entrance program. Students receive assistance from Washington State University in applying to its Pullman and Vancouver campuses; participate in admissions interviews; and, if qualified, receive acceptance letters on the spot—all without leaving their high school. The number of Fort students accepted to WSU has tripled over last year. And early admittance can boost both confidence and students’ opportunities for scholarships. Marie is teaching students that there are no limits to what they can achieve.
Knowing the names of a large number of Thomas Jefferson’s roughly 800 students is just one of paraeducator Shawn Ash’s many remarkable qualities. She also shines when working with discouraged and struggling students, helping them decipher the language and symbols of math in a way that makes sense and helps them achieve success. With her instruction, students have transformed failing grades into C’s, B’s and A’s. Students value her help and kindness and will even surround Shawn when she is on recess duty to get an impromptu lesson in math. Patience plus positivity and dedication—that’s Shawn’s formula for excellence.

Congratulations to these staff members! They join the more than 250 VPS employees who have received Excellence Awards since 2007.