CUSD celebrates and honors record number of Classified Employees of the Year

By Lou Ponsi

They drive the buses, paint the classrooms, repair the computers, serve the meals, and provide for the safety of anyone who sets foot on campus within the Capistrano Unified School District.

They are the CUSD classified employees, and on April 29, the district’s annual celebration of these outstanding employees took place at Capistrano Valley High School in front of their peers and loved ones. Award categories included Clerical and Administrative Services, Skilled Trades, Paraprofessionals, Technical Services, Health and Student Services, Transportation, Security Services, and Custodial and Maintenance Services.

“Your unwavering support ensures the smooth operation of our schools, creating an environment where students can thrive and succeed,” said Krista Castellanos, president of the CUSD Board of Trustees. “You are the backbone of our school district and we are incredibly grateful for your tireless efforts. Thank you for all that you do today and every day to make our school district a place of excellence and an opportunity for all.”

CUSD Superintendent Chris Brown was attending his first Classified Employees Celebration since stepping into the role of superintendent in July. Brown pointed out that this year’s celebration included a record number of nominations.

“It’s been quite a year,” Brown said. “And this is an important event because Classified Employees of the Year are nominated by your colleagues, other classified employees.”

Classified Employees of the Year for 2024 are:

Jennifer Oliva receives the Clerical & Administrative Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Clerical & Administrative Services

These jobs are related to clerical or secretarial duties. Job titles include attendance clerk, activities account clerk, office manager, and staff secretary.

The Clerical & Administrative Services Employee of the Year is Jennifer Oliva, elementary library media tech, of Hidden Hills Elementary School.

“Jennifer exceeds expectations in work performance, embracing technology and demonstrating excellence,” said Clark Hampton, deputy superintendent of business and support services. “She developed innovative programs for students, facilitated book borrowing during COVID and even recorded book readings for students. She is the go-to person for resolving issues and training staff.”

Jose Lujano receives the Skilled Trades Clerical & Administrative Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Skilled Trades

These workers ensure that CUSD schools have electricity, air conditioning, heat, hot water, and facilities that are clean and well maintained. Job titles include carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians.

The Skilled Trade Employee of the Year is lead painter Jose Lujano.

“He is reliable, efficient, organized, and resourceful, said Caros Chicas, director of maintenance, transportation and operations. “He consistently provides high-quality work and support to his core workers, management, and school sites. Jose always operates in a manner that supports and expresses the core values of the department. He is a dedicated family man with family roots in San Juan, Capistrano, going back a long time.”

Maria Ortiz receives the Food & Nutrition Services Clerical & Administrative Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Food & Nutrition Services

These employees work in areas related to food handling and food preparation and students have access to nutritional meals, sustaining them throughout the day. Job titles include Lead Food Service Professional and Food Service Professional.

The Food & Nutrition Services Employee of the Year is Maria Ortiz, lead food service professional.

Since starting with CUSD in 1996, Ortiz has risen from the role of a substitute to a lead, said Kristen Hilleman, director of Food & Nutrition Services. Ortiz leads by example, Hilleman said, and maintains a positive attitude despite some personal challenges.

“She covers about 12 to 13 elementary sites and then kind of roams around assisting her other colleagues at covering all 36 of our elementary schools,” Hilleman said. “Her unwavering dedication and positive approach makes her a highly respected and deserving member of our team.”

Kristina Mermelstein receives the Paraprofessional Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider


These professionals provide instructional services to students. Job titles include paraeducators, speech and language pathologist assistants, and instructional assistants.

The Paraprofessional Employee of the Year is Kristina Mermelstein, paraeducator IV at Bridges Community Day School.

“I had the pleasure of working with Kristina over at Bridges for several years, and I couldn’t say enough what a phenomenal educator she is and how much support she provided,” said Clint Collins, assistant superintendent Special Education/SELP director. “Not just for our students, but the whole school.”

Matthew Leeg receives the Technical Services Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Technical Services

Technical Services employees ensure that students and other employees have access to the internet and other technology needed to learn and do their jobs effectively. Job titles include electronic specialists, technology support, and research analysts.

The Technical Services Employee of the Year is Matthew Leeg.

“Matthew significantly contributes to our team’s success with meticulous attention to detail and analytical thinking,” said Stephanie Avera, chief technology officer. “His technical writing skills make complex information accessible, best fitting both our team and customers. His leadership fosters a culture of learning, growth, and community involvement, making him invaluable to our organization.”

Paola Trumbly receives the Health & Student Services Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Health & Student Services

These employees support the health and guidance that students and families need, primarily outside of the classroom. Job titles include LVM, Bilingual Community Liaison, Interpreters and Guidance Technicians.

