KCSOS You Make a Difference Award Recipients Announced


Every year, KCSOS solicits nominations for its annual You Make a Difference Awards, which recognize employees in three categories: The Innovation in Education Award honors employees for their ingenuity. The Distinguished Service Award is bestowed upon those who have gone above and beyond their job duties to assist others. And, the Larry E. Reider Excellence Award — named after former Kern County Superintendent of Schools who was a consummate advocate for children — honors employees for their continued excellence in serving to the organization.

This year, we received more than three times the number of nominations we have in previous years. This is further evidence that, during these unprecedented times, our employees have continued to rise to the challenge.

Innovation in Education Award

Rafael Juarez
Food Service Manager

Since joining KCSOS in 2018, Rafael Juarez has been leading innovative efforts within the Food & Nutrition Services Department. His efforts have led to the ability to offer more fresh foods, scratch cooking, and ongoing staff development, all while simultaneously reducing costs.

Furthermore, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rafael took the lead in providing food to countless Kern County children. As many of us were battling the uncertainty of the stay-at-home order through Zoom calls and working remotely, Rafael and his food service team were connecting with other local Food Service Directors around the county to coordinate the largest community feeding operation in the history of Kern County. With approval from the state to move forward with the Seamless Summer Option (SSO), Rafael and his team were able to prepare, package, distribute, and in many cases, deliver food to students.

Nena Thornburg
Teacher – Valley Oaks Tehachapi

Valley Oaks Charter School Teacher Nena Thornburg has risen to the call for innovation over the past several months by creating unique online learning opportunities for her students and assisting fellow educators along the way.

“Nena spent countless hours this summer freely sharing her technological knowledge with her co-workers to better prepare us to teach our students during the uncertainty of the 2020-21 school year,” said fellow teacher Sue Page. “We would be sorely unprepared, if not for her lessons.”

She has also shared her templates and tips with colleagues and on her social media platforms so teachers across the county could access them. Nena’s excellence as a teacher and VOCS advisor shines through with her organizational skills, optimism, and generosity.

Distinguished Service Award

Darlene Boyce Gonzalez
Teacher – Alternative Education

Darlene has worked in Alternative Education for over 30 years, dedicating her life to students in KCSOS’s court schools who have severe academic and behavioral struggles.

These struggles were compounded with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In KCSOS’s court schools program, where children do not go home to have school with the support of their parents, the school closures necessitated the need to have staff volunteer to enter the institution and provide much-needed support to the most at-risk population in all of Kern County.

Darlene never wavered and worked long hours learning and implementing KCSOS’s learning management systems to best support students, while also assisting her colleagues.

“Darlene has shown her true dedication to our program, and most importantly, our students during this most difficult time of need,” said Kimberly Herrera, Principal – Alternative Education.

Cole Sampson
Coordinator III – Math

When we entered the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole took lead on developing mathematics curriculum for grades K-12 for districts to utilize in their distance learning platform, Canvas. Understanding that this task was much larger than one person could handle, Cole quickly recruited a team of math teachers from around the county and led them in the creation of a lesson structure that could be applied to all grade levels.

He organized Zoom meetings, met with grade level spans, grade levels, and leaders of grade levels to make sure that students would receive a high-quality math experience. He spent weekends and evening hours working to make sure the curriculum could be rolled out as schools and students began on boarding.

“Cole never took any credit when he and his team received praise for their work. Instead, he always gave all credit to the team,” said Krista Herrera, Administrator of Professional Learning and Student Support. “Supervisors dream of employees like Cole. He’s competent, kind and willing to do whatever it takes!”

Laura Caro
Custodian II

Laura is one of those “can do” people who exemplifies what it means to be a great KCSOS employee. She is positive, hard-working, efficient, friendly, and highly supportive of all her colleagues.

Her efficiency and customer-focus approach has become especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which she has gone above and beyond to give confidence to returning employees that the premises are safe. She always carries herself with a caring and humble attitude and is quick to seek practical solutions when issues arise.

Alex Brum
Underwriter/Data Analyst – SISC

Alex’s friendly and selfless demeanor and dedication to the organization contribute to a work culture at SISC that is second to none. Each member of the staff looks up to him, as he sets a standard that others aspire to.

Each year, the SISC program produces rates to charge as premiums to over 400 school districts. Nearly every district offers numerous plans including PPOs, HMOs and Kaiser Permanente. Alex uses his skills to single-handedly produce each rate for each plan for each individual school district. It’s a monumental task.

This year, Alex went above and beyond what he normally accomplishes. Seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic would make getting rates out quickly even more important than ever, Alex found ways to reduce an eight-week process down to four weeks. As a result, all SISC districts had their rates delivered by the time the office temporarily closed on March 20th due to the pandemic.

Larry E. Reider Excellence Award

David Leper
Fleet Manager – Vehicle Maintenance

David Leper has served on the KCSOS Vehicle Maintenance team for 19 years. Since his promotion from Lead Mechanic to Fleet Manager, his leadership has been the catalyst for a complete transformation of the department.

Prior to 2018, KCSOS’s Vehicle Maintenance Department did not enjoy an exemplary reputation across the county. Much of the traditional customer base had decided to seek maintenance and repair services from other non-educational service providers due to concerns over poor service and a “take it or leave it” attitude.

David is laser-focused on providing excellent customer service, while directly supporting his team through professional training, improved communication, and adding critical diagnostic software and service equipment that increases the efficiency and safety for his team. Through his dedication, he has ensured that Kern County district buses receive timely and responsive maintenance and repairs.

Remedios “Remy” Rueda
Teacher – Alternative Education

In today’s uncertain times, everyone needs a ray of sunshine to brighten their day. For staff and students at North Kern Community School, Ms. Remedios Rueda often serves as that light.

“Remy” is described by her peers as kind, welcoming and encouraging to all and her passion as a teacher is contagious. She is embodies what it means to be a team player. In fact, her catch phrase is “We Got This,” which helps everyone understand that there is only one team on the campus, and everyone holds a valuable place on the team.

“It is obvious that she sees teaching as her calling in life and goes above and beyond to create long-lasting and trusting relationships with students who would normally have trust issues and refrain from opening up,” said Teacher Amanda Duke. “She is an inspiration!”

As a board member of KCEA, Remy always has an open ear to concerns among staff. With students, she continuously makes the effort to advocate for their needs and is willing to put in the extra time to help them in any way.

Josh Townsend
Network Systems Engineer I

Josh exemplifies what it means to be a great employee day in and day out. He isn’t afraid of a challenge and is always willing to take on new tasks and go above and beyond.

Most recently, Josh has worked tirelessly with assisting Special Education with distant learning. He dedicated numerous hours setting up Special Ed with GSuite accounts, setting up Chromebooks, assisting with hot spots, assisting with introducing and rolling out applications like Cleaver so Special Ed students could use a QR badge to log in instead of entering their username and password, and introducing and setting up Securly, a safety and device management software that helps provide web and content filtering to Chromebooks so students were able to safely work from home.

“I believe Josh is an irreplaceable asset to KCSOS because he’s so well rounded,” said Becky Rivera, Coordinator II – Technology Services. “He possesses all the qualities managers look for in an employee. He’s an honest person with the desired characteristics of good leadership, organization and communication skills.”