The pride Oakdale Joint Unified School District holds in its teachers may be commonly known throughout Stanislaus County. What may not be as commonly known, yet equally important is the pride the district takes in its classified staff. Most recently two of the district’s classified employees were acknowledged at an awards ceremony hosted by Stanislaus County Office of Education, receiving the 2015-16 ‘Making a Difference’ honors.
OJUSD Bus Driver/Trainer Kari Anderson and Oakdale High School Registrar Denise Russell were this year’s recipients. While the two report to different school sites, their combined tenure of 42 years with the school district speaks not only to their commitment, but their shared love for what they do.
“The thing I like most about my position now is being able to influence others in driver safety,” Anderson said of her position as trainer.
The honoree began her tenure with OJUSD 26 years ago as a bus driver. In 2008 she became a trainer. The position, she shared, does not lend itself to a ‘typical’ day with 16 drivers reporting to the yard on any given day.
“Each driver needs 10 hours of training per year,” she said. “There are lots of records to keep up. We actually have a very low rate of turnover.
“I do a lot of behind the wheel with our newest drivers,” Anderson added. “The thing that keeps me up at night is did I teach them everything, to check their mirrors, etcetera. I feel responsible.”
On the other end of town, with 16 years spent in her office, OHS Registrar Russell shared that equal feeling of responsibility for the students who pass through her office on any given day.
Russell is the source current students, as well as alumni, look to when in need of transcripts.
“It just amazes me when I print out their transcripts (the GPA’s),” Russell said, noting this as one of her crunch times as students begin requesting info for colleges. “We have some really bright students here.”
Russell shared that in her position she encounters a wide range of students from varying backgrounds and parental support. She noted specific incidents of students not necessarily supported at home, but exhibiting tremendous potential.
“We all kind of mentor and work together,” she said of the OHS staff and her immediate colleagues in the counseling office. “We’ve had some really good stories with some kids here. I’m personally inspired by our student body and how they grow.”
Currently, Russell’s days have been filled with the review and mailing of report cards, prepping transcripts, as well as confirming graduation status of students for potential employers or military personnel. She also prepares the diplomas for the senior class prior to being sent to Jostens.
“That’s why I love my job. I do so many different things,” she said.
Recognizing that their tenures might indicate to some a future retirement, both women shared they’re not quite ready yet.
“I love the school bus driving industry,” Anderson said. “If I can impact kids, that means the most to me.”
She said perhaps in four or five years, she will consider retirement.
“I love my job,” she added. “Oakdale stands out because we’re a small unit and all of our drivers love taking field trips and driving our teams around. Our drivers have been here a long time and they take pride in what they do.”
Russell admitted to considering the notion of retirement and then the thought passed.
“I had planned to retire at the end of this year,” she confessed. “I love my job so much, I can’t retire. I’m going to give it one more year.”
As far as the brief consideration of leaving sooner rather than later, she said there were a couple of reasons to delay.
“The people here,” she explained of her extended stay. “The people and the kids. All the friendships. It’s just really fun. I feel like a mother hen in this office sometimes. They’re all just wonderful.”
The honorees were nominated for the award by their supervisors, Anderson was nominated by Dan Casey and Russell by OHS Principal Mike Moore. The recipients will be publicly acknowledged by the OJUSD Board at its next meeting on Monday, March 14. The meeting will be hosted at the Oakdale City Council Chambers and will begin at 6:30 p.m.