Newhall School District administrators brought together 10 school sites’ worth of district teachers and classified staff for a “welcome back” event filled with prizes, recognications and emotional moments.
Superintendent Jeff Pelzel addressed hundreds of district staff Tuesday in the Newhall Family Theatre and, in a special section of the event called the “Jeffy Awards,” schools were recognized for their performance in the California Assessment of Student Performance, the state’s standardized testing for K-12 students.
“Our teachers and staff always go above and beyond the call. As a district, it is important to stop and celebrate the accomplishments of our staff,” said Pelzel. “We have a data-driven culture that strives for mastery of standards while empowering our students for a limitless future.”
In addition to recognizing the work of individual school sites, the welcome back event for staff featured five speeches from teachers who were also once NSD students, and they talked about how their teachers had inspired them to return to their home district and become an educator.
In a surprise twist for the speakers, the district had invited back several of the teachers mentioned as role models by the speakers for an emotional on-stage reunion.
“(District administrators) had contacted me last Wednesday and said, ‘We’re having this thing, and one of your former students who is currently a Newhall School District teacher has chosen you as her inspiration to become a teacher,” said Andi Gruber, a former Meadows Elementary School teacher. “She doesn’t know you’re coming, and I’m not going to tell you who it is.”
The surprise clearly meant a lot to both teacher and student.
“As a student, (Gruber) gave me confidence, and I didn’t really like reading, but she made me like reading,” said Amy Pierson, a current teacher at Valencia Valley Elementary School. “She gave me the attention that I needed out of school, that caring and loving figure, and she made everyone love being in the classroom.”
Gruber said that for her, coming back as a 72-year-old retiree to see Pierson, who was 12 when she was Gruber’s student, was something that she could “not put a price on.”
“The connection to the kids — that’s the only thing that matters, because if they love you and you love them and you want the best for them, no matter what kind of experiences they have elsewhere, you sometimes could be the only one that’s in their corner,” said Gruber. “And so you have to give 175% of yourself and this is what happens.”
The event also featured a raffle giveaway, ending with a sing-along to the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day.
“We feel that the start of every year should be fresh and exciting,” said NSD board President Sue Solomon. “And so with the acknowledgment of the immediate past year’s work and the recognition with how wonderful they are, that we can say to them in a very personal and professional way, ‘We love you for everything you do for every student across the district.’”