The Health & Student Services Employee of the Year is Paola Trumbly, bilingual community service liaison at Newhart Middle School.

“Paola is an exceptional employee that consistently delivers exemplary work performance at Newhart, going above and beyond in both professional and community involvement,” said Greg Merwin, associate superintendent of education and support services. “Organized and thorough, she excels in communication, events planning, fostering community connections and inclusivity. A natural leader, she inspires and uplifts others, creating a welcoming environment with her kindness and compassion.”

Angela Fillman receives the Transportation Services Classified Employee of the Year award.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider


These employees hold positions directly related to student transportation. Job titles include school bus driver, mechanic, route specialist, trainer, and dispatcher.

Transportation Employee of the Year is Angela Fillman, school bus driver.

“Angela demonstrates fantastic work performance, always supporting staff, students, and parents,” Director of Transportation Jay McNamara said. “She’s committed to safety. She communicates with staff and parents, ensuring students feel comfortable and secure during rides. She’s known for dressing up according to the holidays and brings joy to all with her enthusiasm and dedication. A team player, she contributes to positive employee morale and fosters a welcoming environment.”

Security Services

These employees keep students safe and property secure. They monitor campuses, help resolve conflicts and keep students safe. They build a rapport with students and are often the first staff members that students interact with as they arrive for school. Job titles include elementary student supervisor, locker room attendant, and campus supervisor.

The Security Services Employee of the Year is Kristopher John Kirkpatrick, campus supervisor at Niguel Hills Middle School.

“Christopher is a beacon of positivity and guidance, both at the middle school, where he works as a campus supervisor, and in the community,” said Cary Johnson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “He shows kindness to parents and students daily, offering comfort and encouragement in difficult moments. He demonstrates patience and compassion, particularly with challenging students. His dedication and positivity leave a lasting impact on all he encounters.”

Custodial & Maintenance Services

These employees ensure that classrooms and school grounds are safe, clean, and ready for learning. Job titles include custodian, groundskeeper, pool maintenance technician.

The Custodial and Maintenance Services Employee of the Year is Alex Barios, lead custodian at Vista del Mar TK-8 School.

“He is an effective leader, he trains new staff with kindness and patience, fosters supportive relationships with students, and empowers them to be responsible and respectful,” said Caros Chicas, director of maintenance, transportation and operations. “His dedication, willingness to help, and positive attitude make him an invaluable asset to the school community.”

Sandy Clark, right, receives the CSEA Member of the Year award during the 2024 Classified Employee of the Year ceremony at Capistrano Valley High.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

The nominees are listed below by category.

Clerical & Administrative Services

  • Sasha Bertucci, Esencia TK-8, Secretary II
  • Lisa Broadhead, Bernice Ayer MS, Guidance Technician
  • Tracy Brown, San Juan Hills HS, Guidance Technician
  • Gina Cornish, Wagon Wheel ES, Attendance Clerk
  • Olga Devitt, Fred Newhart MS, Office Manager
  • Barbara Doran, Oso Grande ES, Office Manager
  • Rebecca Evenson, District Office/HRS, Senior Staff Secretary
  • Samantha Ferlic, Aliso Niguel HS, High School Registrar
  • Michelle Garcia, Fred Newhart MS, School Clerk II
  • Rebecca Gonzalez, Don Juan Avila MS, Secretary I
  • Patti Grant, Palisades ES, Office Manager
  • Jenna Harvey, Bernice Ayer MS, Front Office Secretary
  • Nicola Hill, Oso Grande ES, Attendance Clerk
  • Gabriela Houk, Marco Forster MS, Secretary II
  • Patti Kane, District Office/Student Support Services, Senior Staff Secretary
  • Wendi Kato, Wood Canyon ES, Office Manager
  • Marcia Kellerman, Arroyo Vista TK-8, Attendance Clerk
  • Heidi LaBrie, Tijeras Creek ES, Attendance Clerk
  • Bonnie McKenzie, Las Flores TK-8, Attendance Clerk
  • Alex Mitchell, Niguel Hill MS, Guidance Tech
  • Jen Mundl, Vista del Mar TK-8, ELMT – Elementary Library Media Tech
  • Isabel Ochoa, District Office/Special education, Senior Staff Secretary
  • Jennifer Oliva, Hidden Hills ES, ELMT – Elementary Library Media Tech
  • Sherryl Pennington, Palisades ES, Attendance Clerk
  • Kristin Peters, District Office/Purchasing, Buyer
  • Aymara Preuitt, Maintenance & Operations, Bilingual Staff Secretary
  • Toni Robleto, Del Obispo ES, Office Manager
  • Alicia Rodriguez, Aliso Niguel HS, School Receptionist
  • Karla Rodriguez, Niguel Hill MS, School Secretary I
  • Stacey Shapero, District Office/Education Support Services, Senior Staff Secretary
  • Arah Smith, Ladera Ranch ES, Office Manager
  • Amanda Stauffer, Aliso Niguel HS, ELMT – Elemntary Library Media Tech
  • Kelley Thomas, Las Flores TK-8, Office Manager
  • Estela Vega, RH Dana ES , Bilingual Office Manager
  • Tammy Wilson, Transportation, Account Clerk II
  • Angela Winner, Ladera Ranch MS, Attendance Clerk

Custodial & Maintenance Services

  • Andres Alva Roman, Oak Grove ES, Custodian II
  • Alex Barrios, Vista del Mar TK-8, Custodian III
  • Juan Ricardo Carrillo, Aliso Niguel HS, Custodian III
  • Angelica Castillo, District Office, Custodian I
  • Jonathan Duarte, Don Juan Avila ES, Custodian II
  • Joel Galvan, Bernice Ayer MS, Custodian III
  • Joseph Garcia Ortiz, Esencia TK-8, Custodian I
  • Manny Gonzalez, Ladera Ranch ES, Custodian II
  • Rafael Gutierrez, Shorecliffs MS, Custodian III
  • Mark Guzman, Oso Grande ES, Custodian II
  • Yara Huerta, George White ES, Custodian II
  • Jose Huerta, Vista del Mar TK-8, Custodian I
  • Jose Hurtado, Las Flores TK-8, Custodian I
  • Juan Matul, Kinoshita ES, Custodian II
  • Norberto Mejia, Chaparrel ES, Custodian II
  • Filemon Mendoza, Tesoro HS, Custodian IV
  • Freddy Montes, Fred Newhart MS, Custodian I
  • Norma Rodriguez, Niguel Hill MS, Custodian I
  • Sergio Salgado Roman, Laguna Niguel ES , Custodian II
  • Jerry Torres, Chaparrel ES, Custodian I
  • Beatriz Urquiza, Vista del Mar TK-8, Custodian I
  • Reynold Valencia, Viejo ES, Custodian I
  • Jesus Vega Garcia, Adult Transition Program (ATP) , Custodian I

Food & Nutrition Services

  • Kazumi Nakamura, Oak Grove ES, Food Service Professional
  • Maria Ortiz, Food and Nutrition Department, Lead Food Service Professional

Heath & Student Services

  • Gisela Almaraz, Ladera Ranch ES, On Site Licensed Vocational Nurse
  • Kelly Burling, Ladera Ranch ES & DO, District Nurse
  • Kerry Coryell, San Juan Hills HS, Site Nurse
  • Mona Farrand, Itinerant PT, Physical Therapist
  • Mazen Faysal, Don Juan Avila ES & MS, On Site Licensed Vocational Nurse
  • Jennipher Hanratty-Raja, ECC, Occupational Therapist
  • Alma Solis, Palisades ES, Bilingual Community Service Liaison
  • Paola Trumbly, Fred Newhart MS, Bilingual Community Service Liaison


  • Michelle Agrawal, Capistrano Valley HS, Para-Educator II
  • Judy Anthony, Las Flores TK-8, Para-Educator IV
  • Dana Bacopulos, George White ES, Para-Educator V
  • Bernadette Becker, John S. Malcom ES, Para-Educator III
  • Randi Brenner, Dana Hills HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Jessica Brown, Marco Forster MS, Para-Educator IV
  • Mitravinda Burns, Transportation, Para-Educator IV
  • Nicole Carlson, San Juan Hills HS, Para-Educator III
  • Meghan Chaffe, Philip Reilly ES, Para-Educator V
  • Sandra Clark, Fred Newhart MS, Para-Educator IV
  • Kevin Craven, John S. Malcom ES, Para-Educator II
  • Elizabeth Davies, Ladera Ranch ES, Para-Educator IV
  • Caroline Disano, Wood Canyon ES, Para-Educator I
  • Kimberly Doering, Transportation, Para-Educator IV
  • Jacquie Fejes, Philip Reilly ES, Para-Educator III
  • Carol Finks, San Juan Hills HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Karlyn Geaney, John S. Malcom ES, Para-Educator I
  • Gail Grigaux, Philip Reilly ES, Para-Educator III
  • Julie Hambrick, Niguel Hill MS, Para-Educator II
  • Jonathan Harder, Adult Transition Program (ATP) , Para-Educator IV
  • Robert Harvey, Esencia TK-8, Para-Educator V
  • Haydeh Hekmat, Dana Hills HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Michele Higi, Arroyo Vista TK-8, Para-Educator II
  • Mary D. Johnson, Marco Forster MS, Para-Educator III
  • Gabrielle Keyte, RH Dana ES , Para-Educator IV
  • Sharon Lewis, Concordia ES, Para-Educator V
  • Suzanne Licata, Aliso Viejo MS, Para-Educator V
  • Candice Lopez, Ladera Ranch ES, Para-Educator IV
  • Tuyet Ly, John S. Malcom ES, Para-Educator III
  • Katherine Lyon, Bathgate ES, Para-Educator III
  • Tanya Mantecon, Shorecliffs MS, Para-Educator IV
  • Ann Marino, Dana Hills HS, Para-Educator II
  • Brooke Martin, Journey School-Learning Lab, Para-Educator II
  • Kristina Mermelstein, Bridges Community Day School , Para-Educator IV
  • Stephanie Murray, Truman Benedict ES, Para-Educator II
  • Hedy Niggebrugge, San Juan Hills HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Jazmine Pacheco, Bernice Ayer MS, Para-Educator II
  • Brandy Parker, Dana Hills HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Kara Pyper, Vista del Mar TK-8, Para-Educator II
  • Marissa Ramirez, Don Juan Avila ES, Para-Educator III
  • Karysn Sack, Tijeras Creek ES, Para-Educator III
  • Tanya Santillan Garcia, Aliso Niguel HS, Para-Educator IV
  • Gaby Sherritt, Adult Transition Program (ATP) , Para-Educator IV
  • Tamisha Singh, Bathgate ES, Para-Educator III
  • Kelly Weston, John S. Malcom ES, Para-Educator V
  • Rebecca Wismer, Laguna Niguel ES , Para-Educator III
  • Colleen Wootan, Truman Benedict ES, Para-Educator III

Security Services

  • Barbara Banuelos, Philip Reilly ES, Student Supervisor – Elementary School
  • Claire Bosak, Oso Grande ES, Student Supervisor – Elementary School
  • Kathleen Dearham, Laguna Niguel ES , Student Supervisor – Elementary School
  • Georgina Gingarelli de Tela, Oak Grove ES, Student Supervisor – Elementary School
  • Kristofer John Kirkpatrick, Niguel Hill MS, Middle School Campus Supervisor
  • Patricia Novobilski, Arroyo Vista TK-8, Middle School Campus Supervisor
  • Arlene Perciavalle, Oak Grove ES, Student Supervisor – Elementary School
  • Diana Rodriguez, Tijeras Creek ES, Student Supervisor – Elementary School

Skilled Trades

  • Frank Anaya, Maintenance & Operations, HVAC Technician
  • Ramiro Arce, Maintenance & Operations, Pool Maintenance Technician
  • Tyler Braun, Maintenance & Operations, Lead Electrician
  • Manuel Cabral, Maintenance & Operations, Pool Technician
  • Robert Cunningham, Maintenance & Operations, Carpenter Lead
  • Daniel Eddy, Maintenance & Operations, Plumber
  • Alejandro Figueroa-Fitz, Maintenance & Operations, Carpenter
  • Jesus Jose Garcia, Maintenance & Operations, Lead HVAC Technician
  • Victor Hernandez, Maintenance & Operations, Maintenance Electrician
  • Jose M. Lujano, Maintenance & Operations, Lead Painter
  • Ruben Mora, Maintenance & Operations, Maintenance Worker
  • Rodrigo Rodriguez, Maintenance & Operations, HVAC Technician
  • Jack Scheid, Maintenance & Operations, Painter

Technical Services

  • Justin Barnes, Capistrano Valley HS, Lead Theater Technician
  • Nathan Dwyer, District Office, Technology Support Specialist II
  • Eliseo Garcia, Aliso Niguel HS, Technology Support – Field Services
  • Matthew Leeg, District Office, Technology Support Specialist I
  • Yadira Mazzini, District Office, Technology Support Specialist I
  • Tina Messineo, Technology Inforamtion Systems, Technology Support – Field Services
  • Marc Rico, Technology Inforamtion Systems, Technology Support Specialist I
  • Josue Sanchez, Technology Inforamtion Systems, Technology Support Specialist Lead

Transportation Services

  • David Beck, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Kevin Cooper, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Patrick Dougherty, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Angela Fillman, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Edwin Fuentes, Transportation, Heavy Duty Lead Mechanic
  • Brian Fultz, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Patricia Garcia, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Kathy Hanley, Transportation, Transportation Dispatcher
  • Deanna Kingdon, Transportation, School Bus Driver
  • Markus Krueger, Transportation, Schoool Bus Driver
  • George Kuzmanoff, Transportation, Schoool Bus Driver
  • Matthew Martinez, Transportation, Transportation Dispatcher
  • Bernardo Perez, Transportation, School Bus Driver

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